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)



Hay Festival

We’re a cultured bunch here on the LATE committee and we like to share our culture our ideas, culture and new found enthusiasms with you and also our students. Here is my (Myfanwy Marshall @Miff_) round up of the Hay Festival and how I’ve used some of the experiences in the class room this week.

Myths and Legendsmabinogoi

Neil Gaiman has been one of my favourite authors since I was about 11 and I read Coraline which I enjoyed and was spooked by in equal measures. When I heard that he was retelling the Norse mythology I was therefore extremely excited. Whilst Stephen Fry may have tried to steal Gaiman’s limelight at the session, I felt Gaiman’s story of Fenrir the giant wolf outstripped Fry’s amusing retelling of a Greek myth. Norse Gods is dark, mysterious and powerful whilst also being hugely entertaining. It’s perfect for younger readers (secondary school age I’d say) but has certainly captured my imagination too.

NorseMythology_Hardback_1473940163Also out at Hay was a new translation of the Mabinogi. Lesser known that Thor, Odin, Zeus and the Minotaur, the Celts have a strange, ethereal and Authurian set of myths all of their own. Matthew Francis has, according to my Welsh speaking grandmother, done a marvellous job of capturing the essence of the sometimes strange poetic language in his English translation. As a non-Welsh speaker who sits in London clinging to her Welsh roots I love it too and think it’s beautifully written.

In the classroom: I decided I wanted to mix up the Greek Myths SOW in my department so taught the story of Pwyll and Arawn to year 7s. In the story Pwyll, a hunter, steals the Prince of the Unworld’s trophy stag so as punishment must swap bodies with him for a year. During this time Pwyll has to defeat Arawn’s enemy for him before he can return. Though a seemingly happy ending, several of my female students pointed out that Arawn’s wife is rightly angry when he returns as he’s been ignoring her for the whole year- a woman caught up in the petty feuds of men…interesting starting point for a class discussion. I taught the story of Fenrir from Norse Gods too, leading to a brilliant discussion of hubris, pride, the value of friendship, power and fear. Both will be used as inspiration for the writing of our own myths.

Masculinity- Owen Sheers inspiresowen-sheers

It seems apt then after looking at those two myths which raise such interesting questions about masculinity, strength and power that I promote this link to Owen Sheers’ talk a Hay. He gave a truly thought provoking and intelligent talk on masculinity directly addressed to his daughters entitled ‘The men you will meet’. Really worth a listen and something that could be used in pastoral, political, RE, Philosophy and English classrooms. There are aspects of it relevant to all ages but generally speaking you should listen as I think it made me think about the men I know and the young men and women who I teach.

In his Q and A he talked at length about the men he’d worked with from all walks of life.

Link to the lecture



I see things…by Galia Melon

Galia is Lead practitioner for English in her school, a member of the LATE committee and is an avid theatre goer. Below she shares some of the theatre she’s loved recently and in future we’ll be posting about some of the other theatrical and cultural highlights for London English teachers. Please do comment if you’ve got any other ideas or recommendations. Personally I loved Rozencrantz and Guildenstern and am still really looking forward to Salome and the Ferryman later this month.

I see things…by Galia Melon

I’m really excited to be sharing my top theatre picks with you this month and I look forward to hearing your views too – you can comment below or follow me on twitter here: @galiamelon

So read on, and turn yourself into a regular Samuel Beckett with conversation starters like… “what is that unforgettable line?”


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard (The Old Vic) – playing until 6th May

What they say: Against the backdrop of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this mind-bending situation comedy sees two hapless minor characters, Rosencrantz (Daniel Radcliffe) and Guildenstern (Joshua McGuire), take centre stage with David Haig as The Player. Increasingly out of their depth, the young double act stumble their way in and out of the action of this iconic drama. In a literary hall of mirrors, Stoppard’s brilliantly funny, existential labyrinth sees us witness the ultimate identity crisis.

What I say: Existentialism at its finest here. It’s definitely a thinker, but beautifully performed and Radcliffe and McGuire have an electric chemistry. There is just the right amount of Shakespeare to keep a Bardolator like myself interested and this, alongside some lovely sets and costumes, make this a very enjoyable piece to watch.

See this if: you like a bit of puzzlement and humour when you see a play.


The Treatment by Martin Crimp (Almeida Theatre) – playing until 10th June

Mary_Stuart_website_1470x690-350x200What they say: New York. A film studio.  A young woman has an urgent story to tell. But here, people are products, movies are money and sex sells. And the rights to your life can be a dangerous commodity to exploit. Martin Crimp’s contemporary satire is directed by Lyndsey Turner, who returns to the Almeida following her award-winning production of Chimerica.

What I say: Power. Control. Blindness. Truth. A truly engaging play; still very fresh and seemingly timeless considering it’s about 20 years old. I loved the use of technology here – it was apt to use film considering the filmic content of the story and it didn’t jar at all. The performances from the whole company were fascinating, often verging on menacing.

See this if: you enjoy powerful pieces that comment on current social issues.

Salome by Yaël Farber (National Theatre) – playing until 15th July

What they say: The tale retold. The story has been told before, but never like this. An occupied desert nation. A radical from the wilderness on hunger strike. A girl whose mysterious dance will change the course of the world. This charged retelling turns the infamous biblical tale on its head, placing the girl we call Salomé at the centre of a revolution. Internationally acclaimed director Yaël Farber (Les Blancs) draws on multiple accounts to create her urgent, hypnotic production on the Olivier stage.salome_National_

What I say: Frustrating and beautiful in equal measure. This is an absolutely stunning production – the music, design, staging and choreography really push the boundaries of what the National can do. The opening sequence alone is worth going to see the whole play for. What a shame then that the script is so jarringly clunky! It really does the actors a disservice, though they do the best they can with what they’ve been given.

See this if: you value style over substance and are able to overlook cringe-worthy dialogue!

Woyzeck by Georg Buchner/Jack Thorne (Old Vic Theatre) – playing until 24th June

What they say: The multi-award-winning Jack Thorne (This is EnglandLet The Right One InHarry Potter and the Cursed Child) breathes new life into Woyzeck, one of the most extraordinary plays ever written. It’s 1980s Berlin. The Cold War rages and the world sits at a crossroads between Capitalism and Communism. On the border between East and West, a young soldier (John Boyega) and the love of his life are desperately trying to build a better future for their child. But the cost of escaping poverty is high in this searing tale of the people society leaves behind.

What I say: Grotesque. Uncomfortable. Sort of beautiful. The set and music design for this production are outstanding – I really like the choice the designers made to show the world through Woyzeck’s eyes, where things become less and less trustworthy and it all feels a little like it’s going to fall in at any moment. The performances, while engaging, were for me a little too much like watching ‘acting’ rather than real people, which is maybe what a play like this needs in order to really hit home. Certainly worth a watch though.

See this if: you like to feel moderately uncomfortable and have a thing for ‘heightened’ acting.

Angels in America by Tony Kushner (National Theatre) – playing until 19th August

angelsinamerica_webassets_thumb_0What they say: America in the mid-1980s. In the midst of the AIDS crisis and a conservative Reagan administration, New Yorkers grapple with life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell. The cast includes Andrew Garfield playing Prior Walter, Denise Gough playing Harper Pitt, Nathan Lane playing Roy Cohn, James McArdle playing Louis Ironson and Russell Tovey playing Joe Pitt.

What I say: 7 hours and 40 mins. A marathon of suffering and joy. What I love most about this play is that it’s not afraid of the ridiculous, which is vital to get through this slog of a piece. How anyone can write a play this funny about a subject matter so devastating is beyond me. Watching the pain and suffering of these characters is at times beyond uncomfortable and yet impossible to turn away from. Performances by the entire company are phenomenal, including Russell Tovey, Nathan Lane, Denise Gough, James McArdle and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett but the highlight has to be Andrew Garfield, whose luminous performance as Prior is captivatingly magical. Alongside classically stunning National Theatre design, this production is truly once in a lifetime and this performance, for me, was one that I will remember and treasure forever.

See this if: you can get a ticket! There are no other reasons not to see this!



London Learning

At the last conference there was a huge celebration of the ways we can utilise London in our teaching of English. Museums are just one area that London has to offer and of course there are many others. We can look to our wide range of formal cultural institutions like the galleries and theatres, but also to the streets, parks and rivers that surround us.

Shared below are some of the fantastic ideas shared by King’s College London PGCE students for how to make the most of our beloved city.  As we look to that slightly more relaxed summer term or perhaps make plans for next year these trip suggestions could come in handy. You may well know all about the museums below and assume they have an education programme; however, the students have had time to explore the museums and consider other, creative ways you can build one of these museums into your study of a range of areas of English.

Dickens Museum and 19th Century London

Charlotte, Fahmida, Henna and Mariam explored the Charles Dickens Museum

The activities they came up with were aimed at understanding Dickens’ life and times. The museum offers its own programme of activities exploring Dickens’ texts but here are some ideas that could be used for understanding context in particular. For example you could create freeze frames in each room showing how it would have been used; create found poems using the plaques and extracts from Dickens’ writing; or take a walking tour of the area. They pointed out some of the fantastic apps you can use such as the blue plaque walk around the area.

Foundling museum at Coram Fields and 19th Century non-fiction ideas

Also in the Bloomsbury area is the Foundling Museum. Danielle Ashford, James Gallagher, Caroline Gooden, Zoe Mariner and John Moller visited to see how they could use the museum in the practice. They realised that the museum was potentially useful for a number of modern and Victorian texts such as: Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, An Inspector Calls (the institution was open until well into the 20th century), Coram Boy (the book is based on this specific foundling hospital) and Hetty Feather.


As well as being useful for exploring these literary texts, the museum is also a good base for research and introducing students to non-fiction writing. The following types of writing can be found in relation to the museum, such as testimonials from past residents scattered around the building, but also could be written by students after a visit:

  • Newspaper reports on the institution, admissions, the parents, social acceptance of the institution
  • Arguments for and against the Foundling Hospital’s establishment (it encouraged wantonness and prostitution)
  • Drafting of papers using same style of writing
  • Profiles and personal accounts

Responding to war at the IWM

The students who visited the Imperial War Museum had a difficult task in considering how they could students for an emotional trip full of quite gruelling details. They came up with creative ways of helping younger students to enjoy the day and be both informed and engaged with the tricky content of the museum.

They suggested introducing students to war literature before their visit so that they could understand the issues at hand and relate the things in the museum to their work in class. Texts they suggested were common class readers , such as the Boy in Striped Pyjamas or The Diary of Anne Frank as well as more unusual texts like Maus, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich and poems by holocaust and concentration camp victims.

One of the most interesting discoveries they made at the museum was RAF slang used by pilots. Trying to have conversations using the slang and exploring the language of war and battles was something the PGCE students found fun but also fascinating. In order to process some of what they have seen on the day, the students suggested a number of creative writing and discussion activities. Some of the best were: writing a postcard home from different types of people involved in the war and staging a radio show reporting on a key event from a war that they did not know much about before visiting.

The final group to present at our spring conference offered some interesting ways of using the Victoria and Albert Museum when teaching a play text. An important part of their proposed day out was familiarising the students with the museum set up, which is often crucial for students who do not regularly visit museums. For this they suggested a scavenger hunt around three of their personal favourite galleries, however it could be worth tailoring your hunt for interesting objects to the unit you’re studying.

They were particularly engaged with the theatre collection which is organised into different areas. These areas allow students to explore staging, costume, lighting and play scripts with hands on experimentation, dressing up and obviously historical artefacts. They suggested exploring the impact of all these different areas through actually seeing them and trying things out and then, when you get back to school, applying them to the text you are studying.

Things to note

  • The Dickens’ Museum is not wheelchair accessible as it is a narrow Georgian Terrace with a lot of stairs.
  • The Imperial War Museum will not allow younger students into the Holocaust Exhibition with good reason.
  • All the museums do offer their own learning programme but it’s nice to think of ways you can directly link the activities to your own class and their needs and interests.