Strategy and Challenges for Teaching Poem at Secondary Level

We all understand the challenges of teaching poetry in ELT classrooms, a point that Kent Grosh addresses from a broader perspective about education in this issue. But if we are able teach well, poetry can add an important aspects to our students’ language skills, including understanding metaphors, connotations, symbolic meanings, and so on. In this entry, Mabindra Regmi shares a lesson plan for teaching a particular poem. – Ed.

Strategy and Challenges for Teaching Poem at Secondary Level
(in reference to the poem “A Girl” by Ezra Pound)

-          Mabindra Regmi

A Girl
by Ezra Pound

The tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast-
Downward,
The branches grow out of me, like arms.
Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child – so high – you are,
And all this is folly to the world.

Challenges for a teacher

A Girl by Ezra Pound is a product of what is called imagist movement in modern poetry. The preference is given to the picture that the poem portrays rather than the meaning. There could be many challenges that the teacher can face while teaching this type of poem.

1.      Structure

One of the complications that the teacher might face while teaching the poem “A Girl” by Ezra Pound will be the structure of the poem itself for it does not follow standard metric stanzas. The lack of stanzas is perhaps deliberate as the whole poem centered to the page looks like a picture of a tree. This is one of the qualities that a imagist poet aspires for- to give the poem form of the topic under discussion.

2.      Meaning

Since the poem is created in order to paint a picture of the poet’s expression, it will be very difficult for the teacher to come to a singular conclusion as to what the poem might mean. Nonetheless, it does not affect the beauty and the creativity of the text and the profound impact that it will inevitably have on the reader. The teacher has to be careful not to ladle preconceived meaning for this poem, but encourage the students to come up with their own interpretations. It is also advisable not to consider any of the interpretations as totally wrong.

3.      Criticism

Literary criticism permeates any literary text. Many a times, it is the text itself that draws onto one or the other type of literary criticism. Even if the theories are not explicitly discussed in a secondary school literature classroom, certain inferences are unavoidable. Because “A Girl” is a poem of post modern times, it can be safely assumed to be critically appreciated through the lens of post-modernism in literature. But again, post-modernism is not a clear cut literary theory and the resulting explanation will retain some of the ambiguities and the surrealisms that post-modernism theoretical explanations propagate.

A Lesson plan for teaching the poem  

Exercise 1

Draw a picture of a tree and a picture of a girl side by side on a blank piece of paper.

Exercise 2

Read the poem “A Girl” by Ezra Pound. Look at the drawings that you have made. Now consider the questions below.

  1. Does the poem evoke a sense of comparison between a girl and a tree?
  2. How is the tree compared to a girl?

Exercise 3

Make two columns and list down the words related to a tree and those related to a girl.

Exercise 4

A Poem can be interpreted in many different ways. Read the poem once again. What do you think is the poet trying to say in this poem?

Exercise 5

There are many metaphors used in this poem. Can you make a list of them?

——————————-

Lesson Plan: Teacher’s Copy

“A Girl” by Ezra pound

Task A

Set Scene

Talk about pictures and paintings and how they might be similar to poems.

Ask the students to draw a picture of a tree and a picture of a girl and ask them to compare and see if there are any similarities.

Task B

Preteach vocabulary/prediction

Discuss and preteach the following vocabulary:

sap                                           moss                                        violet

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Exercise 3

Exercise 4

Task C

Metaphors

Metaphors are devices used in writing poems or any other form of literature where comparison is made between two things which have some similarities but are essentially different. There is no use of comparing words like “like” or “as”.

He is a dog.

In the sentence above, (he) is compared with a (dog).

Exercise 5

Task D

Follow up

Ask the students to create metaphors for another object or person. Since a girl was used as the subject of the topic, you can use a boy instead to create some metaphors.

Suggested activities in the lesson plan

Few activities have been suggested in the lesson plan for teaching the poem “A Girl” by Ezra pound.

Pre-teaching Activities

Activity 1: Scene setting

Setting the scene for the matter to be taught will enable the students to activate the schema and in turn, it will make the comprehension of the subject matter easier to comprehend. Here, as a scene setting activity, the teacher is suggested to talk about how there are similarities between text of poems and pictures. Moreover, words can also be an effective means to express picture-like representations. As an imagist poem, “A Girl” also paints a picture of a comparison between a girl and a tree.

The teacher can further ask the students to draw a picture of a tree and a picture of a girl and try to see if there are any similarities that exist between them. The students can work individually, in pairs or in groups and give a short presentation on what kind of similarities that they have found.

Activity 2: Preteach vocabulary items

Although the vocabulary items presented in the selected poem are reasonably simple and most of the words can be understood by the students of secondary level, it is a good idea to discuss some of the items so that the students will have a complete comprehension of the poem that they are reading. Here, three words sap, moss and violet are referred for consideration for discussion. Of course the list can be contracted or extended based upon the cognitive knowledge of the students regarding vocabulary.

It is suggested that the vocabulary items are discussed in contextual and context free manner regarding the poem. The words might have been used in a different way in the poem as it so often happens while studying poetry. The students should have a clear concept of what the words mean in the poem before they start reading.

While-teaching Activities

Activity 3: Reading and comprehension

Ask the students to read the text of the poem, preferably aloud. Ask them to answer the comprehension check questions given at the end. This will enable the students to get a basic gist of the poem and what it is trying to say.

Activity 4: Vocabulary used for comparison in the poem

            There are different words used to describe the tree and to describe the girl. Ask the students to make a list of these words so that they can get an idea how these two unlikely items are compared using more or less equal number of words.

Activity 5: Finding the metaphors

One of the figurative devices used in this poem is metaphors. After explaining what metaphors are, the students can be assigned to make a list of all the metaphors used to compare the girl with a tree.

Post-teaching Activities

Activity 6: Creating Metaphors

After the students are familiar with the concept of metaphors, they can be asked to create some metaphors of their own. Here, the students are asked to create metaphors for a boy since the poem deals with metaphors dealing with a girl.

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4 Responses to Strategy and Challenges for Teaching Poem at Secondary Level

  1. Suresh Shrestha says:

    Thank you so much for the article supportive to the teachers willing to teach poetry more vibrantly!
    Perhaps, it is a poem of the Secondary level as the title refers. The poem seems to be quite vague in sense that a poem attempts to serve. All the students may enjoy reading it without rhymes or stanzas. Many more can pick up the metaphors and create several ones on boy or someone or something else. Is that all the secondary-level students are to learn from a poem? Isn’t that a job of a primary or lower secondary level? What could be the possible idea or ideas students may feel the poem is trying to convey, and how to come up with it or with them? Wouldn’t it be justifiable to add it to the POST-TEACHING activities with some explanation, and let the students pick up the one they like the best or get the gist of the poem, if any particular?
    To be frank, I yearn to know what the poem is hinting or what the poem is conveying as a message or messages!

  2. Bishwanath says:

    Thanks for showing good strategy and challenge for teaching poem at secondary level.

  3. Mabindra says:

    Dear Suresh ji,
    First of all, I would like to thank you for your comment and the suggestion. What I have tried to do here is to give a sample of how a poem might be taught. I will never say that the process expressed here is anywhere near complete or exhaustive. It is just to give some ideas where the problem areas might be for the teachers.
    Yes, the poem is rather vague, or vivid if you want to look at it from a different perspective. It is an imagist poem and it is supposed to paint a picture with words. What you can do with the poem in the class and the activities that you can perform is of course boundless. I have but started a blog. it is now up to interested teachers like you ( I assume you are a teacher) to expand and share ideas to make this process a more complete one.
    I can be reached at mabindra@gmail.com for further correspondence and queries.

  4. Dear Mr Regmi,
    Thank you so much for your response to my query or simply curiosity to learn something new lying ahead. You are right and highly appreciable for what you have presented to usher so many teachers to tackling problems in course of teaching poetry. Yes, I am also teaching English and learning more and more. My simple lack of understanding or dissatisfaction addressing the course designers or content selectors through your article is why there is such a poem at the secondary level at which students often evaluate and explore what they have got, why not at the primary level for viewing the shape in words, for learning some metaphors and for having some vocal taste of poetry for pleasure or at a college level for analysing critically and exploring something hidden to learn better and closer what exactly poetry is meant for. It is nice to learn that you have a blog but you have not mentioned the link to it. I feel happy to hear from you at “sureshkrshrestha@gmail.com”.
    Thanks a lot.

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