You own my heart and mind
I truly adore you
Prince – Adore – Sign ‘O’ The Times
This is my favourite lesson. To be honest, I get really excited when I know poetry is coming up, and I believe most students enjoy it too; actually it’s a unit we all adore!
I feel oddly naked writing this blog. It is my exact thought process through the lesson and I hope you all like it as much as I do.If you feel you wouldn’t quite do it this way – that’s fine! This is just ‘my’ favourite lesson. Every time. Every year and with any year group. Depending on year group/poem/set this can be one lesson or two.
When I begin the first lesson for poetry I ask students ‘hands up, honestly, who likes poetry?’ Usually I get 4-6 students shoot their hand up. The rest avoid eye contact, or yawn, or do both. They know my next question will be ‘why not?’ Answers range from ‘I don’t get it’ to ‘it’s boring’. I could pretty much write the script, it is the same in nearly every lesson and year group. The worst part is I am so childish because I know by the end of the lesson when I ask them ‘who enjoyed this lesson, or who feels they may have misjudged poetry?’ I know this time most will raise their hand and only a few will still insist they hate it.
I then ask them how many students like and listen to music – pretty much all shove their hands up in the air. That’s it, I’ve got them! Next, I start my ppt ‘Intro to poetry’. I haven’t included it because it’s a complete rip off from Isabella Wallace How to analyse a poem you have never seen before. All I’ve done is copy the song lyrics onto a slide, but the original version, then a second with key words in red (as Isabella’s youtube clip). These are the songs and why I use them:
- Rihanna – Take A Bow -to show how the title of a ‘poem’ can tell you a lot about content
- Bruno Mars – Grenade – to show semantic field running through a ‘poem’
- Katy Perry – Firework – to show similes/metaphors used for effect/ to make a comparison
- Cee lo Green – Forget you- to show that you must read to the end of a ‘poem’ as it could have a different message
I don’t follow Isabella’s youtube clip completely, I use her idea of songs and the points picked up – I use it as a discussion point with the class (you can follow Isabella on twitter @).
By using song lyrics I can quickly point out that not only do students enjoy their musical taste but they understand the message/lyrics without having to work out the meaning or what they artist meant in a particular line. As a listener they can usually work it out or interpret it themselves putting their own spin on a song’s meaning. I don’t spend too long on this. I move on to the poem. For KS4 I use Little Red Riding Hood And The Wolf – by Roald Dahl
I give students a copy of the poem and ask them in pairs to annotate features or meaning. Then I ask them ‘what’s it about?’ I get the replies you’d expect; a wolf, a silly girl, stupid fairy story – couldn’t she see it was a wolf etc. Before we look at the poem in detail, at this point, we go back and look at the original story, because my resources are in a book I couldn’t upload so this may help some of you Little Red Riding Hood moral warnings. I have some images and writing on slides. Once students have recovered from the real meaning they are fascinated and we then start to analyse Dahl’s version which I think is a brilliant modern adaptation. As a class we look at how Red is presented in modern society. As I said earlier it depends how much time we have but normally for an introduction to poetry I allow one lesson on this which is a shame. I’d love to compare the poetry and different versions of the story over the years; analyse in detail how childhood is represented and has changed over the centuries, however, we simply don’t have time. So we briefly look at representation, ideologies, journey from childhood to womanhood, modern fascination with guns and violence, the importance on material items etc. How in the original story little red needs a man to save her (the woodcutter) but in modern society she is a strong, independent young woman. Finally how sex and sexuality is presented alongside childhood. Some of this is Q&A, some is paired or group work.
Below is a snapshot of one of my year 10s annotation. You need to take into account firstly, I only had 1 lesson for intro, original meaning, annotation, understanding etc and secondly, I’m more interested (at this point) in students understanding effect of writer’s choices and being able evaluate ideas presented, and finally this poem/lesson was only ever meant to ‘hook’ them. I am anticipating little murmurs along the way …(not much written there/mine annotate loads more) remember this is an intro lesson. Here I want them to re-evaluate their perceptions of poetry: this lesson is a hook!
Once we’ve analysed the poem, understood meaning and discussed representation I put a question on the board along the lines ‘explore how childhood is represented’…. and then, depending on time they write independently, an analysis essay until lesson finishes.
The same student not only went on to analyse poems from the anthology to a high standard, but gained an A* in English language and A in literature and the class as a whole performed amazingly on GCSE results day.
During the unit I snapped a copy of her understanding/annotation of ONE stanza from Duffy’s Havisham. The class do feature spot, but I challenge them to annotate techniques used for meaning and effect; look at structure not just vocabulary.
For year 7 and 8, I often use Humpty Dumpty. There’s no real reason why I use this and not Red other than I like to save Red for KS4, and in a student’s time at a school there is a possibility they may have me again. By taking a story they are familiar with (Humpty) we unpick the nursery rhyme and by the end students make some interesting interpretations; was Humpty pushed, was it an accident, was it suicide! Does the break represent an emotional or mental state, a crushed ego or is it simply broken bones? Who was Humpty? Was he a friend of the King or an enemy? Is it a character escaping because they were held against their will and that’s why the King sends his men; are they the criminal or a victim? Again, here all I am trying to do is get students to look at something they are familiar with and see it with fresh eyes. For this I only use 1 lesson. Also at the end I get all students to write up their interpretation into a paragraph answering a question I put on the board.. it would be something along the lines ‘how has XXX used poetry techniques to create meaning’.
For Year 9 I often use Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony by Shel Silverstein. I really like the poem (as a way of introducing students to poetry) and the way you can analyse beyond the words; looking at representation of childhood in modern society. The message/meaning of the poem gets students thinking beyond underlining a rhyme or alliteration they’ve noticed. Whilst it is important that students can feature spot, unless they can tell me ‘why’ I have to ask myself what am I teaching them? My youngest daughter (year 8 at the time of writing this) could pick out several poetry techniques in primary school. So at this point I am more interested in moving on to effect, meaning, interpretation and evaluation. In my intro to poetry lesson I always use stories they are familiar with and try to get students to see it from a new angle.
When introducing a comparison lesson I often use Carol Ann Duffy. Her War Photographer and In Mrs Tilscher’s class – I often use side by side because; same poet, similar techniques and structure but completely different effect. You can find out more of that here: Poems of Carol Ann Duffy – revision guide:
I like most of the lessons I teach, but my intro to poetry is my favourite.
Here are some documents you may find useful in your teaching:
A2 Key Terms: AQA Teacher Resource Bank
Glossary for the programmes of study for English: English_Glossary