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Poetry In Education

10/04/15

Sam explains why poetry can be a useful teaching tool for all ability students. 

Poetry as a teen scared me, I never understood why we should dissect and analyse words, lines, sentence structure and find many meanings. I felt that it was what it was to me, it spoke to my heart or it didn’t and more often than not it didn’t. I liked the sound of the rhythmical words but the language was not easy to understand and i did not know of the topic matter. I understand now that this was the intention, world war two poetry equals two subjects in one hit.

Today poetry for me is an outlet; my phone is filled will lines of started poems and full entries alike; often written whilst travelling or waiting for someone. The sheer joy of expression and release of creativity feels wonderful. It takes a weight from the shoulders and gives it to the world to handle. If I am able to give even a small amount of this to my students and give them the tools to write a poem when they need to have an outlet I will feel very happy with myself as a teacher.

Integration of poetry into drama creates a subtle crossed thread into the English curriculum and enables students to understand the link between written word and spoken word. Leading this into script work and then further into classical texts seems a logical step to take. Poetry from seats to feet is lesson that will engage most if not all student’s.  Students can profoundly understand that punctuation translate as physical movement rather poetically. A full stop becomes a turn, words are walked, exclamation marks are jumps and comers a brief pause. It is a technique I used throughout drama school in order to access text, to understand it and immediately feel the emotional context.

I could further to this the idea of emotional muscle memory being in play here and even draw upon theories of flow of  consciousness but I will leave these alone for now.

Creating a physical presence from written word, gives ownership to the piece and a sense or responsibility to the students. Rather than a passive approach that encourages disengagement. For example a poem that is ‘put on its feet’ can then be translated into a deeper understanding of theme, charters, historical context as it is relative and known to the students body.

An example of this is to take a poem, a prologue, script or book paragraph and ask the class to walk around the room, saying the words out loud with the above described movements for the punctuation. Then assign a line to each student, they must then walk into the space saying their line. As they enter the space they walk to the centre of the room, using the punctuation movements as the go, finishing in a group in the centre using different levels; Crouching down, kneeling and so forth to create a still image. Repeat the process for any piece of poetry or prose, becoming a performance piece for the stage by using just punctuation and walking. The content understanding will follow via the understanding of how it feels to read the piece.

It is an organic teaching process as the students will find the understanding themselves as opposed to being told what the piece is about. The movement enables them to ‘feel’ the context. Many exclamation marks will equal many jumping movements giving the feel of excitement or at least energy. Many comers suggest an undecided nature or listing of something as there is repeated pausing to their walking. Full stops, change of direction, offering the knowledge that a new thought is upon them. A paragraph requires starting from the edge of the room again, entering a completely new area of thought.

Being able to simply move in the space offers students some freedom they don’t normally have and being able to read out loud aids this. Taking away the ‘boredom’ of poetry and taking poetry to its feet.

Do you have some advice to share with other teachers? Contact Megan for more information on how to get involved in our active online community?

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