At about this time, English teachers are usually looking ahead to text selection for the next year. To help teachers of VCE in Victoria with this process, we’ll be running our annual Choosing The Best VCE Texts workshop next week. One of the text types we’ll be strongly recommending to teachers is poetry for these three reasons:
1. Teach poetry because students will actually read the whole text
Often, texts under consideration are novels and films because these are the sorts of texts that most English teachers feel comfortable unpacking in the classroom. Of course, it’s also true that, in many English classrooms, there is an ongoing challenge with actually getting students to read the set class novel. For this reason, it’s important to consider booklisting and studying poetry. While students might not initially find the idea of studying poetry very enticing, choosing short, accessible poems (like Wordsworth, who’ll be on the VCE list next year – most of his poems are around only 20-30 lines) that can be unpacked within the class and studied in detail is an easy way of ensuring that students have actually read – and understood – the text that they are writing about.
2. Teach poetry because students will need to engage with language and ideas
However, it is certainly true that poetry is written quite differently to prose and that it uses some weird techniques and vocabulary. But rather than being put off by how ‘weird’ poetry is, an analysis of poetry asks students to engage with this very weirdness. To do this well, students will need to develop a new vocabulary that helps them to understand “how” a poem is put together.
Since a poetry analysis will focus more upon “how” the text is constructed, students will be focused upon a more analytical approach to their writing and (since there is rarely a plot) students will not get bogged down by retelling key events.
In order to do a good job of teaching poetry, it is important that you teach students some of the commonly occurring poetic techniques, like those outlined in the table below:
|Technique||How it works||What effect might it have?|
|Rhyme||Usually, the final word of one line will rhyme with the final word of another line. Sometimes, there might be an internal rhyme where the word in the middle of a line rhymes with another.||Connects words and ideas together.|
|Rhythm||This is how long or slow the lines of a poem go. There are many different poetic rhythms which you can look up online.||Makes a poem go faster or slower and therefore makes it seem more urgent or laid-back.|
|Caesura||Punctuation that happens in the middle of a line, rather than at the end of it.||Stops the rhythm of a line and therefore puts a pause where the action or the description stops. The reader pauses as well.|
|Stanza||The ‘verse’ of a poem – like a paragraph in prose writing.||Contains an idea or image that connects to the rest of the poem, but is also independent.|
|Enjambment||A sentence flows from one stanza to another (or, sometimes, from one line to another).||Gives a sense of anticipation of what is coming next.|
|Alliteration||Words begin with the same letter.||Connects words and their images together.|
|Assonance||Like a rhyme ‘gone wrong’ – the words sort of rhyme, but it’s not an exact match.||Connects words and their images together.|
|Susurration||Lots of whispering ’s’ sounds, or the sounds of a soft ‘c’ (like in cities).||Makes it seem as if the poet is whispering.|
|Onomatopoeia||When the word makes the sound it is describing (like the word ‘bang’).||The reader can ‘hear’ what the poet is describing.|
|Volta||The ninth line of a sonnet.||The ‘turning point’, where a new or contrasting idea is introduced.|
It is important to point out that the ‘effect’ each technique might have is just a suggestion. Asking students to think of other, possible effects is an important part of getting students to think for themselves and produce independent analyses.
3. Teach poetry because students will develop sophisticated analyses by comparing and contrasting poems
However, the most important part of teaching poetry is that there is extra class time to devote to teaching students how to write about the collection they are studying. So students might read a poem through, identify some of the techniques included in the poem and then practise writing individual sentences about how the technique operates within the poem, like in the sentence below:
The alternate rhyming sequence of Wordsworth’s poem highlights the juxtaposition between the lonely “cloud” that is the poet with the busy “crowd” of daffodils that he sees.
To help your students create sentences like the one above, you could provide them with vocabulary tables, like the one below:
|Verb to analyse the technique||Words to connect ideas|