I decided to begin teaching this poem using a starter that I have adapted from an approach I picked up after taking my year 9s to The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The course was called ‘Wordscapes’ and encouraged students to use art as a stimulus for creative writing. If you teach in the area I would definitely recommend considering taking students on ‘Wordscapes’. They thoroughly enjoyed it and it can be used as an introduction to Original Writing Coursework.
- Begin by asking students to identify all the things they can see in the painting. Push them beyond the obvious (girl, head, platter) and ask them to pick out some of the smaller details.
- Ask students to select four of these that they think are the most important. They need to write these down the centre of a page with room enough to write around them.
- Now ask students to think of as many adjectives as they can for each of their four items. For example: sullen/smug/triumphant Salome; severed/gruesome/isolated head.
- Encourage them to select the adjective they think is the most powerful. I think it’s probably a good idea to model the writing process with them as you go along and discuss why you’ve made the decisions you have.
- Now they have an 8 word poem. For each adjective and noun, they now need to add a verb. Again, ask them to put down as many as they can to begin with. For example: Salome gloats/smiles/presents; Head stares/glares/gapes. Again, ask them to select the one that they think is the most powerful.
- Now they have a 12 word poem. I would encourage them to think about the structure of their poem. Perhaps it may be more effective if they have a particular line first rather than last etc. Once they have finished drafting their piece they can share it with their partner/group/the class.
Here is an example, written by a year 9, following the ‘Wordscapes’ trip. They were using a painting called Human Frailty by Salvator Rosa:
I think that you can either decide to discuss the character of Salome when you are talking about the poem but you could decide to do this a bit later if you think it’s more appropriate.
After they finish their poetry, tell them that Carol Ann Duffy has taken this biblical character and has written about her as if she is a modern woman.
I thought that this was a fantastic poem to unroll (see post below). Duffy leads us towards the revelation at the end of the poem and begs us to question the character of Salome. Therefore, I decided to reveal the poem a line at the time and consider the tone of the poem, what we thought about Salome as a character and talk about the way in which it has been written. You can access the rather plain PowerPoint using the link below. It may well need some beautifying.
After looking at the poem I gave students responsibility for an individual line or lines. Using our discussion and building upon their skills from having studied poems before, they had to say as much as they could about their particular line. (You may want to give sections to small groups or differentiate by giving the more tricky lines to more able students) The line could be as short as ‘I’d done it before’ but it is amazing how much students can say about a line if that’s all they have to concentrate on (and they will be able to draw upon the discussions you had when you unrolled the poem).
Finally, I asked students to peer teach one another. This could be done in small groups and then jigsawing or whole class if you prefer.