Exploring Poetry: Wiki Wars

I’ve been sent a link to a video demonstrating a FANTASTIC idea for using ICT in the English classroom whilst also encouraging/developing independent interpretations. It’s called: Wiki Wars.

Please follow the link and it’s shown on the second video. This was filmed for Teacher’s TV as part of the NATE Hard to Teach project. The idea is the brainchild of Carol Weale and she said that it had a dramatic impact on the students’ grades. Why not give it a go? I know I will!



Sonnet 130


Ask your class what they already know about love poems. What should be included in a love poem? Ask them to have a go at writing a love poem about a woman. In the poem they need to talk about the woman’s eyes, lips, skin, hair, breasts, cheeks, smell, breath and voice. You could use an image of a woman to spark ideas. Read a few and talk about common features (flattering etc).


Talk about the ‘blazon’ technique which was a common feature of love poetry – a technique in which poets listed their beloved’s attributes and made elaborate comparisons with each one. Often, the phrases used by many love poets were hyperbolized. Many women’s features were compared to objects that they could not realistically resemble. Look at an example – for example an extract from Edmund Spenser’s ‘Epithalamion’ (1595):

Her long loose yellow locks lyke golden wyre…

Her goodly eyes lyke saphyres shining bright,
Her forehead yvory white,
Her cheekes lyke apples with the sun hath rudded,
Her lips lyke cherryes charming men to byte,
Her brest like to a bowle of creame uncrudded,
Her paps lyke lyllies budded,
Her snowie necke lyke to a marble towre,
And all her body like a pallace fayre,
Ascending uppe, with many a stately stayre,

What do they think about the use of this technique? Is it romantic? How would they feel to receive it?

Main Activities:

Tell students that you’re going to look at a love poem that uses the blazon technique but in quite a different way. Unroll (see earlier post) Sonnet 130. What do students notice? What questions do they have? What do they think?

Before the final couplet, ask students to write the last two lines. Feedback. Reveal the final two lines and discuss what differences this makes to the poem.

What do they think about Shakespeare’s love poem? How would they feel if they received it? Is it more or less flattering than the love poem they wrote? Why?


Dice Game – students get into small groups and roll a dice. Whichever number they roll is the kind of comment they need to make about the poem. If someone has already commented on that, they have to elaborate, extend or challenge. (They should also use this time to annotate their copy of the poem).

1 – Interpretation

2 – Tone of the poem

3 – Context of the poem

4 – Language – linguistic devices used and effect?

5 – Structure – structure of the poem and significance/effect?

6 – Possible links between this poem and any others studied so far.

Follow this us by asking students to review what comments were made and give them time to add anything new to their annotation of the poem.

I have included a link below to a brilliant stop frame animation of the poem – you may want to spend a little bit of time looking at it with your class:


Anne Hathaway

Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture; Item I gyve and bequeath to my saied daughter Judith my broad silver gilt bole.


All the rest of my goodes Chattels, Leases, plate, jewles and Household stuffe whatsoever after my dettes and Legasies paied and my funerall expences discharged, I gyve devise and bequeath to my Sonne in Lawe John Hall gent and my daughter Susanna his wife.

I have been remiss in posting recently so I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve taught on the Literature poems from the AQA anthology.


Give students the extract from Shakespeare’s Will. What do they think about how Shakespeare felt about Anne? Do they think he loved her?


Students re-order the poem using what they know about poems and their structure etc. Feedback and discuss what order they’ve put the poem into and why. Read the poem. Dicuss the differences between their poem and Duffy’s – which works best?

Main Activities:

  • Read the poem again and ask students to think about what the poem is about. Ask them to pick the line (or part of a line) that they think best shows what this poem is about. Ask them to tell the people next to them the line that they have picked and why. Get students to put their hands up if they’ve picked something different to the person next to them (expect to see a lot of hands – demonstrating that it’s OK to have different interpretations and in fact, that’s what examiners want.) Hear a few.
  • Ask students if they think the tone of the poem changes at any point. If so, on which word does it change and why/how? Hear a few. Ask students if they want to hear the ‘right’ answer…tell them that there isn’t a ‘right’ answer but the comments they just made about when the tone changed would be FANTASTIC in an essay. Hopefully students will pick out that there’s a change in tone on the rhyming couplet. Duffy has used the rhyming couplet at the end as it is similar to Shakespeare’s modification of the sonnet – the hyphen before the couple acts a something of a dramatic gesture and separates the descriptions of Shakespeare alive with Anne’s acknowledgement that he can only live on in her imagination now that he is dead.
  • Ask students if they can tell you anything about what kind of poem it is (sonnet). Ask students why they think Duffy has used the sonnet form (homage?).
  • Discuss the use of the epigraph. What’s the purpose? What effect does it have?
  • Work together to pick out all of the metaphors in the poem. Write these up on the board. Studnets select one metaphor each and draw a visual representation of it (either in their books or for display).
  • What do these metaphors tell us about how Duffy presents Anne and Shakespeare’s relationship?


What’s the significance of Shakespeare giving the bed to Anne? Have students changed their mind about whether Shakespeare love Anne Hathaway?

Comparing Poems: Odd One Out

Comparing 4 poems simultaneously is a tricky business. Therefore, students need lots of practice with comparing poems and linking them in a variety of different ways. Inspired by ‘Have I Got News For You’ and their ‘Odd One Out’ game, I came up with an activity for year 11s to compare 4 poems.

I use a large piece of sugar paper and write the names of four poems in each corner (allowing room for students to write around them) and give each group of students one sheet of sugar paper. Generally speaking, I select a Duffy, Armitage and two pre-1914 poems as this is the format for the AQA exam. So, for example, I might select Salome, Hitcher, The Man He Killed and The Laboratory. Now you could say that all four poems are about killers (and this would form the basis for an essay introduction) but there are some key differences in the ways in which the poems present killers.

The students’ first job is to start noting down ideas on the sugar paper about what’s similar and different about these poems in terms of interpretation. They might come up with ideas about the fact that Salome and the speakers in The Laboratory and Hitcher show little remorse for their actions. They might therefore decide that The Man He Killed is the odd one out because although the speaker suggests that there was little choice but to kill his enemy ‘because he was my foe’, there is a definite sense of regret. There are also plenty of reasons why another poem might be selected and encouraging individual interpretations is important for developing original responses.

Next, the students need to decide which poem is the odd one out because of its use of language. This will encourage students to look for poetic devices used by the poets and possibly how poets are using the same devices but to differing effects. For example, in her poem We Remember Your Childhood Well, Duffy uses the personal pronoun ‘we’ throughout. The reader doesn’t know if it is the Mother or the Father talking but the use of ‘we’ shows they are conveying the thoughts of both. This makes the parent or parents seem even more powerful and overbearing and put the silent addresse in a position of weakness. Similarly, Armitage uses the personal pronoun ‘we’ throughout his poem November. However, the effect is quite different. The use of ‘we’ here creates a sense of inclusiveness and unity and that the speaker of the poem is supportive of John.

Finally, students need to decide which poem is the odd one out because of its structure. I find that students find it difficult to make meaningful comments and comparisons about poets’ use of structure so this is a good chance for them to have a go and share ideas in discussion with their peers. They might look at regularity/irregularity of structure, use of enjambement, stanza length and so on.

This activity could be developed so that it forms the basis of an essay plan. Students will have some ‘ready-made’ ideas about what similarities and differences there are in the ways in which the poets present killers which will give them confidence to start writing about them. Alternatively, you could give groups different poems so that they’re not always working with the same four poems and ask them to pass their sheet on to a new group after each step and agree/disagree/develop what the other group has said. This will give them the opportunity to explore alternative interpretations which is key for writing A and A* grade responses about poems.


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.

Poetry Consequences

I have been revising ‘Poetry From Different Cultures’ with my year 11s recently and tried this approach with them to get them linking poems together. In the Paper 2 exam they have to compare/contrast two poems and the ways in which the poets present a particular theme or idea.

Basically this involves students writing what they know about the theme/interpretation/language/structure of a poem on a piece of paper before passing it on to somebody else. The next person needs to try and think of a poem that links to the first and compare/contrast it in terms of interpretation, language and structure and pass the piece of paper on. The next student has to decide which poem links to the second and so on and so forth.

The aim is that each student will end up with a piece of paper that shows links between poems which should hopefully be a useful revision tool. In fact, the very act of playing the consequences game is to practise their skills of comparing and contrasting as this is the key element in the question they will be asked. I will try and scan a copy in of one of the consequences sheets produced last lesson so you can see what it looks like.

 I think this could be easily adapted as a revision tool for the Literature paper where students have to link four poems. The first student could write about a Duffy poem, the second would link this to an Armitage poem and the final two would be linking pre-1914 poems. It might be better, in this case, to restrict students to a particular theme, for example ‘death’, as comparing and contrasting four poems is that bit more demanding.

Spot The Difference: Storm on The Island

saltwell_150316_470x353.jpgSpot the difference can be used with any poem to highlight a particular device being used and its effect. In this case, Heaney’s poem employs enjambement – I’ve found that students struggle to make sophisticated comments about the effect of enjambement. Here is the file for a document which has two versions of the poem. One is the original and the other does not show Heaney’s use of enjambement:


 Get students working in pairs and answering questions such as:

  • What are the differences?
  • What’s the effect of these differences?
  • Which do you think is the original version of the poem? Why?
  • What linguistic devices are being used? What’s the effect?

The aim is that students will notice the difference and begin to evaluate the use of enjambement in Heaney’s original version; pushing them towards the higher order thinking skills of evaluation: judging, giving an opinion etc . Hopefully they will begin to see that the very act of moving your eyes from the end of one line to the beginning of the next draws attention to that first word or words. If you compare version A and version B you can see how the use of enjambement can impact upon the meaning and effectiveness of the poem. This activity could be used as a starter to a lesson on poetry that’s not even about Heaney but in which you want students to understand the effect of enjambement. Alternatively you could use spot the difference with another poem in the same way.