Poetry Please- A Year in L.A.T.E

At the last conference, and actually at pretty much all of our conferences, L.A.T.E members have been enthusiastic to talk about teaching poetry. Whether this popularity for workshops on the subject or performances comes from a passion or from trepidation, I do not know. My guess is that there are bits of both for a lot of people. Who can argue that watching students from Alexandra Park School perform or working with Jacob Sam Le Rose isn’t a great way to spend a Saturday morning? But perhaps when it comes to teaching it there is sometimes a worry about a clash between personal love and the exam board, or personal hatred and necessity. Either way, we’ve had a lot to do with poetry this year and below are some of the L.A.T.E highlights as well as some resources to take you into next year. Poetry Please

Alexandra Park students perform at our conference in memory of Morlette Lindsay, celebrating her love of poetry, performance and young people doing both.


Our Women

L.A.T.E members discuss and write poetry with Jacob Sam Le Rose at our conference held in conjunction with the BFI’s Black Star season (stay tuned as our Autumn term conference is always with the BFI and is always great!

At the 2015 BFI conference, for example, we held a workshop on using films to introduce tone, mood and structure when teaching relationships poetry (the BFI season was Love).  See the link for a PDF of the presentation on ‘The Language of Love’ BFI Presentation

This summer teachers from Twyford C of E High School looked at how you might incorporate personal response, discussion work and creative writing into your poetry teaching. Poetry Please here’s the link to the powerpoint!FullSizeRender

We asked other teachers at the session to give us their top tips too (in the form of the very exciting speed dating revision technique we were pioneering…)

What they said:

Racheal Garvin

During the overwhelmingly useful ‘Poetry Please’ speed dating I initially struggled to think of fun tangible tips – I’d only taught a tiny amount of poetry after all – but after hearing a few other brilliant ideas I remembered a lesson which did go well (thanks here due to Cathy for the fab idea) – we read Ozymandias together as a class (having listened to the Breaking Bad trailer recital – it’s fab though I did get accused of showing spoilers) The class were asked to call out a character when they spotted one, they then became that character and were asked to stand at the front. We managed to find: the narrator, the traveller, the statue, the sculptor, Ozymandias, the sands, the reader and then, out of sheer desperation to stand up at the front of the class, one boy dug deep into his thinking-resources and came up with a triumphant ‘the writer!’ The rest of the class then had a lot of fun putting these students first into the order of when they occur in the poem; then into historical order; and finally in order of who has the power. This great fun: the class didn’t agree on who should stand where. There was a heated debate on who was more powerful, the reader or the writer with the two students representing these tasks switching places pantomime-stye each time a different view was put forth. The seated members of the class had to call on all their persuasion skills to get the line at the front to changes places instinctively using quotes from the poem to back up their arguments.

Next time I will get the boys to hold a sign saying who they are as there was some fun (but riotous) confusion when a couple forgot who they were supposed to be! Two Ozy’s in the room – now that’s some competition for power!

Lisa Utley

How to encourage independent meaning-making when studying poetry.

With context playing a bigger role on the new GCSE curriculum, it is more important than ever to ensure that students are bringing their own knowledge and experiences to understanding texts without their interpretations being hindered by what we as teachers feel is the ‘right answer’.
When teaching poetry, one method that we use in our department at Alexandra Park School, is to throw students in at the deep end and get them to unlock the meanings of poems for themselves (this works two-fold as good Unseen practice too). Each group is given a certain number of tokens (about 3-5 depending on the students) which they can use in the lesson to buy specific information or questions to the teacher that will help with their understanding of the poem. Information available for the students to buy includes definitions of words, structural techniques and contextual information.
Each group is then given a task that they must complete together. It is up to the teacher to decide whether they have completed the task in enough detail before giving them the next task: the idea being that the tasks get progressively harder and by the end of the lesson, they should have a detailed understanding of the poem they have been analysing. By deciding when a group can move on to the next task is also a good way of differentiation as the teacher can make judgements about how much she expects from particular groups.
The group that completes the most tasks by the end of lesson wins! I also like to add an extra element of competition by giving a prize to the group who uses the fewest tokens. Below is an example of the tasks we use for Bayonet Charge by Ted Hughes:

1) Read through the poem as a group and write one sentence summarising what it is about.

2) Underline any words you don’t understand and look them up in the dictionary or failing that, buy definitions from the “word bank”. Annotate the poem with the meanings of these words.

3) Analyse the language and structural techniques used!

Find examples of the following techniques and highlight and label them. Explain how these link to the topic of the poem.

  • Violent imagery
  • Natural imagery – words that are to do with violence or the military.
  • Caesura – when the poetic line is broken by a full-stop, semi colon, exclamation or question mark.
  • Figurative language that highlights horror and physical pain

4) Analyse the context!

6) Identify themes! 

Write down three themes (ideas) that the poet explores.

Complete the themes table and compare with other poems from the anthology.

Once tasks are completed, it is important to take whole class feedback to ensure that all students are sharing ideas and have a range of annotations. Depending on how much time you have, you can either do this at the end of the lesson, or the next lesson for more detailed feedback.

What is really striking from teaching poetry in this way, is how capable the students are at making-meaning independently. Because of the competition element, they are fiercely determined not to ask me any questions, and it’s amazing what ideas and interpretations they can make from themselves and each other.

This method of course doesn’t have to be restricted to the teaching of poetry; for example, I have used the question tokens in other lessons such as analysing Shakespeare with Key Stage 3 students, with similar results.


We really hope you have a lovely summer full of rest and relaxation! A massive thank you to the committee and to all those who have run work shops, attended them, given key notes, performed and listened. We need you all and hope you’ll come along again next year. For those of you new to LATE we hope to see you at an event next year. Please email in to m.marshall.14@ucl.ac.uk or A.turvey@ucl.ac.uk or J.Yandell@ucl.ac.uk for queries relating to tickets or the website. We’d love any ideas you have for future events.

LATE_summer_conf_1706v4 web (link to our most recent conference programme)



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