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Kennings

What is a kenning?

Kennings are two word phrases. The two words are joined together with a hyphen and are usually created using a noun and a verb (e.g. spine-tingling, bone-chilling, life-giving, ear-piercing) or two nouns (e.g. book-worm, sky-scraper).

Kennings can be descriptive or metaphorical, which makes them perfect for poetry.


Kennings poems

Kennings phrases can be joined together to create effective poetry. In a kennings poem, each line is made up of two words joined using a hyphen.  The poem itself often takes the form of a riddle, so that the reader has to guess what is being described.

Can you guess which animals are being described below?

What am I?

Tree-dwelling

Worm-eating

Dawn-calling

Sky-diving

Wing-beating

Nest-making

What am I?

Branch-swinger

Banana-lover

Jungle-howler

Tail-dangler

Tree-jumper

Nit-picker

Fruit-eater

Find everything you need to teach children to identify and create kennings poems in our fantastic Ancient Eqyptian Poetry Pack.


Where do you find kennings?

Kennings are often used in poetry, and have a long history in Old English and Norse poems where they were used to describe nature, gods and mythology. The epic Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, contains many kennings, such as:

Body = bone-house

Sword = battle-light

Blood = battle-sweat

King = ring-giver

Ship = wave-floater

Sea = whale-road

If you are studying Anglo-Saxons with your class, why not use our FREE Anglo-Saxon Sword Kennings Template to design and describe your own swords using kennings!

Modern kennings

There are plenty of examples of kennings which describe everyday objects in modern life e.g. skyscraper, book worm. Kennings also appear in modern literature. Some of the best examples are the names of the giants in Roald Dahl's The BFG: Fleshlumpeater, Bonecruncher, Maid masher, Gizzardgulper, Manhugger, Meatdripper and Childchewer.

Asking children to create their own monstrous characters can be a great way to explore kennings with your class.Why not download our FREE Character Creator resources which your children can use to generate and record nouns and verbs for their own kennings poems.


Fun kennings activities to try with your class:

Experimenting with kenning phrase and poems is a fantastic way to introduce your children to the world of figurative language.

Here are some creative ideas for you to use with your class:

1.Creat kennings phrases to name:

...an object, e.g. life-taker = Anglo-Saxon swords

...an occupation, e.g. knowledge-giver = teacher

...a monster, e.g. worm-eater = bird

2. Write kennings poems which describe the seasons, a sport or the weather.

3. Add in an element of team-building by creating kennings poems in table groups, with each child creating a line of the poem before passing the poem on.

3. Write an advertisement for a food product or a theme park which use kenning phrases e.g. lip-smacking, toe-curling.

4. Ask children to write a kennings poem to describe themselves as a start of the year activity. This is especially great, if you create a poem of your own to share with the class e.g.

Who am I?

Book-reader,
Lesson-planner,
Chocolate-eater,
Coffee-drinker,
Tapir-lover.

Extend the activity by asking children to match each poems to their peers.


LESSON PACK Ancient Egyptian Poetry Pack


FREE Character Creator


FREE Anglo-Saxon Sword Kennings Template