Using Collections to Write Poems: a Museum Staff Workshop by Helen Clare

Our Poet-in-Residence, Helen Clare, invited Museum staff to engage in a workshop to help them to create their own poem.  She shared with us the techniques she has used in creating her own poetry, which included the creation of ‘poemlets’ that we blogged about earlier this year. The activity also demonstrates that these techniques can be shared with visitors to facilitate using the collection as inspiration for creative writing.


Helen on Manchester Gallery sharing her poem writing techniques with staff

Using this poemlet technique as a starting point staff were asked to find 3 or 4 objects that inspired them on from our Manchester Gallery and then use a line from their resulting poemlets to develop a longer rhyming poem. In the spirit of sharing, here’s three of my poemlets and the resulting poem I developed using various lines from each.

Once upon a time in Manchester,
Sharp and clean but only now;
A giant cat sauntered here.  – Lion’s Tooth

Illegal, bad and guilty,
A thing of beauty: look at me!
Some things were not made for blood. – Dagger

Spices, smells, so many options built over time.
Fill me, use me, breathe in my tangy scent.
Cultures clashing: a pinch of spice for everyone. – Spice Rack

Poem: Culture Clash
Some things are not made for blood,
Sharp and clean, now used for good.
The owner, once a feared man, lost in history, all but gone.
Cultures clashing: a pinch of spice for everyone.

A thing of beauty: look at me.
Come slowly closer, what might you see?
A forgotten daughter, parents and abandoned son,
Cultures clashing: a pinch of spice for everyone.

I have to say, for a Monday morning activity I am surprisingly pleased with my effort given that we only had around 40 minutes to spend on our poems. The techniques are easy enough to suggest to visitors as an activity, and we got to hear some of Helen’s Museum-inspired poetry, which is always a treat.

It can be daunting [to write poetry] but actually it was quite inspiring. It was a safe environment and Helen was very encouraging. To start out the week creating something was lovely.” – feedback from staff member.


Staff share some of their poemlets on Living Cultures

The instructions for the staff workshop can be found on Helen’s blog, but you don’t have to be a member of staff to have a go yourself. And if you can’t make it to the Museum, check out our Flickr account to see pictures of many of our objects and galleries for inspiration.

Feel free to share your work in our comments section below.

Helen will be showcasing her new schools workshop developed from this Arts Council funded project during the October Half Term.

Juice from Oranges, Rocks from Space
Wed 26 Oct
11.30am – 12.15pm & 1.30-2.15pm
A new poetry performance from Helen Clare, about exhibits from around the museum; where they came from and the journey they’ve made. There will be happy poems, sad poems, gory poems and fun poems – and opportunities for children to join in and create too.

Find out about the giant carved tusk, a moth, bloodworms, a man who was murdered and left to rot in a bog, a Greek God, Stan the T. Rex, and an ancient rock from out of space.

For children aged 8-12 and their parents/carers
Free, book on or 0161 275 2648


South Asia Inspired Creative Practitioner Wanted

Manchester Museum is proud to be supported by Children and the Arts for our final year of our Start programme funding. Our Art of Identity project ran successful in 2013-14 and in 2014-15 with a number of fantastic Creative Practitioners helping over 450 pupils in five different Secondary schools and three Primary schools to explore the topic of ‘identity’ and produce professional pieces of artwork that have been displayed in the Musuem.

MMSouthAsiaThis year, Art of Identity will expand to partner with up to ten Secondary schools in Manchester and will be linked with Manchester Museum’s exciting Capital Redevelopment Courtyard Project. This will involve the development of a permanent South Asia Gallery at Manchester Museum in partnership with The British Museum.

As a result we are looking for Creative Practitioners who have a link to South Asia or who are inspired by this part of the world to develop and deliver two workshops to all of the pupils involved in the project (c.250 KS3 pupils) – one at the Museum and another at each of the partner schools.

If you are interested, or know someone who might be, take a look at our Creative Practitioner Brief and apply before Monday 5th September at 10am.


Poet-in-Residence Guest Blog: Poemlets

Over 2016 we’ve been incredibly lucky to have Helen Clare as a Poet-in-Residence as part of the Learning and Engagement Team. Helen wanted to develop some learning experiences using poetry and was fortunate enough to receive funding from the Arts Council to work with us on developing this.

Helen has been recording her progress on her personal blog – so if you want to know more about the project do take a look.

In the meantime, here’s a short post Helen has written for us on how to create your own ‘poemlets’.

“Over the past few months I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time at the museum, writing children’s poems and learning materials as part of an Arts Council England funded project. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at things, visiting galleries and seeing those things I first missed and then looking again and again.

That opportunity to look again and again is both inspiring and dizzying, and it’s the basis of the the little writing exercise that I’m offering to the blog.

It involved ‘zooming in’ on just one object at once and asking it three questions.

  1. What do we say about the object?
  2. What does the object say about itself?
  3. What does it really mean?

Look at it really carefully and try and think about other senses as well – does it make a noise? What would it feel like if you could touch it?  Does it smell? If it moved how would it move? You might want to think about its history – and all the lives it’s been in contact with. You might also find that it has opinions quite similar to your own and that’s ok. But equally it might surprise you with what it has to say!

And that’s it. There’s no need to fancy it up. When the wind blows right it forms a perfect little poemlet all of it’s own – although you may also wish to use it as the basis of something more substantial.

Here’s an example:

I am alien. I am earth.
We are all spacedust.


Iron Core of Meteorite: Campo del Cielo (Field of Heaven) Argentina, 16th Century

You can see that I’ve used the first question as the title – and that the title is bigger than the poem! You could use that first question in the poem – or you could take it off altogether and make a riddle.

Look at my huge feet, how easily they carry my weight.
It was a long way. It has been a long time.

Can you guess what this is in the Museum?* I’ll put the answer at the bottom of the blog.

It’s fun to take pictures to accompany your poemlets as well.

This is my tree. I have not moved all week.
I am more threatened than threatening. Let me sleep.


Green Tree Python

There are more of these poemlets on my personal blog at

 You can tweet your poems and your photos and tag the museum @mcrmuseum, the learning team @learningMM or me @haclare.

Have fun!


*Did you guess right? It’s Maharajah, the elephant skeleton from Manchester Gallery


Interpretation from Re-Creation: Clarendon Sixth Form Photography Display

We are proud to present our annual photography display from one of our partners – Clarendon Sixth Form – called “Interpretation from Re-Creation”.


As usual, all of the students were given a tour of various sections of the Museum stores by our fabulous curators and had chance to explore the Museum’s galleries and find elements that sparked their interest. From there, they took their inspiration to develop a shot that would be developed in the dark room to produce a striking black and white image for display in the Museum.

Every year the students’ work never fails to impress; especially when they take one aspect of the Museum’s vast collection and communicate a statement about it in just one image. We certainly set them a challenging brief, but the students often react to it with considered thought and verve. What’s great about doing this project annually is that despite certain students identifying similar areas of the collection year after year their images are always unique and take a slightly different approach: demonstrating how imaginative and individual they all are as photographers.

Not only that, but the display also allows us to share with the public the work that we do with schools and colleges in the Learning Team. It’s a great example of a collaborative partnership that benefits the students’ skill development and provides a productive outcome for us to demonstrate how powerful the Museum’s collection can be.

You can view their pictures below, but it would be much better to see the exhibition for real. Why not come to the Museum over the next couple of weeks? The students’ work will be up in our Alhambra space (off the Link bridge on Floor 1) over the Easter holidays.




A hard days work at the museum

Last week, we set about the task of interviewing candidates for the new Learning Programme Delivery posts at the Museum with the help of 15 Year 5 pupils from Birchfields Primary (I expect you will hear from Jack and Gareth in person when they start at the beginning of the new school year).

Object task sheet


Prior to the interview, candidates were informed that in addition to the formal interview, they would be given 5 minutes to introduce and use an object to engage a group of key stage 2 pupils. Each candidate was provided with an image of a different ancient Egyptian artefact, along with a very basic description and dimensions. The rest was left up to them!


Under the supervision of their teacher and Elaine (from the Learning Team), the class spent the day being entertained, informed, engaged and intrigued by the candidates. After each presentation, pupils examined each object in more detail, and wrote a museum label for it.

Small Bes amulet with some labels written by the group.

Small Bes amulet with some labels written by the group.

By the end of the day, not only had the class done a fantastic job of evaluating the presentations, but they had also worked really hard to create their own mini-museum display. A huge thank you to Birchfields Year 5 group for all of their input and enthusiasm!

Year 5 pupils standing in front of their mini-display of ancient Egyptian artefacts.

Year 5 pupils standing in front of their mini-display of ancient Egyptian artefacts.

Travel and Tourism PCGE Student Placement

We’ve been busy with bookings at the start of this term and fortunately we had some help in the form of Rebecca Smith, who was working with us during the week of the 14th January to 18th January. We arranged for her to experience a selection of our offers that included Visitor Services, our Post 16 Learning Programme and our Volunteer Handling tables. Image from Ancient Worlds: Exploring Objects

But, I’ll let Rebecca tell you about her time here in her own words:

I am a PGCE student training to be a secondary school teacher, teaching Leisure and Tourism. During my one year course I am required to complete a one week alternative placement setting. I chose to complete mine at Manchester Museum. I have worked in all different aspects of the tourism industry but I have very limited knowledge of visitor attractions and Museums in particular.

My reasoning behind choosing the Museum was to gain more knowledge and understanding of how the Museum operates as a tourist attraction; however I have come away after only one week with so much more!

I was welcomed as part of the team and I was given the opportunity to get involved in all aspects of the museum from working with reception class on a Dinosaur Explorer session to working with the volunteers on the handling tables.

I particularly enjoyed planning and delivering the Travel and Tourism Master Class for a group of local college students. The Master Class was based on customer service. I was allowed the opportunity to walk around all the galleries and evaluate the provisions offered to different customer types. The students were then set a customer service critique task and gave presentations of their findings to myself, Cat Lumb and the Deputy Head of Visitor Services. The students really enjoyed their day and gave positive feedback. It was amazing to see the extent to which the educational team goes to ensure they give a positive experience to the school groups. All of the sessions are planned to challenge and stretch the students and allowing them the confidence to create their own response from the exhibitions. I had no idea how much work went on behind the scenes when putting together an educational visit.

I have gained a greater knowledge and appreciation for how the Museum operates and interacts with its visitors. One thing that has stood out during my time here is how all the staff members go above and beyond for their visitors. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff and they do everything they can to ensure the visitors go away happy.

All of the staff members are enthusiastic and passionate about their job roles and about the Museum itself. There is a positive atmosphere within the building and that was a pleasure to be around.

I have certainly achieved what I set out too and so much more. My love for teaching has been intensified as a result from my time at the Museum.

I look forward to returning to the Museum with my new students in the future!

Rebecca was fantastic at thinking on her feet and delivered an excellent tour for our Travel and Tourism students. Many comments were made by my colleagues on how approachable and friendly she was and therefore we would welcome her back anytime!

We wish her all the best with her future, and certainly would love to have her bring her future students to the Museum.

New Adventures for our Science Co-ordinator Alexa!

Good Bye and Good Luck  Alexa!We’re very sad happy to report that our Secondary and Post-16 Science Co-ordinator, Alexa Jeanes, will be leaving us for exciting new adventures in the New Year.  She started working at the Museum over five years ago when she was delivering on our Real World Science programme as a PhD demonstrator. Then, in June 2009, she became our Secondary and Post-16 co-ordinator and the rest is, as they say, history!

Since she’s been at the Museum she’s developed so many popular, fun and educational experiences that thousands of students across Manchester (and beyond) have participated in: from examining colour throughout the natural world in Nature’s Palette, to debating on stem cell research in The Hard Cell Study Day.

She’s been such a great work colleague and all of us at the Museum are sad that she is leaving the team because she contributes so much. We have no doubt that our Science contacts – teachers, academics and students alike – will also miss her and wish her well on her next adventure: which starts with a trip to Central and South America!

Here’s what Alexa had to say about her time here:

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working at the Manchester Museum over the past 5 (!) years and have seen it develop and change in many ways.  It has been such fun to translate my passion for science into workshops for students and show them how interesting and fun science can be.  It is always special to work in an amazing environment such as this and with such incredible objects.  The thrill of holding a fossil that is 300 milion years old or seeing a beautiful insect never changes. It has also been a pleasure working with enthusuiatic and knowlegable academics from the Univesity of Manchester and the Museum and bringing their fascinating research and collections to life. I will miss everyone I have worked with over the years, my colleagues, teachers and students and thank you for making my time at Manchester Museum so enjoyable!”

Breed: The British and their Dogs

On the eve of Wednesday 3rd October Manchester Museum opened it’s new temporary exhibition – Breed: The British and their Dogs.

Not only were there treats for humans on offer, along with canine-themed beverages but we had some very special guests too!

Ruby, jumping the ribbon, to open the Breed exhibition.
© Paul Cliff

To celebrate the exhibition’s exploration of six breeds linked with British History – the Borzoi, Bulldog, Bloodhound, Pekingese, Collie and Irish Wolfhound – the Kennel Club arranged for their members to bring one of each breed to attend the opening so visitors could see them in all their splendor and understand just what it is about dogs that make them our ‘best friends’.

In addition, the individual to officially open the exhibition for the public was special guest Ruby – a miniature Schnauzer owned by Museum Director, Nick Merriman.

It was a fantastic opening event with the very dintinguishing difference that humans weren’t the only species to attend!  The exhibition has been developed with The University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine and supported by the AHRC and will be at the Museum until 14th April 2013.

In the Learning Team we will be preparing some self-guided resources to accompany the exhibtion and we have a very special Secondary session called British: Born and Bred that investigates the concept of Britishness and how these dogs might represent particular periods of British History.

For more information on this Secondary workshop please contact Cat Lumb.

Ancient Worlds Teacher Preview

With the opening of our new Ancient World Galleries the Museum’s Learning Team are pleased to announce that we will be hosting a Teacher Preview event to introduce teacher’s to our brand new galleries and associated learning programmes across the Key Stages.

This event will take place on Wednesday 14th November between 4.30 and 6.30pm. There will be a short introduction by our Learning Manager, followed by optional tours of the gallery spaces with our Curators. In addition our entire team will be present, allowing teachers to ask questions, learn about our new sessions and even register their interest in booking workshops on offer.


Our temporary exhibition, Breed:The British and their Dogs, will also be open and our Resources and Secondary workshop for this gallery will also be on show.

To book your space on the Preview Event email our bookings co-ordinator on or call 0161 3052630.

Matrix in the Museum 2012

Making a Cartilage model

On 10th, 12th and 13th July, the Manchester Museum hosted our annual ‘Matrix in the Museum’ events which are run in partnership with the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research in the Faculty of Life Sciences.    This year we had three schools visiting over the week; Stretford High School, Manchester Academy and All Hallows RC High School, all bringing year 8 classes to take part in the days’ activities.

The students were split into 5 teams for the day; Team Mucus, Team DNA, Team Cell, Team Cartilage and Team Matrix, all with a research scientist as their team leader.  The day started by having a tour of the research laboratories in the Michael Smith building.  The students get to see real scientists at work and find out about the work that they do. It was then over to the Manchester Museum to complete their team challenges! 

 Each team had a different challenge to do about their respective area of research i.e. team name, from making a model, to writing a song/poem or rap to preparing a presentation to show the rest of the class. The students worked brilliantly to complete these challenges, coming up with some fantastic ideas and creative ways to showcase what they have learnt.  After lunch, during their final preparations, two  ‘judges’ or Professor and research group leaders came round to talk to the students about what they had been doing over the course of the day. 

Team DNA (Team Pro) from Manchester Academy with Dr Keith Brennan and Dr Pat Caswell

It was then time to show off the work they had been doing.  Each team presented their topic to the judges and the rest of the group and demonstrated their model and song/rap/poem.  The judges then had to pick a winner – itwas often a very tough decision with all groups performing really well and showing how much they have leant from the day.  A special mention has to go to Team DNA or Team Pro as they were known from Manchester Academy whose constant energy and enthusiasm throughout the whole day was just fantastic!  It was a brilliant few days and I hope the students enjoyed as much as we did!

Thank you to all students, researchers and PI’s that took part which made it such a successful event.