Lesson on 'The Tin Wash Dish' by Les Murray

Sue Dymoke


This poem would be suitable for use with able Yr 9 readers or GCSE students as one element of a thematic focus on the issue of poverty. It is a very challenging piece which could provide opportunities for links with citizenship.


By the end of the lesson pupils will have:

  • considered the way the ways in which abstract ideas can be realised through poetry
  • responded to the poem in a visual form
Resources needed
  • Poetry Archive recording of Les Murray reading 'The Tin Wash Dish'
  • interactive whiteboard or screen linked to Poetry Archive website, for viewing the text of the poem
  • bank of wide variety of visual images
  • visual image of a 'tin wash dish' or similar prop (optional)

Teaching sequence of activities


What does the word 'poverty' mean to you? Begin with a quick brainstorm of ideas, associations and images.

Listen to the recording several times and give pupils a moment to think about their ideas. Then pool initial impressions:

  • Which are the words that stand out for you?
  • What first ideas have you got about the poem?
  • What would you like to ask about it?
  • What did you think about the way it was performed?


Now read the poem together and develop impressions further. You might want to concentrate on 'lank...dank...rank' at first.
Why are these words being used? What do they mean and what effect do they have?

Pupils may also need support with some other vocabulary (such as 'fidelity', 'orifice', 'artifice', 'chafe' and 'philosophers').

Work together to build up a clear picture of how poverty is personified and the way in which Murray uses the image of the tin wash dish. What is the poet saying about the way society treats those raised in poverty and how they might see themselves?

In pairs (or as a whole class), compile a collage of images that could be shown on a screen when this poem is being performed. Decide if you would want to have backing music too. (If you have access to an interactive whiteboard this could be a powerful whole class activity.)


Display images selected and either listen to the poem again or perform it.

Extension Activities

Pupils could draft a poem of their own about another state or emotion (such as hunger, greed, love, fear) that uses metaphor, rhythm and repetition in similar ways. They could also work collaboratively on a group poem.

Pupils could create a character who has experienced life in a shack with a tin wash dish. Use a prop to symbolise the dish as a starting point for discussion. Experiment with freeze-frame (captioning with lines from the poem) and hot-seating to flesh out the story of this person's life.

Further reading and discussion of other related texts (see suggestions below).


You might want to concentrate on selected groups of lines to start with and allocated these to different pupils. Ask pairs of students to find or create images to bring their own lines alive. These could then be linked together to form a group response.

This is an extremely challenging poem. You may prefer to focus on some of the other recommendations below with less confident pupils.

Further Reading

Other poems by Les Murray

'Timothy Winters' by Charles Causley.

The novel Stone Cold by Robert Swindells.

'Hunger' by Nicalas Guillen (in Cambridge Poetry Workshop Key Stage 3 edited by Lynn and Jeffrey Wood)

Non-fiction materials such as extracts from The Big Issue and charity advertising by Shelter and Oxfam.

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