Fragments of meaning

It’s the first day of teaching literature to my year 1 secondary school class. I choose several poems, chop them up into individual sentences, and divide the fragments among the students. Each student gets eight to ten sentences, and their task is to create their own poem out of them. I encourage them to be creative. They can transform words, add or take away words, use different tenses, but they must keep the same basic structure and meaning.

I then ask each student in turn to take the floor and read their poem in the most dramatic way they can. They are all excited, but also anxious. One says, ‘I wrote a poem and I’ll read it but it makes no sense’. I say not to worry. I didn’t say the poem had to make sense immediately.

She reads her poem, and as she finishes there is a show of hands in the class. The students are eager to offer their interpretation of her poem. They are very inventive and constructive. The reader was so happy. I ask her which was her favourite interpretation. ‘All of them!’, she says.

The bell rings. For homework I ask the students to rework their poems and to prepare to perform them tomorrow. I say they can act them out dramatically if they like.

Tomorrow, after they have acted their poems out, I’ll have a debriefing session with them and get them to reflect on the word choices they made and to think about why they chose to perform their poems in the way they did.

Then — and this will be the big reveal! — I’ll read them the original poems and get them to talk about them too. Hopefully, the work they have done will stimulate them to engage about poems in way they couldn’t have done before, and to think about the power of words. Let’s see how it goes!

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