Poetry/Creative Writing Ideas – Beheadings

This is really the precursor to the first of these ideas which I posted here. It is a language game that helps students to explore and build their own vocabulary with, as ever, an element of poetic crafting for fun. It is an idea I picked up from early in my teaching career, so a thanks to that precursor, and going online this morning it was interesting to note how much more common it is as an idea currently, though invariably it is presented just as a vocabulary teaser rather than a creative writing prompt, not that this matters. It was also noteworthy – though I suspect this is largely because of the online access to so much immediate information – that a search engine throws up countless references to its literal meaning, and in light of the relative recent proliferation of the fact of this, or at the least its wide publicity, there would need to be an element of care and caution in presenting to students. To be honest, I don’t really know. It seems a shame to be so compromised by events and perhaps we need to hold on to and promote the meanings we chose. Again, I don’t know.


The aim of this unit of work is to get you exploring and maybe expanding your vocabulary by trying to solve some riddles. You will need to use a dictionary and a thesaurus.


Behead a vessel
and find a grain.

Behead a colour
and find an age

Behead a harness
and find a snare

Behead a valley
and find a beer

Behead a beginning
and find a part of your head

Behead a fastener
and find a part of your face

Behead a male deer
and find a playground game

Behead a barn
and find a piece of furniture

Behead a journey
and find a fault

Behead a part of a wave
and find a nap

Behead a washbasin
and find a liquid

Behead a beginning
and find a dessert

Behead a notch
and find the middle

Behead a fruit
and find a variety

Can you solve these riddles? (They were all written by students, based on the work of Czechoslovakian poet Miroslav Holub)

Here are some clues: to behead a word means to remove the first letter of that word.

For example, if you behead the word strap like this, s/trap, you are left with the word trap.

Here’s how a Beheading for this could look like:

Behead a harness (another word for a strap)
and find a snare (another word for a trap)

Can you solve the rest now?

Writing the Poem

First Stage: You will know by now that you must begin by collecting as many words as you can before going on to tackle more specific writing. The words for a beheading must all be capable of having their first letter taken away to leave an entirely new word. The example already explained is the word s/trap. Another one would be s/lumber:

1. slumber meaning to sleep, and 2. lumber meaning wood or logs

In selecting your words you should concentrate on finding nouns, either concrete or abstract (for example, you can behead fear!).

Using a dictionary at this stage will be very helpful.

Second stage: To make a complete beheading you are actually creating a riddle. You wouldn’t simply write Behead a strap because this would be too easy to do! Therefore, you now need to find a synonym for your chosen word. This is a word that means the same as your beheading. In the example we are using, a harness can be another word for a strap.

You use the same process for the second part of your riddle. You wouldn’t say and find a trap, because that is simply giving away the answer! Therefore, you will again need to find another synonym. In our example, we use snare as another word for trap.

Try to be as interesting as you can with your choice of synonyms. However, as the idea is to get others to solve your beheadings, don’t make them too complex.

Using a thesaurus at this stage will be essential.

Final stage: This is a case of writing as many beheadings as you can and listing them in an entertaining order. Make sure you know the solutions before you ask others to solve your creations!

If working in pairs or small groups, you can produce a class Beheadings (keeping yours secret) and award a prize for the individual who is the first to solve all of them. Have competitions with other classes. Have competitions with other schools using e-mail exchanges.

The best competition is seeing if your teacher can solve your beheadings!

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