Sunday, 24 March 2013

Comparing poetry

It is snow joke. As I have been stuck in a house for three day, I have been able to do another short blog. This time it is about comparing poetry.

One of the things that drives me mad is the exam board’s insistence of comparing poems in an exam. I hate it with a passion. I don’t think the experience of comparing poems is a bad. In fact, I love doing it. The problem is the assessed element. Get students to analyse texts well and leave the comparative analysis for A-level. I don’t think there is a student that will look back on my teaching of them and go, ‘ere by gum, that Mr C he changed the way I see the world with his making us compare poems.’ It is frustrating that in a lot of English Literature exams students have to compare X number of poems with poem Y and explore how Z is used. If we are honest, most of the time is spent teaching the poems, and then we work on the comparative element. The poems become bundles of knowledge to learn and the teacher slowly ticks off the poems one by one, worried that they will not get through the poems in time. That is me at the moment.

To be honest, I like the ‘unseen poetry’ element of the exam paper. It is a surprise and a challenge. I think it gets students thinking, whereas the ‘comparing poem’ gets them struggling to recall what the teacher told them about the poem. 

Therefore, I thought as I am in the mad poetry rush that is preparing for the exams, I would share with you one of the things I do with poems and comparing. It always seems to work and it helps to cover two poems in detail in one lesson. Oh, and I think Ofsted will like it as it is the students learning for themselves. Along the way, I have also shared a few other things I do.

Starter Stickers
As student arrive in the room, give them a sticker with one line from two different poems. Students sit down and start comparing the poems.

Harry Hill
For example:

I like 'Flags' and I like 'Falling Leaves', but which one is better? There is only one way to find out .... FIGHT!

Students start the lesson by arguing which poem is best. On the board, I list the differences.

Both / However
I teach that students should start there comparison with ‘Both’ and ‘However’

Both 'The Flag' and 'Falling Leaves' are poems that explore death caused by war. However, 'The Flag' shows us how war can be avoided and 'Falling Leaves' shows us how death in war cannot be avoided like the natural cycles of the seasons.

At the start or end of a lesson, students complete a small sheet with the words ‘both’ and ‘however’.

Mini- essays
Rather than write one big essay, give students lots of different paragraphs to write, but with each one having a different focus.

Compare how At the Border and Mametz Wood use imagery to get their messages across.

Write a paragraph explaining what the poem’s messages are.

  • ‘At the Border’  is … Whereas…
  • Two quotes
  • An explanation of the messages
  • Perhaps … Maybe… Might … May
  • A link to a technique

A little bit revealing
This is by far one of my favourite things I do when comparing poems.  I have done it with ‘Poppies’ and ‘Hawk Roosting’ from the Conflict AQA anthology. Throughout the whole process they are comparing the poems.  

Step 1: Reveal the names of the two poets. It helps if one is a female. Students then hypothesise as to how the poet might view conflict.

Step 2: Reveal the title.  Students compare the title. What is similar? What is different?

They might say how both poems are about nature. Or, they might say how one thing moves while the other doesn’t.

Step 3: Reveal the opening stanza. Photocopy them so students can annotate them.

Step 4,5,6,7 and 8: Reveal each stanza and compare each one together.

The Last Step: Students then look over everything they have discussed and select the best points.

I find this very effective in getting students to explore poems. In fact, during the process I become a bit of a note taker – write down their ideas on the board and listen.   It is quite simple to set up, but it can be quite effective. This year I am going to mix up the poems I am comparing.  

Comparing texts is important for students to see the choices writers make and to identify the style of writing. After all, I know I am very short by comparing myself to other men.

Thanks for reading,

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    Please visit my blog at I'd be happy to provide a guest blog related to the power of poetry and photos to inspire writing. Thanks.
    Hank Kellner


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.