Staying in focus

16th November 2007 at 00:00

Ages 15 to 16

GCSE pupils often have to compare poems - as in the popular AQA Anthologies - but they ask "Where do I start?" Left to their own devices, they often fall back on writing about one poem, then the other, shoving any links into the conclusion, as an afterthought.

I use the mnemonic COPMUDS to focus their comparison. Teach them to take the Content or ideas of the poems - often a good way into the different poets' reactions to the set theme. Move on to crucial literary techniques - Organisation (shape of stanzas, rhyme and punctuation) and Point of View (is it the poet's voice or a persona?) Metaphorical language features, of course, as the "M" but encourage them to look for the Unusual.

Pupils often shy away from what is odd or unusual - but this can be precisely what makes a poem worth studying. Differences and Similarities should be written about as they go along.

The essay should be like a game of tennis: each paragraph is a rally, where the ideas go back and forth over the net to connect the poems. If they're tackling those tricky questions on named poets as well as pre-1914 poems, then it's a game of doubles: not every poet has to be touched upon in every rally.

If it's a question on different cultures, they can end where they began, on C - by linking the content to the culture.

John Gallagher is head of English at Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls.

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