The Rainforest by Judith Wright

4746f12a5f3073d69c9bb83481aed20a.jpeg (443×267)The Rainforest is a three-verse poem by Australian poem Judith Wright. It is ideal for use in rainforest projects and of particular relevance to years five, six and beyond. It can be used as a stimulus for art or for discussion in a PSHE-context of conservation and the threat to our planet.

Whilst, on the surface, there are descriptions of life in the rainforest, there is plenty of implied meaning beneath and enough ambiguous phrases to get young people talking. It is also an excellent example of the concise use of language; just how much can be said in so few words.

This is how the poem begins:

Rainforest

The forest drips and glows with green.
The tree-frog croaks his far-off song.
His voice is stillness, moss and rain
drunk from the forest ages long.

Read the whole poem here.

Wright.jpg (391×316)According to Poem Hunter website, Judith Wright was a prolific Australian poet, critic, and short-story writer, who published more than 50 books. She was an uncompromising environmentalist and social activist campaigning for Aboriginal land rights. She believed that the poet should be concerned with national and social problems. Even at the age of 85, just before her death, she attended in Canberra at a march for reconciliation with Aboriginal people.

Here is a link to Judith Wright’s poems on Poem Hunter.

Here is an unusual video treatment of the poem using synthesised music:

Possible activities using this poem

Use the poem as a stimulus for artwork. Create the environment which Judith Wright is so passionate about.

Discuss the future of the rainforest. Which animals live there? Why is it under threat? How do we rely on the rainforest? Write letters to powerful people expressing your concern for the rainforest.

Tease out the meaning of key words and phrases from the poem:

“unless we move into his dream”. What is his dream? How can we move into it?

“where all is one and one is all”. What does this mean in a global sense? How would we think about the world if we adopted this approach?

“our quick dividing eyes”. What does this mean? Why are we quick? What do we divide?

“the forest burns”. Investigate why this is happening. What is Judith Wright saying about the rainforest here?

41sAbATNtDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This poem appears in the excellent collection, Best Poems on the Underground. You may have seen it on your travels around London.

My Mother Saw A Dancing Bear by Charles Causley

bearCharles Causley (1917-2003) was a schoolmaster and poet from Cornwall. Probably his most famous poem is ‘Timothy Winters’ which appears in many collections. You can find out more about him, and listen to him reading some of his poems here. There is a Charles Causley Society devoted to continuing interest in his work.

This is a poem which worked well for me in the classroom and really got children talking about a serious subject – cruely to animals. Is it right to keep animals in captivity to perform to the public?

My mother saw a dancing bear
By the schoolyard, a day in June.
The keeper stood with chain and bar
And whistle-pipe, and played a tune.

There is a link to the full text here.

Here is a video of children reading the poem. There are some images on the video, but nothing unpleasant. The children reading the poem have added some extra verses themselves.

Some suggested activities

Read the poem and ask children to respond. Use the five questions approach.

Talk about the moods in the poem – why are the children laughing in the beginning? How was the bear feeling in the summer heart? How was the keeper speaking to the bear? Can you speak like the keeper was speaking? Why was the keeper handing round a begging-cup? Why did the laughter stop? Why did the bear (bruin) have aching eyes? How did the crowd feel at the end? Draw an emotions timeline for the poem.

Re-write the poem from the point of view of the bear. What is he or she thinking? What would the bear say to the crowd if it could speak?

Why do you think Charles Causley wrote this poem? What is his message? Does he approve of animals performing in public? Can you think of any animals you have seen performing in public? Who benefits from this? How did it make you feel? Should it be allowed?

 

Carol Ann Duffy in the classroom

duffyThis charming poem is called F for Fox and is by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate since 2009, and taken from her book New & Collected Poetry for Children. Faber and Faber (2009). I really like this collection. It is very accessible for children and the language play is very enjoyable. There is a sequence of poems about musicians which could be used in a series of lessons introducing children to different types of music and poetry to go along with them.

F for Fox is a playful, clever poem in which all the key words begin with the letter F. Here is a link to the full text. Here are a few lines to give you a taster. (I cannot find a video of this poem anywhere.)

The fox fled over the fields away from the farm and the furious farmer.
His fur was freaked.
His foxy face was frantic as he flew. A few feathers fluttered out of his mouth.
The fox had broken his fast with a feast of fowl!

Possible activities

1. Have fun with reading and performing it. Use group work, individuals and pairs.

2. Ask children about the language features. Obviously alliteration will figure quite highly. But what else is there?

3. Discuss how the poet approached this poem. Was it as simple as listing loads of words beginning with F? When you look closely, it is a very clever, and difficult trick to pull off!

4. Take another letter. I think we chose M. Ask children to work in pairs or individually to write as many words as they can which begin with M. Ask them to divide their sheets into categories eg names, places, adjectives, adverbs and so on.

5. Ask them to choose the name of one of their M characters and build up a word picture of them. Eg Moody Maisie from Manchester carried a magnificent map. Share these in a plenary, highlighting uses of different techniques. Swap ideas, steal ideas.

6. Then ask the children to try to construct a simple story for their character, using the lists of vocabulary, ticking off each word as they have used it. The task is harder than you might imagine. Urge the children to make every word count. The results will be hilarious and great fun!

Preludes by TS Eliot

This was, perhaps, my biggest gamble as a poetry teacher but it really paid off. I noticed that part of T S Eliot’s Preludes was included in the excellent poetry collection, Sensational, edited by Roger McGough. It also appeared in a transition unit for use between Years 6 and 7. Preludes is a four-verse poem in which a hidden observer describes dusk on a winter’s evening in a poor part of the city. We don’t know exactly where, or necessarily when, though the poem was written in 1920.

In a sense, we do not need to know anymore because we want children to use the language to imagine where we are and what is going on. For this lesson, I just used Preludes Part I. There is enough in here to support a whole week of literacy. (Please note that the other parts do contain themes unsuitable for primary age children). It begins like this:

The winter evening settles down
With smells of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.

(TS Eliot, 1888–1965)

I read the full Part I to the class and then displayed a series of pictures, partly suggested by the text. Which picture would they choose and why? These are a couple of the images I found:

Prelude 1prelude 2

The last two lines of Part I are:

And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

I asked the children to discuss this cab-horse. Who is inside? Where have they come from? Who are they meeting? Why is the cab-horse lonely? Why is it stamping? Is it anxious to get somewhere?
From these questions, children can begin to construct a mood and a scenario. You might wish to begin writing an alternative version with the children’s own vocabulary. You might wish to turn this into prose and construct a story around this bleak image.
Here is an example of one poem written by a Year 5 pupil:

The Station (inspired by Preludes by TS Eliot)

The veil of mist shrouds all
As the girl glances back.
Gears grinding.
The train heaves down its track
And now the veil of mist is back.
The girl on the train
Fiddles with her feet.

The train chugs away from the strife,
Brought on by her life.
She orders from the trolley
And readies her brolley
For outside, the rain is reluctant
To cease its fire at the earth.
But she likes the rain.

(Max Crossland)

I think you will agree that this is a pretty impressive effort. It was highly commended in the John Betjeman Poetry Competition.

You can read the full text of Preludes here.

Words and images from Preludes have, of course, been used in the production of TS Eliot’s Cats poems for the stage, particularly in the song Memory. Here is a video of the song, sung by Elaine Paige, which could also be used as a stimulus for writing. Children could also try to spot which parts of the poem appear in the song.

 

 

The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was an American poet particularly well-known for his light verse. This makes an excellent introduction into poetry for young people (though they should be reminded that there is serious stuff ahead!) This silly poem, about the adventures of Isobel, is ideal for class performance. Nash’s daughter was called Isabel, by the way.

Here is an extract:

Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous.

You can read the full poem here, and also hear Ogden Nash reading it. Here is a version of him reading it, accompanied by a picture show.

Activities in class:

Keep the pens and paper in the cupboard. This lesson is all about performance and understanding. In the poem you have a bear, a witch, a giant and a doctor. Each of these speaks in the poem. You will also need a narrator.

When I used this poem, I had five groups. One group was each character, and one was the narrator. Or you could split the class into groups of five and have each one prepare a performance. There is plenty of scope for dramatic and silly reading – the witch must crow, how does a giant speak, and how does a bear speak? Groups could spice up their performances with actions and drama. They could fill in the backgrounds of their characters by imagining where they came from. Try getting rid of the tables and chairs. Work towards a creative, noisy and funny performance of this poem which could easily be learnt by heart. Good luck!

 

Don’t Call Alligator Long-Mouth till You crossed River by John Agard

This simple poem is great fun, especially for Key Stage 1 children. It is by the wonderful poet John Agard. It could easily be learned by heart by a class of children, or conducted in different parts by the teacher. It could also be used as inspiration for story-telling or artwork. Also, what does it mean? What is the message? What other animals could we write poetry about?

Here is a very simple video performance of the poem. Maybe you could make a video with your pupils.

There is a downloadable PDF resource about John Agard here.