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Pepping up poetry

To help visual and kinaesthetic learners think about ways to study poetry, I take visual aids to an early lesson: a few onions, some tins of condensed soup or milk, a set of Russian dolls and some wallpaper and curtain samples.

The dolls and the onions are passed round and students are asked to suggest what they have in common. Someone usually says "layers", occasionally after prompting. I then explain that poetry has layers that we need to peel away to reach the core of what the poet wants us to think about. I choose a simple, short poem to illustrate this: the top layer being the storyline, the second layer being the shape and structure and the third layer the ideasthemes.

The tins of condensed goods pose more of a problem in guessing the connection to poetry but, usually with a little teasing out, such as "What do we add to this soup?" and "What difference does this make?" and so on, we reach the idea of something having more to it than first appears. We then explore how every word is often packed full of meaning. We have to dilute it by peeling away the layers to understand it; that is our study, our analysis.

This leads on to the technical tools needed for the peeling and diluting: the understanding of alliteration, imagery and so on. The wallpaper and curtain samples are again passed around. By now, students are catching on to the connections and we quite quickly have the words "shape", "colour" and "patterns". This leads to links with maths, art and then music with discussion of rhyme, rhythm and tone.

Towards the end of the unit I take one of the poems they are analysing and we play "pass the parcel", at each stop producing a written note about one of the features of the poem, as well as a small reward. It has worked just as well with Year 11 as with Year 7.

Jeanette Plumb

Assistant principal, Hartcliffe Engineering Community College, Bristol

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