I’ve often tried to reinforce with students the idea that that they don’t have to write about every line in the poem and the old cliche ‘a lot about a little’ never seems to go out of date. I spent some time in revision sessions just working on three or four key lines from across each poem and showing how a detailed analysis of those three lines can reveal deeper understanding of the whole text. Here’s a PPT slide I prepared to model how I would do it.
I think that this removes some of the fear of the whole poem as well – let’s face it, do we understand every line of some of the poems we read? Some are wilfully obscure, but we gain understanding from context and from showing an appreciation of the text as a whole. And anyway, in the time our students have to write an answer, the deep appreciation of a few lines can lead to successful answers. My colleague is a lit poetry examiner and the advice that candidates write three things about a quote is doable from this activity – the sequence ‘show/suggest/signify or symbolise’ leads to greater depth of understanding.
I did this yesterday with my year 1os on Storm on the Island. This was a five minute discussion with a middle ability group and I was amazed by what they came up with.
I then gave them another couple of lines to look at
“But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits the very windows, spits like a tame cat turned savage.”
“We are bombarded by the empty air. Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.”
They analysed these in great detail and taught each other about their findings. I’ve asked them to go and write a couple of paragraphs, thinking about shows/.suggests/symbolises etc and see what they come up with. If they’re any good, I’ll put them on here!
It’s really simple but I found that the class made a lot of progress in their understanding of the poem but more importantly feel a little bit – just a little bit – more secure in being able to think about poetry in general. Tiny, tiny steps…