English - Rage against machines

12th October 2012 at 01:00
Show pupils that we all use personification, not just poets

Why do poets use weird techniques like personification? They can seem so remote from the lives of pupils, making them hard to understand and remember.

It can help to go back to the origins of literary techniques by placing them within our everyday experience. It is not just Shakespeare and Keats who employ personification - we use it ourselves all the time. When we talk about a machine that frustrates us, we say things like "This photocopier hates me" and "My mobile phone has just died". Get your class to write down as many of these examples as possible.

Next, look at how personification is used in advertising to sell machines. The Hotpoint Aquarius is an "intelligent washing machine" and a "gallant saviour" that will come to your "rescue", for instance. Reviews on the Top Gear website call one car "civilised" and praise another's "rational brilliance". Pupils will see how a machine can become friendly, clever, even romantic.

They can design their own adverts, using personification to sell a machine of their choice. This teaches them how the technique can suggest a character and imply a relationship with something that might otherwise be described only in unemotional, technical terms. Get pupils to read each other's adverts, and choose another pupil's product to write about. They can then write an email to a friend, complaining that the machine in the advert does not work. This time, though, they must use personification to express their frustration.

They should end up with two completely different texts about the same machine: the original advert might feature a computer billed as "a knight in cyber-armour", while the email complaining of its failure may brand it "a demon who's ruined my life".

This can prepare pupils for the richly figurative, passionate language of Shakespeare. After they have enjoyed using personification to rage against their machines, they can slip more easily into the minds of characters who tell the wind and the sun what to do: "Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon" (Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, l.4).

Pupils can then move from the personification of physical things to the personification of abstract things, like fear: "That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies" (Macbeth, IV, i, l.85).

Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa


Study William Blake's use of personification in the poem Ah! Sunflower with a PowerPoint presentation from rec208.


Pupils write poems about a sleepy house or an angry sea in fairykitty's personification exercises. bit.lysleepyhousepoems

Be a literary Sherlock Holmes and find personification in prose with Miss R's lively activity based on The Hound of the Baskervilles.


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