I picked this activity up from the AQA Effective Exam Prep course and thought it was a great way to get students to focus on the key things when tackling an unseen poem.
Essentially it works like this:
Put copies of the poem up around the room before the lesson starts. To stop any cheating, the best thing is to staple/pin a blank sheet of paper over the poem that the students will have to lift to read the poem.
Put students into groups of 4/5 and allow them, one at a time, to go up and look at the poem for 30 seconds. All they have to do is think about what they notice. They will come back and sit with their group but they MUST NOT talk about what they noticed though they may make some notes.
When everybody in the group has had 30 seconds with the poem the group can now discuss what they noticed. Some may have noticed something to do with the structure, others will have noticed the opening, for some the vocabulary used will have stuck with them… It’s genuinely fascinating to see what students notice. They won’t all notice the same things (and that’s a good thing); they’ll be able to make some interesting points about the things that caught their attention.
When I did this activity with my year 11 class, I used it as part of an introductory lesson about how to approach unseen poetry. I showed them this example question:
In ‘The Great Storm’, how does the poet present the speaker’s feelings about the storm?
I then quickly split them up into groups and they cracked on with the activity. After the group discussion I pulled them back as a class and was blown away by what students were able to say about the poem only having had 30 seconds with it. They were able to tell me how the speaker felt about the storm using evidence from the poem and commenting on the techniques the poet had used to present those feelings. They commented on techniques including Shapcott’s use of: sentence structure, pronouns, similes, sensory detail, direct address, tense, enjambment and vocabulary. To say I was impressed is an understatement.
To pull this all together I showed them how they might structure their responses, got them to write a plan and then they talked through their essay with a partner. As a starting point to unseen poetry it showed them that they’re pretty amazing at noticing and they notice things for a reason. It’s no accident that they noticed the single sentence stanza that opened the poem, the irregular structure, the simile comparing trees to matchsticks…
If you fancy giving it a go, I include here a link to a PowerPoint I used in the lesson and a copy of the poem. Feel free to use/adapt but the beauty of this activity is that there’s minimal set up and you can do it with any poem that you like.