Lesson on 'Mr and Mrs Scotland are Dead' by Kathleen Jamie

Esther Menon


This lesson focuses on Kathleen Jamie's 'state of the nation' poem 'Mr and Mrs Scotland are Dead'. The lesson focuses on how language is used to portray the poet's perspective on individuals, community and society as she moves from the individuals in the poem to comment on wider social and national issues.

The starter activities require pupils to focus on what they associate with images of rubbish and waste, and also the personal items of previous generations. The lesson requires pupils to identify individual words and phrases that are connected with the personal and impersonal in order to extract meaning beyond the literal. They are then asked to discuss 10 statements that have relevance to the poem to enable them to consider the poet's overall intention.

This lesson is written with a mixed ability KS4 group in mind.


EN2 1a: to extract meaning beyond the literal, explaining how the choice of language and style affects implied and explicit meanings

EN2 1c: how ideas, values and emotions are explored and portrayed

EN2 1d: to identify the perspectives offered on individuals, community and society

Resources needed
  • Poetry Archive recording of Kathleen Jamie reading 'Mr and Mrs Scotland are Dead'
  • PC access for pairs of students, and interactive whiteboard for whole class display
  • pupil printout or whole class display of handout 1 (below)
  • highlighter pens
  • starter activity items:
  • dictionaries for looking up the following words and phrases:perfunctory, rite, Cable knit, brambles.

For part one of the starter activity, collect some images or items that represent waste, eg recycling materials/rubbish, wheely bin, skip, tip, fly tipping, dirty streets etc.

You will be able to find these easily on the internet, and could use a data projector and whiteboard to display a collection of such images. Some websites to try:

How Stuff Works

US Environmental Protection Agency

Recycling Consortium

Recycle More

For part two of the starter activity collect some images or items that might typically belong to an 'old person', eg old-fashioned looking blue eyeshadow and pink lipstick, old lady's handbag, old manicure set, flowery lacy handkerchief, hairnet, pill box, black-and-white photo of a baby, modern photo of two children, personally addressed envelope in curly, old-fashioned writing, small prayer book, powder compact, fold-up plastic rainhat.

Teachers may wish to find out more about the Beltane Queen:

Royal Burgh of Peebles

Teaching sequence of activities


Display images/objects representing waste to the class. Ask students to consider the images and write down on a mini whiteboard any words that the images suggest to them (eg waste, smell, dirty, redundant)

Feedback session: use the board to write up appropriate words offered by the class.

Then introduce the items/images that we may associate with a previous generation. Ask them to discuss in pairs what the items suggest to them about the owners of the objects.

Use the feedback session to share their conclusions and discuss why the class might feel that these aren't a young/middle-aged person's things. Write up suggestions on the board. You may also wish to discuss whether these items evoke any feelings or emotions among pupils - of ridicule, fond memories, anecdotes, etc.


Distribute paper printouts of the poem to the class. Then play the audio of the poem and establish a shared understanding of the 'story' of the poem, focusing on the poet chancing on personal belongings on the impersonal setting of a landfill site. You may wish to clarify any difficult vocabulary.

Play the poem again to the class, including Kathleen Jamie's own comments. As they listen, ask pupils to notice words itemising or linked with the personal lives of these people, and highlight them on their copy of the poem.

Work through the poem on the interactive whiteboard, modelling the process of highlighting words linked to the personal things (postcards, dictionary) and personal lives of these people (his country, hedgerows). Discuss the poet's linking of these things to 'the past' and the link between the people, their lifestyles and their country.

Ask pupils in pairs to highlight words linked to the negative and anonymous ('landfill site', '30 mile an hour sign', 'toppled fridge'), contrasting with the personal words already discussed. This can be done on paper, or on screen using a highlight tool. Ask them to discuss the link between these anonymous words with the 'present' of the poetic voice (ie the dump, the issues raised in the final stanza of the poem). In linking these more negative images and words with modern life, what is the poet suggesting about today's society?

The handout contains 10 statements that link with some of the topics raised in the poem. Pupils could work on paper or you could give them the statements on workstations in word-processed form. Ask pupils to consider the statements in relation to the poem and select two that they think are particularly relevant to the poet's standpoint and two that are at odds with it. They need to have reasons for their answers for the plenary session, making close reference to the language of the text. If pupils are working using ICT they can eliminate those answers that are not in their final selection and write a statement to explain their reasons. Pupils can then print out their work for teacher assessment or comment, or this could be used after the lesson, in post-plenary discussion, or as a homework activity.


  • Valuable past traditions and values have been lost in modern Scotland.
  • We live in a throwaway culture that doesn't recycle things
  • Modern life can be anonymous and uncaring and we can learn from the past
  • There is value and truth in past ways of life that we can learn from rather than discard
  • What goes around comes around
  • Old people's experience has little relevance or value for the modern world.
  • There is a horror in realising that in the future we could become part of a discarded and undervalued 'past'
  • The experience of clearing away others things to make way for the future is a depressing but necessary task
  • The countryside that we used to enjoy has been replaced by a commercial, fast-paced environment
  • With the loss of the previous generation, Scotland has lost its national identity and become taken over by modern consumerism.


Invite students to share their statements and reasons with the class. You may wish to display screen four and conduct a 'ballot' to achieve a class consensus of the most relevant and irrelevant statements in relation to the poem.

Extension Activities

Compare and contrast this poem with 'Digging' by Seamus Heaney.

Ask pupils to work in groups to agree items that should go in a group, class, school or UK teenagers' time capsule, to represent the experiences and values of the chosen focus. Pupils could select two or three items prior to the lesson that they want to justify to the group as relevant.

Ask pupils to find out about a useful everyday item from the past (eg cut-throat razor, mangle, bellows, washboard, carpet-sweeper) that was used by a previous generation. This research should come from speaking to an appropriate person (eg family member, neighbour, history teacher) or using the internet or library. It would be even better if they could bring in some examples, where appropriate (ie not cut-throat razors!). Another interesting version of this activity is to ask pupils to research and document strange local or UK traditions, such as cheese-rolling or well-dressing, to feed back to the class. For more ideas, see
Woodlands Junior School

Ask pupils to write their own poem or piece of personal writing considering items that represent aspects of their personality and that are special to them. Norman Silver's poem 'Medicine Box' could offer a suitable stimulus for writing.

Further Reading

Other poems by Kathleen Jamie
Seamus Heaney: 'Digging'
links with this poem in the relationships drawn between past and present cultures and generations with reference to the culture of Northern Ireland

Norman Silver: 'Medicine Box'
links with this poem in a listing of personal items that can comfort or reflect the past of a person. Provides an effective model for creative writing with pupils.

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