Teaching a year 7 poetry unit, my aim was to set them up with the skills so they could understand literary devices and how to construct poems in a creative way, to allow them to independently analyse and appreciate poetry.
We looked at a range of appropriate poems, poems which did not leave children out. Poems were chosen which would give pleasure but also allow us to teach a range of techniques. For example we looked at poems using personification, such as’ ‘Meeting Midnight’ by Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Jack Frost in the Gardne’ by John P Smeeton, and ‘There Came a Day’ by Ted Hughes.
We read these and talked about the characters created in the poems, and how these characters had been created by the writer.
To prepare for writing their own poem, pupils chose a season, and for homework created a mood board, following my example from my powerpoint, included in this post. They could copy and paste from the internet, cut out from magazines, or draw. This was a fun homework, and the mood boards were shared in groups and then displayed on the wall.
Pupils wrote their own personification poem, helped by these questions I invented as a poet-in-schools, prior to going into teaching.
- What mood is the season in?
- What colours does your season wear?What is your season dressed in?What sounds does s/he make as s/he moves?How does s/he move?What are your season’s finest moments?
- Who are its parents?
Other techniques were taught in the same manner, by using a model, and the pupils writing their own poem on a different topic, to ensure over-reliance on the model. These techniques included shape poems (great for display), onomatopoeia, imagery and any other techniques teachers wanted to teach them. The point was the pupils wrote their OWN poems having been shown how by good poems shared in class, through reading aloud, discussing in pairs, group work and presentation to the whole class.
Most importantly, after all this creative learning and sharing of poems, including their own, we came to the job of writing their assignment. I had kept one poem back for this, a stunning poem by Ted Hughes called ‘Snow on Snow’. I can’t reproduce it here because of copyright, but if you go and look it up, your effort will not be in vain.
This gorgeous poem was completely unseen to my year 7s. I didn’t give them a copy of it. I asked them to close their eyes, if they wanted they could put their heads down on the desks, and I simply read the poem to them, quietly, so they could take it in. Then I read it again, and a third time. For that third time I asked them to try to remember any lines they could as they heard it.
I went round each pupil in the class asking for a phrase or line they could recall, and wrote them all down on the board, for any the same, I wrote a tally next to the line. I asked them why they had remembered these snatches, and why they liked them. The things they had noticed was amazing, they used correct terminology where needed, but they were also very vocal about why they liked some of the phrases, for example ‘the chapel of her sparkle’ was very popular. They liked the consonance and assonance, but also told me it was very romantic, that the snow was like a bride in church, and the word sparkle showed her beauty. They were so perceptive, and saw things in the poem far beyond one person’s ideas.
They were then able to write their own individual assignments without any further help from me. They finished the unit with their love of poetry intact, and further developed, they were confident in their terminology (and could ask for help if needed), and I saw their deep learning happen before my very eyes. In the feedback to me afterwards – always asked for as part of the end of any unit, many of them commented that they didn’t used to like poetry much, but they love it now.
A good teacher doesn’t kill the texts they teach.