Lesson on 'Timothy Winters' by Charles Causley

Esther Menon


This lesson focuses on writers' choices of form for their purpose and exploring why a writer might chose to use the ballad form. The starter activity asks pupils to consider the choices we make regarding communication forms in our daily lives and links this to the choices poets make about poetic form. Whole class teacher-led work focuses on familiarisation with 'Timothy Winters' and a modelling of poetic analysis. The development allows groups of pupils to find out more about other ballads and definitions of this poetic form, in order to come to conclusions about why Causley chose this form for 'Timothy Winters'.

This lesson is written with a mixed ability Year 7 Group in mind, though it is easily adaptable for older pupils.


Year 7 Key Stage Three English Framework

R3: compare and contrast the ways information is presented in different forms

R19: explore how form contributes to meaning in poems from different times and cultures eg storytelling in ballads

S10: identify and report the main points emerging from discussion

S13: work together logically and methodically to solve problems, make deductions, share, test and evaluate ideas.

Resources needed
  • Poetry Archive recording of Charles Causley reading 'Timothy Winters'
  • pupil printouts of a variety of ballads for groupwork
  • access to library/internet for one expert group of pupils
  • pupil printouts of 'Timothy Winters'

Teaching sequence of activities


This focuses pupils briefly on the variety of choices we make every day in the form of our written communications

Create a scenario for pupils of a school careers advisor who has a variety of roles in life: wife, mother of grown up child, grandmother, job as a careers advisor. (You could adapt this to address a real person that pupils know in school and display a picture as appropriate). She has to engage in a variety of communications within a day and chooses the most appropriate written/oral form.

Use the board to write up the communications she makes and ask pupils to consider which form is the most appropriate for the task. This work could be done in pairs under a time limit and pupils should be asked to agree the reasons for their choices. You might like to adapt this activity for an interactive drag and drop exercise on an interactive whiteboard, or transfer these ideas into cards for pupils to sort and pair.


  • Details of Weekly grocery shopping
  • Complaint to Year 10 tutor about a pupil's behaviour
  • Information to Year 12s about university application following a presentation given to them in a careers session
  • Invitation to parents of child on long term absence from school to attend a careers advice session with their son
  • Message to invite 7 year old grandson to grandma's seaside trip with her other grandchildren
  • Personal reminder about Year 9 parents' evening next Wednesday night
  • Social letter to elderly aunt to keep her in touch with family events
  • Summary of careers interview with Billy Walker from Year 12


  • Informal written message
  • Phone call
  • Diary entry
  • List
  • Face to face meeting
  • Text files added to relevant area of school website
  • Formal letter
  • Informal letter
  • Email
  • Report

Ask pupils to give their feedback and discuss the nature of communication choices, linking this eventually to poets making choices about form.


Establish pupils' prior knowledge establishing what poetic forms they are already familiar with (haiku, limerick, acrostic, etc), and introduce the aims of the lesson by writing this question up on the board:

What is the poetic form 'ballad' and why might a poet choose to use it?

Play the poem to the pupils twice, and ask them to recall what factual information they are given about the character Timothy Winters.

Model a brief analysis of the poem to the class, focusing on the issues below and gaining feedback from the group:

  • the 'story' of the poem, discussing whether all poems have stories
  • rhyme
  • rhythm
  • vocabulary/language style
  • tone
  • poetic devices

Play Causley's brief comments on the poem to the class and discuss the poet's perspective on 'Timothy Winters' from both this and the poem itself.

Organise pupils into four jigsaw groups, and then number them to form separate expert groups to work on the following:

Expert group 1: analysis of a traditional ballad

'Lord Randall'

Question areas for pupils:

  • What is the 'story' of the poem?
  • What kind of language is the poem written in - is it a description, story or dialogue?
  • Identify the poem's use of rhyme, repetition and rhythm.
  • Is this poem ancient or modern, and how do you know?
  • Can you see any similarities with 'Timothy Winters'?

Expert group 2: research on definition of ballads

using the school library and Internet

Research questions for pupils:

  • Was the basis of this poetic form oral or written?
  • What is a broadside ballad?
  • What is a literary ballad?
  • What is a traditional ballad?
  • What are the features we would normally find in a ballad?

Expert group 3: analysis of another literary ballad

'The Ballad of Billy Rose'

Question areas for pupils:

  • What is the 'story' of the poem?
  • What kind of language is the poem made up of?
  • Identify the poet's use of rhyme and rhythm.
  • Is this poem ancient or modern, and how do you know?
  • Can you see any similarities with 'Timothy Winters'?

Expert group 4: analysis of a broadside ballad

This topic may be appropriate for older or able pupils, but is not crucial for the above lesson. Pupils generally enjoy the grisly nature of some of these related to murders and hanging!

Teachers can find some examples of broadsides with consequent poems at www.broadsideballads.gallowayfolk.co.uk

An accessible example for classroom use is available at www.nls.uk

Question areas for pupils:

  • What is the 'story' of the poem?
  • What kind of language is the poem made up of?
  • Identify the poem's use of rhyme and rhythm.
  • Is this poem ancient or modern, and how do you know?
  • Can you see any similarities with 'Timothy Winters'?


Ask pupils to reconvene and feed back what they have learnt. Revisit the question posed during the Starter activity. Consider what makes 'Timothy Winters' a ballad, what kind of ballad it is (traditional, literary, broadside) and Causley's choice of poetic form.

Extension Activities

Compare 'Timothy Winters' with either of these two poems by Vernon Scannell, focusing on the topic of childhood victims: 'Incendiary' and 'A Case of Murder'. Both can be found in his Collected Poems, 1950-93.

Compare and contrast the two ballads 'Timothy Winters' and 'The Ballad of Billy Rose'.

Ask pupils to write their own ballads or poems in another form, based on topical newspaper stories, and create a display of newspaper stories and linked poems. A model for this might be Roger McGough's 'Rabbit in Foodmixer Survives' with the newspaper article it was based on.

Further Reading

'Millers' End' is another Charles Causley poem in ballad form.

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