Lesson on 'Pike' by Ted Hughes
Hughes provides the perfect introduction to his poem 'Pike' in the Poetry Archive recording. The prose extract is taken from a series of programmes he made for the BBC. If you have the chance it would be worth reading the whole programme 'Capturing Animals' which is reproduced in the book Poetry in the Making and includes examples of other animal poems you might want to use with your class.
Ideally this plan should extend to a two or three lesson sequence which would include students' own poetry writing. It would be a challenging and creative unit for a Yr 9 class.
- To develop an understanding of how a poet uses language to capture creatures on the page.
- To use this understanding to draft a poem on a 'sinister' animal.
- Poetry Archive recording of Ted Hughes reading 'Pike'.
- Data projector, interactive whiteboard or OHP.
- Pictures of pike, either from non-fiction books, charts or internet images and/or a stuffed pike (some local museums will loan out materials from their collections).
- Mini-whiteboards (or paper) and pens.
- Images of other potentially sinister but fascinating animals, such as snakes, snails, bats, leeches, locusts, vultures, carrion crows, alligators, sharks, sting rays.
Teaching sequence of activities
Find out if anyone in the group has been fishing or has parents who fish. Why do they do it? What's the attraction?
Listen to Ted Hughes's short introduction to 'Pike' at least once. What does he say about the fish and his experiences of fishing? Ask students to summarise the key points in three phrases.
Show images (preferably in colour) of a pike. What do the students notice about the fish's features? Its size? Colours? How might it move through the water? What might it be like to try to land a fish of this size? Using a coloured pen to label the image with comments on any distinctive features the group has noticed.
Now listen to Ted Hughes reading the poem (preferably twice). The poem falls into three sections: the first four stanzas describe the Pike and its habitat; the next three look at Pike kept behind glass; and the final four stanzas recall a specific pond and the sinister experience of fishing there. If you can do so, project the poem on to a screen and/or provide copies for students to read.
Now go fishing in these first four stanzas for words, phrases, whole lines which describe the Pike. What can the students catch? Add quotations to the notes you have already made around the fish image in a different coloured pen. (If you have the poem as a word version on an IWB you could cut and paste these quotations around the fish picture). Now ask your students to think about how Hughes's words compare with their own original ideas? How does he bring the fish to life? What qualities does he focus on? Pick on some specific details such as 'malevolent aged grin', 'submarine delicacy and horror', 'a life subdued to its instrument'.
You could then divide the class into eight groups and make four groups responsible for reporting back their ideas about one of the two remaining sections. In each case they should focus on what else they learn about the Pike itself, the world it inhabits and the way the narrator reacts to the Pike.
Once you have shared ideas about the whole poem, ask students to read aloud or listen to the poem again and see if there is anything else anyone has noticed about how it is written. In preparation for the next two lessons, students should look at images of other potentially sinister creatures and begin to think about a subject for their own poem. (You could set a homework task to research a creature and bring information about it to the next lesson.)
Lessons two and three
Students can use their research and images to write their own poems on a sinister animal. For further ideas on this topic also refer to the lesson plan on 'Unpleasant and curious creatures' on this website.
Ask the group to think back to Ted Hughes's introduction (if you have time you could listen to it again) and to what they have already said about how the poem is written and their own previous experiences of drafting poems. What links can they now find between writing a poem and fishing?
- How do other poems and poets capture animals? Compare 'Pike' with other poems by Hughes (some ideas are listed in Further Reading and Listening) and/or with other poems on this website such as 'Hyena' by Edwin Morgan; 'Bats' Ultrasound' by Les Murray; 'Considering the Snail' by Thom Gunn; and 'Pipistrelles' by Kathleen Jamie.
- Students could compile their own sinister animals poetry anthology and write an introduction.
- Use the poem as starting point for a discussion or writing about the rights and wrongs of fishing.
- Provide a glossary or word matching/fishing game activity for definitions of potentially difficult words and phrases, including 'malevolent', 'grandeur', 'silhouette', 'submarine delicacy', 'a life subdued to its instrument', 'pectorals', 'muscular tench'.
- A card sort activity on arguments for and against fishing.
- There are a number of fishing sites on the internet which include pictures and text about catching prize pike. These could also be used as an initial stimulus. For instance, look at this picture of a massive pike caught in Scotland by a woman angler! www.anglersnet.co.uk
- Poetry in the Making by Ted Hughes (published by Faber and Faber).
- Other poems from Lupercal by Ted Hughes (published by Faber and Faber), especially 'Thrushes', 'Hawk Roosting', 'Snowdrop' and 'The Bull Moses'. Like 'Pike', these poems reveal the power and surprising violence of the natural world.
- The Tree House, a poetry collection by Kathleen Jamie (published by Picador).