Magazine article NATE Classroom

Poetry Goes Cross-Curricular

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Poetry Goes Cross-Curricular

Article excerpt


Can poetry truly have any connection with what goes on in a physics laboratory or a maths classroom? Daughter of a scientist, I now believe it can. But, first, a confession. (Should I type this in a smaller font, I wonder, since I am whispering, out of embarrassment?) Yes, at school I hated maths and physics. However, that was before I discovered, as a teacher, some of the fun of working with colleagues in other subjects if the opportunity presented itself. That was before I started reading Marcus du Sautoy's fascinating columns in The Times about maths and science; and before I watched his YouTube video 'Symmetry, reality's riddle'; or before I clicked on his colourful, musical website http://

There was the time I worked with my colleague Jean, a biologist and chemist, to examine the details of slow worms and sea urchins in formaldehyde, discussing with our pupils as we did so the poetic possibilities of language we might choose to describe these creatures; then contrasting our choices with others involving precise scientific terminology. In a similar way, there was a lively exchange a couple of years back between me and a young geography teacher, Suzanne, as she worked with her Year 8s on weather patterns; her group eventually produced a spectacular display of poems on cyclones and snowdrifts, memorably approaching their subject from two utterly different perspectives.

Combinations and connections between poetry and science are restricted only by timetables and teachers' imaginations. Here, then, I'll consider two possibilities that led to creative and exciting learning and a change in attitudes, for some pupils, both to poetry and to aspects of science and maths.


To earn a high grade in reading Shakespeare, learners need to think and be able to write about the structure of drama--not an easy concept for anyone who has perhaps never visited a theatre or thought about the shape of a text. To empower ourselves (and pupils at all levels) to think about the structure, I've chosen to look at the 'mirrors' in one play, Romeo and Juliet. This, like some other Shakespeare plays, is, in fact, structured like a series of mirrors--in language, plot, characterisation, themes and (depending on the director) stagecraft.

I began my first venture by importing a NQT physics teacher, Steve. He duly arrived with some large mirrors from the science department, muttering darkly about health and safety and about how fragile the mirrors were. He took the pupils through a few quick games to demonstrate the strange ways of mirrors, and to show that although the children had used mirrors in geometry to learn about symmetry, they did not in fact exhibit perfect symmetry. He amazed himself, then, by reading from the scene where Romeo and Juliet face each other for the first time (Act I Scene 5). Here, as they speak their love sonnet, they put their palms together ('palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss') facing each other almost as two halves of a whole, almost as in a mirror.

But this is not the only time in the play when two characters or ideas 'face' each other on stage. In fact, there are multiple times when Shakespeare creates a mirror-like symmetry in the play. This idea can lead to an exciting journey of discovery about how Shakespeare wanted things to look on stage, how he 'balanced' out his cast of characters, and how he created symmetry in the overall structure and thinking of the play.


The way you think with your learners about this fascinating aspect of the play will obviously be influenced by their capabilities. At the plot and character level there is something here for those who have progressed to Level 4 and enjoy descriptive work. At the deeper textual and philosophical level, those who are on higher Levels 6 or 7, GCSE grade D and above, will be challenged to achieve more through (a) the acquisition of complex literary vocabulary fitted into what is actually a very simple (yet subtle) framework; and (b) through their more analytical, interpretative and evaluative approach to the play. …

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