This week I have been working on teaching students how writers structure a setting in a novel. At the same time, I have been also teaching how Steinbeck uses setting in ‘Of Mice and Men’. And, in the interest of making my workload lighter, I discovered a nice, easy approach.
A few years ago, people started making blacked-out poetry. A nice simple idea whereby students remove large chunks of a text and boil it down to what, the student thinks, are the most important words.
This time around I decided to work backwards and I must say I am pleased with the result. I produced setting poems for the different places in ‘Of Mice and Men’. I selected the key parts of a setting and binned the rest. The result was a messy bit of poetry. Nonetheless, it did fit together.
Students analysed the setting as a poem. This made for some interesting comments about the writer’s choice of words. The bunkhouse provoked questions about the use of paint and the size of the windows. But, importantly, it helped students to spot patterns in the text and explore the structure of the descriptions (again, a link to the new GCSEs) in relation to the text’s meaning.
I suppose in terms of the new exams we need to help train student to search for links, connection and ideas across a text, yet they are often dealing with large blocks of text in the exam. This approach of boiling the text down and analysing it will be an approach I will be using with Year 10s so they can build their confidence at looking at larger texts. All too often, the questioning we use in lessons is directing students to particular idea in the text. This approach allows students to be precise yet also concentrate on the whole text at the same time. The poems kept the structure and order of things as well as the language choices.
After student had analysed a setting poem they compared it with others. They discussed the use of windows in the novel – something I have never given a second thought to. One student suggested the window represented freedom or, interestingly, intelligence. Another, student explored the use of the word shed for Crook’s setting. A shed being something where you store machines or tools. Others spotted the use of cleanliness in Old Suzy’s Place and how this contrasted with the other settings. One student thought the use of the word ‘clean’ was actually sarcasm.
I suppose the beauty of this approach is it declutters the text for student. Sometimes, it is too hard to find points of interest when they are so many things and points in a text. This helps narrow the little grey cells and see the wood for the tree. Plus, I am comparing texts and analysing ‘poems’ all at the same time.
Thanks for reading,
Here are some examples:
small, square windows,
showing their burlap ticking
shelves were loaded
a big square table littered with playing cards
flies shot like rushing stars
a little shed
square four-paned window
a range of medicine bottles
both for himself and for the horses
scattered about the floor were a number of personal possessions
several pairs of shoes
a big alarm clock
a single-barreled shotgun.
a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905
a few dirty books on a special shelf over his bunk
a proud, aloof man
sound of moving horses, of feet stirring, of teeth champing on hay, of the rattle
of halter chains
threw a meagre yellow light
the great barn
piled high with new hay
hay came down like a mountain slope to the other end of the barn
the feeding racks were visible
between the slats the heads of horses could be seen
resting horses nibbled the remaining wisps of
afternoon sun sliced in through the cracks of the
bright lines on the hay
buzz of flies
outside came the clang of horseshoes on the playing peg
shouts of men, playing, encouraging, jeering
quiet and humming
lazy and warm
Old Susy’s Place
old Susy’s place
a nice place
always crackin’ jokes
never talks dirty
get a shot for two bits
Susy don’t give a damn
ain’t rushin’ guys through and kickin’ ‘em
a hell of a lot of fun
crackin’ jokes all the time
My girls is clean
no water in my whisky
clean and she got nice chairs
The Dream Farm
An’ live off the fatta the lan
in the cages
the rain in the winter
how thick the
cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it
a big vegetable patch
up a fire in the stove and set around it an’ listen to the
rain comin’ down on the roof
a little house an’ a room to ourself
Little fat iron stove
We’d belong there