Lesson on 'Walking with my Iguana' by Brian Moses
'Walking with my Iguana' is a highly energetic performance poem which cries out to be responded to through movement and vocal interpretation as well as analysis and discussion. Part of the success and depth of children's responses will depend on the willingness of the teacher concerned to allow them to interpret the poem through these other methods. The poem could fit in with work in Year 3 Term 3 (oral and performance poetry from different cultures); or Year 5 Term 3 (choral and performance poetry).
By the end of the lesson the pupils will have:
- discussed the structure of the poem, specifically the effect of the use of rhyme
- read the poem inferentially to discuss assumptions about the speaker of the poem, and about the role the speaker adopts
- considered the overall impact of the poem upon the listener as a piece for performance
- Poetry Archive recording of Brian Moses reading 'Walking with my Iguana'
- screen or whiteboard linked to Poetry Archive website, for viewing the text of the poem
- multiple printed copies of the poem
- marker pens/felt tips
- web page or poster photographs of an iguana
- pre-prepared list of wide-angled questions on the poem for group work
Teaching sequence of activities
Whole class activities
Activating prior knowledge; discussion. Before reading and listening to the poem, ascertain with the class what an iguana is. If possible, play a video or multimedia web image of an iguana in its habitat. Discuss with the children what it looks like, how it moves, what it might be like to touch. Elicit personal responses from them: does it look fierce or friendly? Cuddly or angry? Draw up a list of words to describe the animal. What might it be like to have one as a pet? How would it be differ from having a dog/cat/hamster as a pet? Elicit responses and note on a list through shared writing.
Listening. Listen to recording of Brian Moses reading the poem once. What do you notice about the poem and its rhythm, rhymes, use of words? What feelings and responses do you have towards it? Listen to the poem again. Why is it unusual to take an iguana out for a walk? Elicit responses from children about how they would feel doing this. Compare with how the speaker of the poem feels doing it. How does the speaker come across (e.g. nervous? excited? worried? confident?). How can we tell he is like this? Discussion on the impact of the performance upon us.
Differentiated group activities
- Text marking. Using different coloured felt tip pens the children are to find and mark the different sections of the poem, identifying any patterns that they notice. This begins with noting the rhymes in individual stanzas; and could lead on to how the poem moves the story along (or not). Ask children to note what is going on in each section. What do we learn about the iguana and how it behaves: from the way it is described? and from the way people react to it?
- Role playing questions. Ask the children to draw up a list of questions which they would like to ask the speaker of the poem. These could be closed ('How long have you had your iguana?') or open ('What made you have an iguana as a pet?' 'What is it like taking an iguana out for a walk?'). Make sure they ask a variety of each.
- Wide-angle questions. This is good to start with in pairs. Pupils have a list of questions to discuss on the poem (3-4 should be enough). They must be questions to which there is no obvious right or wrong answer. They tend to work best when they are a bit eccentric, e.g. 'Is this a good title for the poem?'; 'can you think of anything the writer has left out here?'; 'what kind of idea do we get about the writer (age, appearance, hobbies) from the writing?'; 'what makes this a performance poem?'
Whole class activity
Feedback from group activities.
What has each group learned:
- about the poetic structure of the poem? What are the key words? Lead on to a discussion and exploration of 'good' and 'bad' rhyme. How do we define these, and can we spot them in this poem? Is rhyme always used in the same way?
- about the character in the poem, and our assumptions about him; and about the atmosphere of the poem, and whether it changes or develops?
- about the poems in general? What can we tell about the author? What do we enjoy about it/ What might we change?
Children from each group to share work and comment on each other's work.
Year 3 Term 2: oral and performance poetry from different cultures
9: to experiment with deleting words in sentences to see which are essential to retain the meaning and which are not
10: to understand the differences between verbs in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person, e.g. I/we do, you/you do, he/she/they do/does
Reading comprehension 5: rehearse and improve performance, taking note of punctuation and meaning
Writing composition 11: to write extended verses for performance based on models of 'performance' and oral poetry read, e.g. rhythms, repetition
Performance: the Poetry Choir
An idea from Jamaica, where schools regularly compete in 'poetry choirs'. The idea is to use the poem not as a strict script which the children repeat exactly as on the page, but use as a template or 'score' which they adapt, using different vocal and percussion effects.
In practice this might mean having one section of the choir concentrating on repetition of the phrase 'walking, walking, walking the iguana', while another represents the walking with percussion; while another section leads off with a whole or part of a verse. These sections are sequenced by the class in collaboration with the teacher, who can conduct the choir, or appoint a conductor.
Another way of doing this is to split the class into four small poetry choirs, who adapt their own scores separately.
A further extension is to try it out with different performance poems by other poets, to see which work best; and to add to the creative impetus by having the children make their own percussion instruments, costumes and masks to suit the poem.
Create extended and new stanzas with different animals: e.g., lion: 'It's the fur on his face / Which makes him look sweet / You'd better watch out / He may want something to eat'.
For contrast, read 'Days' by Brian Moses (or listen to it on his Poetry Archive CD).
Collect visual representations (photos/drawings/artwork) of special days of class members to make a class wall/patchwork poem, where each image is a token of time. Each image should relate to a specific memory which the child could describe in a single line ('the time when I was...', 'the time when we all...'). These separate lines are collected together to make a class poem. Both 'Days' and the class poem could be performed and compared with the earlier performances of the iguana piece.
Other poems by Brian Moses
'For Forest' by Grace Nichols.