Every English teacher has experienced it – the ennui and the lack of interest displayed by students when confronted with poetry lessons. Here is a novel approach to poetry teaching that shows how poetry can be fun.
“Children, let’s do poetry today,” and the teacher gets an assortment of reactions. Tense “oh’s” of boredom and occasionally, a delighted squeal of joy (if only a few more would).
And armed with pencils and quelling all desire to chitchat, children approach poetry with long, worried faces. All attempts to tell them that poetry is an overflow of powerful feelings go unnoticed. Coaxing them to enjoy the rhyme, metre, the brevity and choice of words (older students) evokes only a mild response and a milder interest. What they await eagerly is a comfortable ‘simplification’ of verse, reducing the poetry class to a ‘dry’ academic handout of “meanings”.
Let us see if we can lighten this burden from their minds by illustrating the very opposite. Monotonous prose and the ‘memorable speech’ of poetry as Auden defined it.
To begin with, let’s ask the children to read and memorise a passage like this:
“Soup has always been a nutritious and stimulating drink for the young and the old. Some prepare it by mixing flour and skimmed milk and boiling it in water. Bread was placed in a bowl and the boiling mixture poured on top. The bread would float and later, sink out of sight, leaving the plate blue of the watery milk”.
Check after a few minutes, how many students have learnt it word by word. How easy did they find it?
Next, give the class Passage 2 (do not refer to it as a poem yet) allotting five minutes to memorise it. A recitation of it can also be conducted.
Beautiful soup, so rich and green!
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such flavours would not stoop!
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!
Islands of bread, swirling around,
Dip in and scoop them up,
Before they sink down!
The difference between Passage 1 and Passage 2 is more than illustrative. Questions that could be asked:
1. Spot the difference between Passage 1 and the poem, ‘Soup’
2. Why is the second easier to memorise?
3. Think up on the most funny ‘onion’ verse
A literary prize could be offered for poetry writing. So now, poetry has not only become approachable, but enjoyable too.
Exercises of this kind make children less biased towards verse, encourage poetry writing (a rare skill these days) and drive out the notion that poetry is difficult.
This session would be ideally suited for class V to VII when strong likes and dislikes begin to take shape. So let’s shape the likes into something creative and enjoyable.
This article first appeared in Teacher Plus, May-June 1991, Vol. No: 12.