Lesson on 'Hyena' by Edwin Morgan

Sue Dymoke


The recording of 'Hyena' provides a very powerful reading of the poem that gives the listener some chilling insights into the mind of the animal. This lesson involves pupils in writing from the point of view of an unpleasant creature and performing their work. It is suitable for use with very able Year 8 pupils. Alternatively, the lesson ideas on 'Hyena' and a reading of another Edwin Morgan poem, 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song', could form part of a post-SATs Year 9 unit of work on animals in poetry.


By the end of the lesson pupils will have

  • explored the ways in which Edwin Morgan creates the viewpoint of the hyena through his use of language and structure;
  • identified the underlying themes through listening and discussion;
  • drawn on their developing understanding of Morgan's poetic techniques to inform their own drafting.
Resources needed
  • Poetry Archive recording of Edwin Morgan reading 'Hyena'
  • interactive whiteboard or screen linked to Poetry Archive website for viewing the text of the poem
  • selection of visual images of animals that might be viewed as unpleasant or even frightening, such as: alligator; crocodile; fly; hyena; magpie; mosquito; pig; pigeon; rat; rattlesnake; shark; slug; vulture; wasp; wild boar; wolf
  • mini-whiteboards and pens (optional)

Teaching sequence of activities


The class should pool ideas on whiteboard about real animals that they find unpleasant. (You might want to start off with your own short list as an initial stimulus.) This should lead into a brief discussion about why they have nominated these animals. Ensure that the hyena is among those eventually listed. Keep a note of all the animals listed or save as flip chart page on an interactive whiteboard.

Pupils list words and phrases they associate with the hyena. You could ask volunteers to highlight or circle those that offer a negative view of the animal.

Listen to the recording of 'Hyena' at least twice.

Pupils share initial ideas about what the purpose(s) of the poem might be.


Display the text of the poem, read and listen closely and discuss further. Aim to focus on the following questions:

  • How does Morgan make his listeners/readers feel about the creature?
  • What does the animal look and sound like?
  • What do we learn about its habitat?
  • How does it move and behave?
  • What does the hyena plan to do?

Stress the need for evidence to support ideas.

Look together at images of unpleasant creatures.
Pupils choose favourable and unfavourable words and phrases to describe the creatures. (Encourage them to think about sounds, movements, actions and interactions with humans as well as visual elements.) The images could be annotated.

Discuss word choices as a class. Decide together how one or two of the creatures might present themselves to listeners and persuade them about their qualities.

Pupils should then decide which creature they want to focus on either from the list compiled in the starter activity or from the images just discussed. (One of the worked examples could be used as a starting point for the homework activity for some less confident pupils.)

Pupils begin work on their own drafts of a poem from the point of view of an unpleasant creature of their choice.


Ask pupils to share single lines or descriptive phrases from work in progress.

Extension Activities

As a homework task, pupils could continue work on the first draft of their poems. They should be encouraged to read their work in progress aloud as they draft and to hear how the 'voice' of their animal can be brought to life through careful word choices, repetitions and line breaks.

Drafts of poems should be read aloud, shared with a partner and worked on further in the next lesson. Final drafts could be performed and recorded (perhaps for inclusion on the school's website).

Independent individual or paired work involving compilation of a short selection of animal poems with introductions, background information to help readers understand the poems and illustrations.

Comparative writing on poems about the same animal which offer different views on them.

Consideration of the way unpleasant creatures are portrayed in advertising and in films like 'Finding Nemo' and 'The Jungle Book'.


The class could write a poem together and groups within the class could take responsibility for drafting sections about different aspects of the creature.

'Hyena' is a challenging poem. Instead of writing a poem modelled on 'Hyena', pupils could write and perform group 'monster' sound poems (like 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song') which use onomatopoeic and invented language.

Further Reading

Other poems by Edwin Morgan, especially 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song'.

'Bats' Ultrasound' by Les Murray

'Pike' and 'Hawk Roosting' by Ted Hughes

'Snake' by Emily Dickinson

'Snake' by D.H. Lawrence

'To the Snake' by Denise Levertov

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