Poetry Pictures

This lesson is one of three parts that won Conor the innovative lesson competition. Conor Sneyd has just finished his third year of studying English at Trintiy College. He’s always loved English, because he’s always loved reading, and he thinks that if Shakespeare was still alive he’d be annoyed that everyone takes him so seriously.

The aim of this lesson is to give students a way of summarising a poem, of picking out the most important quotes, and of remembering it better

The trickiest thing about Leaving Cert poetry is the number of poems which students have to learn. For example, for Higher Level, they have to prepare at least 5 poets (as only 4 out of 8 come up on the paper, so if they prepare less than 5 there’s no guarantee that any of the ones they’ve prepared will come up), and it is recommended that they prepare 4 to 6 poems per poet. This means that they’ll be learning a total of 20 – 30 poems, which is A LOT.

This is made even more difficult by the fact that poetry tends to be very abstract, and so it’s often hard for students to remember exactly what happens in a poem, and to be able to pick out what the important bits are.

Something I’ve found works well in making poetry easier for students is, with each poem we do, to have them identify the three scenes they think are most important in the poem, to draw a picture of each one, and to pick out a quote for each one. This makes them summarise the poem and identify the key quotes, and also gives them a visual presentation of the poem, which can really help them remember it.

For example for “The Tuft of Flowers” by Robert Frost is a long and tricky poem, about a rural worked whose solitary work makes him feel lonely, until he spots a butterfly which leads him to some flowers which someone else chose to leave standing instead of cutting them down, reminding him of the existence of other human beings and making him feel less lonely.

By dividing this poem into three simple parts: 1) man feels lonely, 2) he sees the flowers, 3) he feels less lonely, the poem becomes a lot easier to digest, and by drawing three pictures: 1) man alone, 2) man and flowers, 3) man imagining another person beside him, the student has a nice visual summary which they can refer to. Finally, by choosing a quote to accompany each picture – 1) “And I must be, as he had been,–alone,/ `As all must be,’ I said within my heart,”, 2) “A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared/ Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.”, 3) “.. feel a spirit kindred to my own;/ So that henceforth I worked no more alone;” – the student gets all the information they need to remember from the poem, and doesn’t have to worry about the rest.

Note from Naoisé – Like many lessons at The Homework Club this is easily modified to suit any subject area. We quite often teach a whole topic in Science, Biology, Geography with a single image! This shows how this can be used to break down large amount of text into a picture based story that can easily be related to and remembered!