Lesson on 'Granny is' by Valerie Bloom
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One of the things Valerie Bloom excels at is renewing our view of the world by describing it freshly through the technique of metaphor. Anyone who has spent time with young children will know that they are natural users of metaphor, perhaps because their vocabulary is still limited and therefore need to find ways of expressing themselves inventively. Poets seek actively to replicate this experimental use of language, finding, in Robert Frost's phrase 'a fresh look and a fresh listen'.
A good poem of Valerie's to introduce this subject with is 'Mummy, are You Blind?', which is spoken in a child's voice and uses this fresh way of looking at the world with gentle humour. In the poem a sandcastle becomes a wedding cake, three dead flies a rock band, and a dog-bowl the golden platter of a prince. Children at Key Stage 1 connect readily with this view of things as it talks about their way of seeing and the way their insights are often misinterpreted.
'Mummy, are You Blind?' can be read to the class to introduce the idea of metaphor, either at the start of the lesson or the day before during storytime. It might be useful to keep an open mind about whether or not to use the term 'metaphor', relying instead on the idea of describing one thing by saying another thing.
By the end of the lesson the pupils will have:
- discussed the way the poem uses simple metaphors to describe the character and personality of 'Granny';
- made a poem using their own metaphorical descriptions of a grandmother.
- recording of Valerie Bloom reading 'Granny Is'
- CD player and/or internet connection to the Poetry Archive
- poster/OHT of poem
- multiple printed copies of the poem
- marker pens/felt tips
- pre-prepared list of statements about the poem
Teaching sequence of activities
Whole class activities
Shared Writing. Brainstorm a web diagram or list with the children about the subject of grandmothers. Try to push them into using specific examples; you could make subheadings eg 'things grandmothers cook', 'things grandmothers do', 'things grandmothers remember', 'things grandmothers say', etc.
Listening. Play recording of the poem to the class once. Take responses. What did you notice about the poem? What did it remind you of? Play the poem a second time. Ask children to focus on what Granny is doing in the poem. What does the speaker of the poem feel about her? How can you tell? What kind of visual image of Granny do we have from the poem?
Reading/Modelling by teacher. Using the OHT/poster of the poem, the teacher models in front of the children the technique of text marking which the children are to use in the next activity. Input from the teacher on the way each stanza paints a different picture of what Granny is doing (eg Stanza 1, cooking; Stanza 2, shopping; Stanza 3, working and so on). Notice the way the poem pulls the reader in by using sensory detail and concrete language; the verbs in the middle stanzas are especially effective: loadin', washin', scrubbin', haulin'. What does this tell us about the kind of woman Granny is and the kind of life she leads?
Input on the way the poem uses metaphor, ie begins each stanza by saying 'Granny is', not Granny does, or Granny is like. Each description of Granny is something that she is, not only the actions she makes.
Whole class activity (differentiation by outcome)
First of all the children need to write down the exact name that they call their grandmother by. It doesn't matter if it is not Granny, it could be something very short like Da, or informal like Gran. Then get the class to write down a list consisting of these elements: something their grandmother cooks, or specifically if possible cooks for them; something their grandmother buys from the shops; something their grandmother does (perhaps she works at home or goes to work, or does other things physically with her hands like knitting); something she says, or sings, or tells; a line of actual spoken language, even if it is corny or obvious like 'Haven't you grown?'
The idea is that each of the items in the list acts as a starting point for a separate stanza about their grandmother. Each stanza should start with 'Granny/Gran/Nanna (etc) is'. For some children the list that they have made will be enough writing, and will only need the insertion of 'Granny is' between ideas to make it into a poem. Other children will want to extend their lines by adding two or three more examples for each idea. Stress that it is more important for the details of the poems to be honest and accurate than it is for them to rhyme.
Whole class activity
- Feedback from group activity. What has each group learned about using metaphor as a way of describing people and making them come alive?
- Children from each group to share work and comment on each other's work.
- discuss the way the poem uses rhyme to close each stanza and the effects of this;
- discuss the way the poem moves in and out of Standard English, with attention to the choices the writer has made about vocabulary and syntax.
If the class are familiar with the technique of Kennings the class could look up Philip Gross's poem 'Daughter of the Sea' (The Poetry Book for Primary Schools by Anthony Wilson and Siân Hughes, Poetry Society, 1998), which is a nice contrast with Valerie's own metaphorical river poem.