Different writers, different times

Julie Blake


This sequence of activities is designed to last several lessons. Its primary focus is on the thematic and stylistic comparison of two poems from different times. There are oral and written outcomes including poetry performance, writing a poem within constraints, and more formal literary analysis. 


For students to: imaginatively explore their own special places and those of two poets from different times and places: W.B. Yeats (Ireland) and James Berry (Jamaica); to experience creative reading and creative writing; to develop a comparative analysis of the two poems. 

Resources needed

Poetry Archive recordings: W.B. Yeats's 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and James Berry's 'Childhood Tracks'. Internet connected computer, projector and speakers for class listening to these two poems. Copies of the poems and downloadable poem outline.

Teaching sequence of activities


Give an example of one or more of your own "special places": where and what it means to you. You could show pictures. Invite paired discussion of student's own “special places”, then each student to pick one, the memory of which they think they will most cherish in later life.  

Silent individual work with students noting words or phrases in response to the questions below. If you use these question forms and in this order, the activity will link more strongly to later reading of the Berry poem.

  • In this special place, what are you eating? 
  • What are you drinking?
  • What are you smelling?
  • What are you hearing?
  • What are you seeing? 

Invite paired review of notes and ideas, adding new ones as they arise. Finish by asking each person to contribute a word they would use to describe how they feel when they think about their favourite place. Keep this word wall for later comparison with the moods of the poems under consideration. 


The Lake Isle of Innisfree, W.B. Yeats 
Give students a copy of the poem and, using the Poetry Archive, play the recording of the introduction Yeats gives to his poem but not his reading of it. Link this to their thinking about “special places” and invite them to consider different ways of performing a poem: a single reader, different readers taking different parts, a reader and echoing by others; also, intonation, pace, rhythm, emphasis, etc. Then students work in groups of 3 to prepare a reading of the poem that they think best suits its mood and meaning (link back to moods word wall). Select groups with contrasting or interesting approaches to perform their version for the class. 

Play the Poetry Archive recording of Yeats reading the poem, and invite comparisons and responses. Review what students have learned from preparing their readings of the poem: who is the speaker? What situation is s/he in or thinking about? What settings are significant and why? If the broad theme is “special places”, what does Yeats’ poem make you think or feel about this? Develop more detailed analysis as appropriate to the class.

Finish by inviting class discussion of whether or not they think the speaker does “arise and go now”. If so, invite speculation about what happens when he gets there; if not, why not and what happens? 

Childhood Tracks, James Berry 

Introduce the poem in relation to “special places” and James Berry’s Jamaican childhood (see notes about the poet on the webpage). Play the recording and invite immediate responses, perhaps by asking the first person to contribute a similiarity to the Yeats poem, the second a difference, the third something they liked about it, the fourth something they weren’t sure about, and the fifth carte blanche to say what they like.  

Play the recording a few more times, or have students working in groups around a PC, each time asking new questions to establish the basics: who is the speaker? What situation is s/he in or thinking about? What settings are significant and why? If the broad theme is “special places”, what does Berry’s poem make you think or feel about this? Review the ideas generated by this and play the recording one final time in the whole class setting, prompting one or two word responses to the question of how they think the description of Berry’s “special place” is designed to make them feel. Compare with the mood wall generated in the first activity. Develop more detailed analysis as appropriate to the class.

Next, invite them to write their own “Childhood Tracks” poem using the template below. Finish with some students reading their poems to the class, and reflection on where 
the challenges lay in writing in this form and how form shapes or embodies aspects of the meaning. The long line-short line rhythm of Berry’s poem, for example, could be regarded as a wave-like rhythm that emulates the sea, referred to only in the last line but a constant presence in a small island nation. How did this work in their own poems? Did it? Or was it the wrong rhythm for their own “special place” memories? 


Play the two recordings again, with students asked to focus on similarities and differences in the way the two poets from different times and places have explored the “special places” theme. Each student to offer one comparative sentence that adds to or builds on previous contributions to the discussion.


Extension Activities

Invite students to write an essay comapring the way the two poets have presented their special places.

Students could be encouraged to develop an infographic or visual display to represent their comparative thinking.

Having written to a template, students could be encouraged to take off the stabilisers and develop their "special place" poem more fully.

Students could research, select and edit a "special places" anthology of poems.


Download Resources

Extras to support this lesson plan.

Poem outline

pdf | 138.56 KB

This is an outline for writing a 'special places' poem in the same form as James Berry's 'Childhood Tracks'.

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