Saturday, 30 January 2016

Teaching Poetry: Strategies I've Stolen

When it comes to teaching poetry, it is pretty much guaranteed that the majority of faces in your class will drop with disappointment.  The reasons can vary, though often it comes down a lack of confidence.

When I recently started tackling the new unseen poetry skills needed for the new AQA specification, I asked students to write their worries on a post-it.  Their responses were interesting; as they'd studied the anthology's 'Power and Conflict' collection in Year 9, most were happy that they could spot what methods the writer used in a poem.  However, they were still worried about what- in my opinion- is the most important part of studying poetry: why it is written.

Due to this, I decided that I needed to ensure that everything we did towards preparing for the unseen poetry exam should focus on moving away from the danger-zone of 'feature spotting'.  Instead, we've focused on building our own interpretations, and then using the writer's methods as supporting evidence rather than the main point.

With this in mind, here are a few of the strategies I've used (most of which have been lovingly 'borrowed' from wonderful and talented colleagues).

Using Art To Explore Poetry
Exploring the abstract meanings behind works of art has proven a useful way of opening students' minds to figurative meanings, so that they don't take poetic texts literally.  I've done this through quick starters on whiteboards (see below), as well as through a forum-based homework where students answer a question set by a previous student before posting a question for the next student.

Symbolism Through Emojis
It is surprising how much students are using symbolism in their own lives when they construct messages with emojis.  I've been building this into poetry, by using them in plenaries, to explain how a poet is feeling.  Likewise, emojis could be used to investigate structure and changes in tone throughout a poem.

Creating Personal Responses
Many students find it easier to verbalise their responses than to write them.  I gave my students the chance to demonstrate this by letting them choose their own poem and building their own interpretation, supported by analysis of key features.  Students then created a short presentation to convey their response, along with an exam question that might be given for their poem (thus building a good supply of practice questions too).  My students were also assessed on AO1 and AO2, with my feedback and peer feedback recorded for them to stick in their book and respond to.

Writing Poetry
As I am trialling Google Classroom with my Year 10 class, the next thing I want to do is for them to create their own collaborative poetry through a homework task.  Each student will create their own stanza, written from the viewpoint of a student being taught about poetry.  I'm hoping that this will provide an insight into their (hopefully growing) confidence about poetry along with giving them a chance to play with language themselves.  Afterwards, we'll be able to create a class response to the poem.

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