Telling Stories: Teachit's Narrative Poetry Resources

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All the resources mentioned in this article are freely available on the special NATE Classroom page at http://www.teachit.co.uk/nateclassroom. The title of each resource (here in bold) is listed and links directly to the file for you to download.

Rummaging around the site for the best of our narrative poetry resources, I was reminded how versatile the activities and ideas in Teachit's libraries are. In the ordinary mayhem of an ordinary week's teaching you're unlikely to have the chance to browse hard enough or think laterally enough to take full advantage of this--but it's a useful knack to apply on your next snow day. If you're looking for resources for a particular text, don't just restrict yourself to that text--pick some other similar texts too and have a look at the resources for these. This kind of lateral browse opens up a wealth of approaches and activities and it's the tactic used throughout this article: purloin a trusty Teachit resource and polish it up for your own purposes.

Predictably enough, a lot of the poetry resources on Teachit are based on narrative poems. Poems that tell stories really lend themselves to exploration and analysis in the classroom--there are mysteries to mull over, clues to unravel, loose threads to ponder. They're also great for creative responses: students can write empathically as a character in the poem, or transform the poem, or use it as a stimulus for drama, storytelling or original writing.

It's a mystery

Poems can be a mystery at the best of times. Resources which get students puzzling over the lines make a virtue of this, especially those which also lead to an understanding of why so often there are no neat answers.

* Ask students to find the details in a poem which evoke mystery, as in 'Flannan Isle' by Wilfred Wilson Gibson, before trying to explain its events themselves.

* Approach slowly, as with 'The Listeners' by Walter de la Mare. Look at shape, rhythm and sound to capture the atmosphere, then storyboard key images or events, and only then start to hypothesise about some of the unfathomable mysteries of the poem. The Workbook for 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' has a similarly staggered approach to getting to grips with a poem. Read the poem with the class and ask students to decide how much of the gist they've grasped, then read it again and get them to jot down initial thoughts. Build up familiarity gradually: hand out statements for events in the poem and ask pupils to match them to line or stanza numbers.

* For a whizzy introduction to a poem (and its form), use Syntex. Show students a stanza of the poem with the line breaks taken out. Put this text into Syntex, choose the default settings and 'Explore syntax', and ask students to help you add in the carriage returns. Increase the challenge by jumbling up the lines beforehand, or replacing some of the words with 'blank' tiles (< >), or changing the word order of some of the lines.

Alternatively, create a simple sequencing task: jumble up the lines, then create a tile for each line (), then click Explore syntax.

* Support the puzzling over older poems by giving students a scrambled version of the poem in modern English and asking them to use the original to reconstitute the modern text (see p1 and R1.3/1.4 of Introducing Chaucer (NLS Y7, Y8 & Y9). Introducing a time limit would up the ante--try setting Teachit Timer.

* Go for the full investigative approach, as used in the 'Porphyria's Lover' resource An investigation. Invite students to take the role of detective, establishing facts and building their evidence about an alleged crime. 'Milk it for all you can get', as the Tweakit to this resource suggests: as well as leading students towards perfectly formed PEE paragraphs, this kind of inquiry can generate further activities like a mock class trial and/or a detective's press conference--'hours of family fun', as the Tweakit puts it. …