One of the great things about poetry is that it comes in bite-sized pieces which can easily find a place in the busy school day. A poem need not necessarily have a whole lesson built around it; listening is an end in itself and an enjoyable way of starting or ending a lesson or of signalling a change of activity. If you'd like to extend these 'poetry moments' with short activities which will make your students think about what they have heard, here are a few ideas to get you started.
The Poetry Archive is primarily about listening, and classroom activities around poetry need not always involve students doing their own writing - there are plenty of other ways of responding to a poem. These activities are designed to get inside the poem and look at some of its many different aspects: vocabulary, sound-effects, imagery, narrative, form, tone and so on. They also provide opportunities for students to practise their critical skills and use critical vocabulary. It's a good idea to listen more than once if time allows. There are complex interactions of sound and sense in a poem, and your students will notice and appreciate these more with each listen. 7
Memory game: Have pen and paper ready but keep it to one side while you listen to the poem. Choose a short poem and listen without reading the text on screen. Without speaking to anyone, begin immediately to write down what you think you have heard. Your challenge is to reproduce the poem as accurately as possible. This activity encourages attentive listening and recall. Comparing notes can reveal interesting differences in the way individuals respond to what they hear and what they feel is most important.
Definitions: Choose a poem with some unusual or challenging vocabulary. Listen, then work in pairs to make thoughtful guesses at the meaning of words you don't know. Draw on all available clues in the context and the sound of the word. This activity should be kept light-hearted - it's not a test! Afterwards, look up the words in the dictionary and compare the two definitions.
Poetry explorers: Listen to a poem as a whole-class activity, then set off individually or in pairs to make your own discoveries using the Search facility. Use the first poem as a springboard to find another you like by the same poet. After ten minutes' exploration, share some of your new discoveries.
Themes: Another way of finding poems in the Poetry Archive is to Search by Theme. Look at the list of themes - which do you think apply to the poem you've just heard? Click and see if the search engine agrees with you. Can you identify other themes in the poem which don't appear in our list?
Role play: Pair up and take on roles: one of you is the poet, the other a journalist interviewing the poet for a magazine. The journalist has three minutes to think up some questions to ask, while the poet uses this time to look closely at the poem and make some notes which might help him/her to respond. Keep the interview itself short - five minutes is enough. Try to come up with original, free-ranging questions which still concentrate on the poem and the poet's preoccupations and methods as a writer, rather than favourite colours and brand of toothpaste!
Threes: Listen to the recording twice, then make notes responding to the following prompts:
- Three things you like about the poem
- Three things you don't like or don't fully understand.
- Three questions you would ask if the poet were here.
It's important to pick out specifics (individual words or phrases, images, even punctuation!) rather than giving vague responses such as "I like the atmosphere" or "I don't like the style". This activity encourages you to look critically at the way a poem is made.
Radio: You are a broadcaster, given the job of introducing this poem to the listening public. Listen twice, following the text on screen. Now write a brief introductory paragraph, preparing the listener and saying what's good about the poem. The challenge is to do this effectively without giving too much away; simply re-telling narrative will not make for a good introduction. Zero in on other powerful features of the poem (its quirky half-rhyme, its brilliant use of metaphor...). If time allows, extend this activity by choosing a piece of music to illustrate the poem.
Television: You are a TV producer and your job is to present this poem through the essentially visual medium of television. What images would you use to accompany the poem? They could be still photographs, film, fine art, cartoon... rough out a storyboard showing how images and sound would work together.