A good way to make sure everyone gets involved in an English literature lesson at AS and A-level is to do a "round". I pose a question such as, "What is the most important word in this poem?" or, "What character feature of X is being shown here?" Students respond in turn around the class, quite quickly, so that each person gets a chance to share their ideas about the poem.
Sometimes almost everyone comes up with the same answer, which reinforces a point about the poem. Other times, the variety of responses is beautifully diverse. One poem which has attracted a diverse range of answers is "To his Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell. (I ask: "What was your favourite image?") There were also very favourable responses to Henry Vaughan's "The World".
Eighty per cent of the students gave the answer "soared", as in "his soul soars up to heaven" to the question, "Which do you think is the most outstanding word in this poem?"
When the kind of response I am looking for is challenging, I begin the round myself.
Elizabeth Robison, Greenhead College, West Yorkshire