A letter to the teachers of English: 74Teaching a poem in the Secondary class (4) [Archives:2005/814/Education]

February 7 2005

Dr.M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear Fellow teachers,

You must have got an idea of teaching the poem 'Leisure' by now. Please remember what I am saying in my letters is my idea of teaching the poem, one of the successful ways of teaching it; you can follow it or you can think of a better way of doing it.

The following are the suggested steps involved in the teaching of the poem:

– A fairly simple, interesting and relevant introduction to the poem

– Glossing of a few difficult words and expressions in the poem

– Reading the poem aloud by the teacher once or twice or three times

– Teasing out the idea of the poem through a dialogue with the students

– Reading the poem aloud by the students individually or in groups

– Testing the understanding of the poem through simple oral questions

– Pointing out the poetic features in the poem

The order of the steps is not rigid and you can alter it according to your need and the level of your students. Some teachers may begin with step three above, if they think it fit; some of them can begin with step six too. It all depends on the language level of the learners and the teacher's interest in the poem. Unless you are interested in the poem, it is difficult for you to create an interest in your learners.

Step four needs a bit of explanation, I think. Teasing out the main idea of the poem can be attempted in several ways. For example, you can read the poem stanza by stanza and while reading, ask questions such as the following:

Why is life full of worry? When are we worried in our life?

What is the poet's advice to stop worrying?

Where can you see sheep and cows?

Do we see only squirrels in the forest? What else?

Where do we see the stars?

How can we see stars in broad daylight? What does the poet mean?

The reading of the poem can be peppered with such questions and with the answers from the students, the clever ones at least, the entire poem can be explained. The success of the teaching depends on how much answering is done by the students and this in turn depends on how cleverly and simply the teacher asks the questions. The classroom teaching is a drama, in which the teacher acts as if he doesn't know the answers, though he knows them, and elicits them from the students; the success or the failure depends on how well the teacher acts out his or her role.

A few words about the poetic features in this poem. Apart from the rhyme we talked about, you can point out the deviations in the word order; for example, 'when woods we pass' instead of 'when we pass woods' or incomplete expressions such as 'a poor life this if, full of care .'. You can point out the use of a simile in the fourth stanza – stars on the stream are like the stars in the skies; personification in the next stanza – Beauty is personified as a woman in the expression 'Beauty's glance', 'her feet', 'her mouth' etc.

How do we test this poem or any poem? A few simple questions to test the learner's understanding of the main idea will be enough. This can be also be done by giving a few lines from the poem and asking them question(s) on them. Avoid asking about the poet. Question to test their appreciation can also be useful. Good luck.

Yours fraternally,