Place - 'In my country' by Jackie Kay and 'Geography lesson' by Brian Patten

Alison Smith


Both poems explore the importance of place: for Jackie Kay, it's about the importance of place to identity, whilst Brian Patten explores the idea of travelling without moving and of inspiring others. Whilst the latter poem seems much less complex on the surface, it is this notion that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive that is significant.


For students to: Understand and respond to the ideas, themes and issues in poems Appreciate the linguistic choices made by poets, and their effects

Resources needed

Poetry Archive recordings of Jackie Kay reading reading 'In My Country', and Brian Patten reading 'Geography Lesson' Whiteboard or screen linked to the Poetry Archive website for viewing the texts of the poems (or individual hard copies of the poems for students). Dictionaries Outline maps of the British Isles Language task sheet World maps Coloured pencils - blue, orange and green

Teaching sequence of activities


Lesson 1 - In My Country Write "where do you come from?" on the board and ask students to jot down their responses which can be as literal or metaphorical as they like. Pair and share ideas, then share with the class as a whole. Why does it matter where you come from? Lesson 2 - Geography Lesson Provide individual students with a map of the world (the more detailed the better) and ask them to imagine that they can go anywhere they choose. Invite them to share with the class the reasons for their choice. Using these questions may help to focus their thinking: Where would you go? What do you want to see/hear/smell? Why? It may also be helpful for the teacher to lead the sharing.


Lesson 1 Explain to students that they are going to look at a poem called 'In My Country'. On an outline map of the British Isles, groups of students should write down as many words and phrases as they can, associated with that idea. Ask each group to explain theirs to the class. Pairs of students look at the following words and phrases extracted from the poem, and discuss what they think the poet means by each of them. They might have questions of their own - these should be jotted down too. How, for example, can a river be "honest"? What does that choice of words tell the reader? They may need access to dictionaries for this part of the lesson: An honest river A slow, watchful circle A superstition The worst dregs A segment of air Students should be encouraged to share their ideas with the class, perhaps collected for all to see on the board. Now share the poem as a whole with the class by listening to the recording. You'll need to skip the first 40 or so seconds to get straight to the poem without hearing the introduction first. What do students think Jackie Kay's message is? Lesson 2 Explain to students that they are going to read a poem called 'Geography Lesson', and ask them to discuss with a partner what they expect from it. Take responses from the class as a whole. If possible, show students an OHT or similar with three blocks of colour - sea blue, orange and leaf green. Ask them to jot down the connotations of each of these. If this is not possible, use the coloured pencils to get them to produce their own version. Share with students the first three stanzas of the poem. In groups, they should discuss what they have read. To focus the discussion, the following questions may be useful: What is the contrast between his real life and the life that he longs for? What possible reasons are there for his feeling this longing? What possible reasons are there for never leaving? Encourage the students to look at the way in which the poet has used language to create the sense of longing. Ask students to jot down their predictions about what they think might happen in the rest of the poem. Take responses. Listen to the poem with the class. How does it compare with their predictions? Why do they think this might be the case?


Lesson 1 Look at Jackie Kay's introduction to the poem. She says that it's a poem about "being black and Scottish". Do we know this when we hear it or read it? Does it only have that one meaning? Could it be about not fitting in, regardless of colour or nationality? Lesson 2 The poet says that "a lesson he never knew he taught / Is with me to this day." What is the lesson? How did he teach it if he didn't know that he was teaching it? What does the poem teach us about the importance of place? Think back to the Jackie Kay poem - could her message there in any way link with the teacher's reasons for staying?

Extension Activities

Develop students' own writing from the themes of the poems: from 'In My Country', they could write creatively about where they're from, extending the work done in the starter activity; from 'Geography Lesson', they could perhaps write about inspirational teachers or about places that they have loved.

Further Reading

There are lots of other poems about place available in the Archive; a particular favourite is 'Two Seasons' by Valerie Bloom, but there are plenty to choose from by clicking on the Abroad and Caribbean links on the 'Browse poems by theme' page. A lovely poem to look at in association with 'Geography Lesson' would be Cavafy's 'Ithaka', especially for more able students.

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