The power of poetry


The power of poetry

15 Nov ’20 Teaching 0
macbook pro on brown wooden table

Teaching English at an inclusive, ethnically diverse school, presents the opportunity for rich, sensitive and empathetic discussion.

After introducing the class to Bob Marley’s ‘Rat Race‘ students were challenged to take forward three of Marley’s songwriting devices (punctuation, repetition, local words) to write their own two stanza poem, exploring an issue important to them.

As we all know, “the-big-empty-white-sheet-of-nothingness” often presents an insurmountable hurdle to getting young writers started. So, to support the students thinking and writing, I provided smaller steps and modelled my own thinking and writing.

  • Step 1: Select an issue important to you – explode it
  • Step 2: What emotions do you connect with the issue?
  • Step 3: Identify 5 keywords (local words)
  • Step 4: Choose a word to repeat
  • Step 5: Where and how are you going to use punctuation to control how your poem is read / heard?
  • Step 6: Think hard and take care with your title

I shared a little background to how lockdown was impacting our family, a parent self-isolating and the extra forethought required when you are part of an extended elderly family. How technology has helped but not come anywhere close to meeting in person.

The Power of Poetry

Now it was the students turn.

  • Step 1: Select an issue important to you – explode it
  • Step 2: What emotions do you connect with the issue?

Students were given the opportunity to select their own issue to explode, otherwise, the students had to pick from either “Homelessness” or “Climate control.” Unsurprisingly, a good proportion of class decided to explore their thoughts on the issue of racism and Black Lives Matter. However, they found exploding the issue somewhat harder than they had expected and found translating their thoughts on the issue to poetry, even harder.

Racism from this teachers perspective

As a football coach with Southampton FC Academy I had the privilege of listening to former England footballer Mark Chamberlain discuss the highlights of his career. I also heard first-hand about some of the challenges he faced. A conversation, I wish to respect and one that I have not forgotten. As a PE teacher and sports fan, I was well aware of the historic role sport and sportsmen have played in highlighting the issue.

Three hours of research, that started with “Take a knee” resulted in “Not Present Today.”

  • Punctuation – Marley’s ! and Dickens double dash (Year 8 are studying A Christmas Carol).
  • Repetition – check – aligned with what I could read online about the cases. Michael Brown was shot 6 times.
  • Keywords – check “take a knee” and Obama’s reflections in the final stanza. Those “Present” are campaigning and ensuring their voice is heard.
  • Local words – I’m a teacher. This is my class. “Present.”

Fully aware of my responsibilities, I am in search of some expert feedback before I share it with my students.

Year 7 poem – Climate Control – or not as his case presents. Clearly inspired by “Gnaw of the Rats.”


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