Thursday, 9 May 2013

Playing with Poetry


I love teaching poetry.  I might even go so far as to say that it is my favourite thing to teach. Creative writing is another favourite of mine, but I do love poetry.  My father is a poet.  He has books and books full of them dotted about his home.  I have read a selection over the years and they are wonderful.  I wish he would gather some togeher and publish them because they are more than good enough.  I suppose the idea that poetry is a true expression of one's soul has always been with me because of him. There is a raw clear honesty about his poems, while at the same time everything expressed in the poem is clouded. They are beautiful.

When I began my PGCE course, all those years ago at The Institute of Education, my group were asked a question.  What area of the curriculum were we most worried about teaching.  The resounding answer from all bar one PGCE teacher was that we feared teaching poetry.   I was relieved to have comrades to be honest.  I'm happy to say my fear was unfounded - I could not have been more wrong.  I soon discovered that poetry was a joy to teach.  Right from the very fist time I taught that old AQA anthology I was enraptured. It was made all the more enjoyable teaching the collection to an inner london comprehensive.  For all the diffuculties that encompasses you can't deny that there is such a great mix of cultures to pull perspectives from.  My love of teaching poetry has gone from strength to strength as I have had the pleasure of teaching it to different groups in school.  
It saddens me that so many students feel a deep dread when they are presented with a poem.  I try my best to take that fear out of poetry and allow them to explore and enjoy it. I thought I would share with you some approaches I use to teach poems in my class.  I don't use them every lesson, but I do like to dip into them every now and then.  Some I'm sure you already use but hopefully there is something of use for everyone.
 


Word Cloud:
Drop the whole text of a poem into a word cloud website and see what language trends are revealed. This great site creates a visual representation of the frequency of particular words used in the poem. The most frequently used word are presented as largest and the least frequest words are smallest.   Great as a starter for prediction of themes or key message in the poem.  You can do this to an entire text of a novel too - fascinating.
 
Line Sort: 
An oldie but a goodie.  Cut the lines up of the poem and give them to groups or pairs as a starter.  Get them to organise it as they feel it should be and share results asking for reasoning behind the order. Some great poems come out of this that bare no resemblance to the original.  This activity allows the students to really dig deeply into the language in the poem while they are trying to make the order make sense.  This also works as a revision exercise to help students remember and reconsider the poem's language and structure.  You could do this with individual words for shorter poems, a kind of fridge poetry I suppose.
 
Poem Crunch:
Drop the full text of a poem into a poem crunching site and see what language patterns appear as a result.  You can do this for free by using the sort function in word
Teachit also have a snazzy version if you have membership. 
Onion Approach:
This approach involves the students tackling the poem 'one layer at a time'.  I usually group or pair them and give them the poem to read.  Then I will draw the onion layers cross section diagram on the board for them to copy onto sugar paper.  Following this, I share with them the layers I want them to look at one at a time.  The specification of the layers can change from group to group, Y7 to A-level. First layer is usually the literal meaning or events we are presented with in the poem - they are not allowed to go deeper until instructed in order to get as much out of the poem as possible.  Second layer might be language devices used.  Third layer could be structural observations.  The final layer is the inferred, hidden or suggested meaning overall.  This is the deep analysis layer.  I often then use this as a basis for analytical writing on the poem.



Visual Response:
I think there is great power in the image when it comes to poetry analysis.  I often just get the students to read the poem and create an individual or group picture in response to the poem or annotate using images only.  I also have played around with moving image in response to the poems, or the good old PTT if we are pressed for time and can't get the video cameras.  This is great for a revision exercise too. Give a poem to each pair in the class to create a video, painting or visual PTT then present and explain their choices to the class.

Graphs:
Create a tension and excitement graph, plotting changes in mood and annotating the graph with quotes and analysis of those quotes on large paper.  Get students to circulate to see how other pairs/groups have approached the task.  Comment on each others graphs.


Freeze Frame Poetry
Give a different line from the poem to each group in the class and get them to create a freeze frame to represent the line.  Then do a class reading of the poem where they play out their lines and explain their choices to the class.  Less scary than drama but still gets them all up and active while learning.  

Acting Actions|
Get the whole class standing in a circle and read the poem to them.  If you have a shy class get a student to read the poem for you and get involved in the activity yourself. As the poem is read, the students silently act out actions that go with the words They are being read.  Great fun and certainly gets them thinking about the imagery used.
 
Role Play Poetry:
Get students to do a short role play of the poem, or sections of the poem.  You can make a literary history poem modern for instance.  Then sit as a class and discuss the new emotions and understanding they have gained as a result of the process.

Poetry to Prose to Poetry:
Adapt the poem in a word document so it looks like continuous prose.  Present this the the students and discuss what is going on in the extract. You can then reveal that it is a poem and ask them to create the line breaks to form the poem as they think it may be.  Next, get the students to present back and discuss their choices.  After they have done this they can compare their poem to the real poem and discuss the different effects you can achieve through structure.
 
Performance Poetry:
Give groups the same poem but ask them to rehearse and then perform or read the poem with different moods as a focus.  Happy, sad, angry, arrogant or excited for instance.  this can make for lots of laughs in class.  You can move on to reflect on the effect upon the reader.  Always interesting points raised. Another idea is to involve them in choral reading of the whole poem, sections or individual words.  This can be a fascinating experience for the students and allow them see the poem in a different light.

Blind Micro Analysis:
Before revealing the whole poem to the class, give each pair a line from the poem stuck on A3 paper. I ask them to read, discuss and annotate the line in minute detail.  For some groups I will leave this open and for others I will guide them giving them a new focus every two minutes.  For instance, I may ask them to focus on nouns, adjectives, verbs, emotive words, connotations or poetic devices at any one time. I may even place a list of features with definitions on the board to aid them. They very often come up with the most profound ideas with this approach.  We then look at the poem as a whole, discuss their views before and after.  Works a treat every time.
 


Poetry Essay Train:
This idea is adapted from an idea one my boss from two schools ago used regularly.  It can be used for anything from analytical essays to creative writing.  In this instance I use it for analysing a familiar or unseen poem in essay form.  Students sit in groups at round tables preferably.  Students will have read, discussed and annotated the poem you are studying at this point and have an understanding of essay expectations.  This is ideal for GCSE revision lessons.  My adivce is always to share and discuss the mark scheme in detail with groups before approaching any item of work you intend to grade, it is only fair.  

Place an essay question up on the board.  At this point you can differentiate the level of difficulty according to your class.  Either, ask students to write a brief bullet point plan for 4 main paragraphs, or plan an identical plan as a class to aid those unable to do this alone.  Ether way, the students will have a clear and brief bullet point plan for an essay on their lined paper under the essay title.  Then students write a brief introduction, with your initial guidance if necessary. (This is timed and in silence.). Then the klaxon/bell goes and the students pass their essay round the table once in a clockwise direction.  The students read what has been written by the previous student and follow the student's plan for the first paragraph.  Then the klaxon/bell goes again and the essay is passed clockwise once more.  The students read what the last two contributors have written and follow the plan outlined for the second paragraph, taking the ideas already explored into account.  This process continues until the essay is complete.  It is great for getting them to see one another's writing.  It also allows them to improve upon the writing they are passed.  This works really well with GCSE and A-Level alike.

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