Tag Archives: analysing poetry for an essay.

Planning a coursework essay

For many, coursework is a dirty word. Whilst I am well aware that it can be seen as both a pointless exercise in which someone assists a student to produce “their” essay and also as “free marks” for some students as they approach an examination series which worries them, I believe in coursework as a vital tool for developing students’ critical faculties prior to entering the VIth form and thence to University. It is not the same as the abomination called “Controlled Assessment” which was an aberration now thankfully consigned to the refuse bin of paedagogical pointlessness.

In this Powerpoint I am trying to present to my current IGCSE sets how I might approach a task such as theirs: Explore the presentation of love in 3 poems with reference to 3 more” – catchy and typically circuitous, still that’s the nature of the task for Edexcel IGCSE LITERATURE. We have been working on a range of poets from Shakespeare to Thomas via Rossetti and Achebe. They will not be plagiarising my ideas, quite apart form anything else, I tend to recognise my own writing!

I have been formalising my approach in my mind over the years and have been focused this year an engaging yr 10 with the nature of drafting and improving. We have a little spare time in the calendar and I have been encouraging them to take the time to develop and mature prior to actually writing. All this is quite alien to a group of boys who often wish to dive into a task with little heed of where they might emerge, but it has to be done. Funnily enough, I have just begun to read John Tomsett’s This Much I Know About Love Over Fear … Creating A Culture For Truly Great Teaching http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1845909828/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=01DWBSVFB3AP3RE1WCZ4&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=577048787&pf_rd_i=desktop a wonderful book by one of the most humane writers on education currently writing and blogging in the UK. In the book, he outlines a similar course of action – I have also stolen his Janus sentences here:  janus sentences – they make so much sense that they will appear in any discussion I have with the students – I urge anyone reading this to read his book and read his many wise ideas about great teaching and leadership.

So, here’s the Powerpoint – feel free to use it or abuse it!
essay planning

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Filed under coursework, EDEXCEL IGCSE, Paedagogy

Blessing: Imtiaz Dharker A SLIME and a SCASI response

Recently I set my Year 11s this well known and much examined poem as an unseen. I was rather unsettled by the lack of structure in their responses and felt the need to take time to recap SLIME and SCASI to help them to tackle the task… For those unused to the mnemonics: Subject/Style, Language, Imagery, Meaning, Effect and Setting, Character, Action, Style, Ideas. I prefer the second one which I first came across as a teacher of the IBDP where it was recommended to me when approaching unseens in their mammoth two hour unseen paper.

One of my students emailed me yesterday and asked for a model response!

So, here goes (written in a single sitting with no more than 25 minutes allowed for either essay to mimic the examination):

“How does Dharker create a sense of wonder in the poem?”
Focus on the language used in the poem, the use of images and literary effects, any other relevant feature of the poem.

‘Blessing’ by Imtiaz Dharker

The skin cracks like a pod.
There never is enough water.

Imagine the drip of it,
the small splash, echo
in a tin mug,
the voice of a kindly god.

Sometimes, the sudden rush
of fortune. The municipal pipe bursts,
silver crashes to the ground
and the flow has found
a roar of tongues. From the huts,
a congregation : every man woman
child for streets around
butts in, with pots,
brass, copper, aluminium,
plastic buckets,
frantic hands,

and naked children
screaming in the liquid sun,
their highlights polished to perfection,
flashing light,
as the blessing sings
over their small bones.

SLIME: This poem, written in free-verse is set in a hot and dry part of the world where water is scarce and where any appearance of it is a cause for excitement and rejoicing. The free-verse form enables Dharker to organise the poem around ideas with a freedom to draw attention to specific words or phrases without consideration of rhyme or rhythmic pattern. An example of this comes at the end of the third stanza where the list of utensils gradually decreases in status whilst increasing in urgency until the line “frantic hands” in which the adjective conveys both a sense of despair and of excitement. The sentence does not end at the end of the stanza, however and the fourth stanza opens after the enjambement with the ambivalent image of “naked children/screaming…” Here the image manages to once again convey the double emotion – the verb offering suggestions of pain to the same extent as it offers suggestions of enjoyment.

The stanzas of the poem follow an approach to the issue of water in their content. At the opening of the poem the pair of single line sentences, with their clear present tense outlining of the situation – “there is never enough water” present the context for the poem clearly. This is then countered by the imperatives in the second stanza which urge the reader to engage fully with the poet: “imagine…” The imperative verbs and the use of onomatopoeia on “drip” and “splash” help to convey the scarcity of this much sought after commodity.

It is in stanza three that Dharker uses imagery to convey the thrill of the water leak and to establish a link with the poem’s title. Already she has introduced the idea of a “blessing” at the end of the second stanza by describing the water as the “voice of a kindly God” (though we might wonder how “kindly’ a god is that keeps his people in such a state of need). As the third stanza develops she develops the idea. The water is variously described as “the sudden rush of fortune” and as “silver”. Both images create a sense of great value and worth on a materialistic scale. In the next stanza, however the “congregation” worshipping around the pipe are treated to the image of water as “liquid sun”. This is a clear metaphor which puts water on the same level as the sun as a life-giver and a provider of Goodness. No wonder it is seen as a blessing and is viewed with wonder, even when it is an imaginary event.

Despite this Blessing there is a single disquieting thought at the end of the poem: The first line and the last line form a couplet of their own with the unsettling message that “the skin cracks like a pod /over their small bones”. In the final stanza, Dharker clearly focuses on the children and using the euphemisitic phrase “their highlights polished…” draws attention to this fact. Her euphemism allows their stark thinness to be seen in a positive light and thus confirms the sense of wonder found elsewhere in the poem.

SCASI: The poem is set in a hot, dry part of the world, where water is seen as a scarce commodity to be valued highly. The setting is clearly described in the opening line of the poem in which one of the possible readings suggests that the very “skin” of the Earth itself is cracking “like a pod”.

In this harsh environment, the children and the locals living around a burst water main gather to collect water. The action is “frantic” and Dharker uses the third stanza to highlight this. Using enjambement to help to suggest the tumult, she combines metaphors of sound “roar of tongues” and a long list of ever more mundane utensils to suggest the possible aggression and the urgency with which the villagers contend with one another for water. Ultimately it is revealed that even “frantic hands” are used, so desperate is the need to gather this life-giving liquid.

Within the crowd, the children are singled out for attention. At first the imagery is ambivalent – the “naked children/screaming…” carries an unmistakable suggestion of pain as well as one of sheer enjoyment. The sense of wonder is stronger, however, due to the euphemistic description of the bodies: rather than emaciated and unhealthy, these children have “highlights polished to perfection”. It is as though the Blessing of the water has cured all illness and brought nothing but joy.

This is Dharker’s intention, since the poem is a clear presentation of the view of God providing all for his followers. The “congregation” are literally blessed by “liquid sun” as the life-giving water pours forth. To these worshippers, the water is more than this and its high material worth is suggested by references to “silver” and to a “rush of fortune”. Fortune also connotes luck, and it is possible that Dharker is being ironic in her title. After all, the God who provides so little in the normal scheme of events, as suggested by the empty onomatopoeia of “splash” and “drip”into the low status “tin cup” of the second stanza, does not seem as one who might be likely to provide such bounty as is here unleashed.

The poem uses the freedom of its free-verse structure to ensure that readers are led to the positive view of the leaking pipe. After opening with the dramatic couplet which sets the context in two single sentence lines, Dharker introduces a sense of wonder in the second stanza with the imperative “imagine” which allows the reader to summon up the mental image, assisted by the imagery of sound referred to earlier. In the third stanza, the listing and particularly the enjambment across the space to the fourth stanza help to increase this sense of wonder as the momentum of the poem is increased allowing it to gather speed and power towards the end.

Dharker seems all too aware of the naivety of the villagers who worship at the poor workmanship of the “municipal pipeline”. However, in her telling of the event, it is the sense of wonder which is presented clearly to the reader. There is, however an important message concealed in the structure of the poem which is seen by reading the first and last lines as a couplet with no punctuation: The skin cracks like a pod/over their small bones. Using “small” to present a human dimension to the poem and presenting the harsh reality of the event in this way allows Dharker to show clearly that all the wonder created by the incident will do nothing to alleviate the underlying issues.

I hope that these are some use to my readers. They are not perfect and are not meant to be. I want you to be able to see how I have applied the framework of either structure to ensure that my writing has a purpose and a flow which is more effective than a linear reading of the poem. Feel free to send comments or to mark my writing!


Filed under EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, GCSE support, poetry, writing skills

Prayer before Birth: zones and zooming

Working on MacNeice’s poem with year 9, I was looking for something fun to round off and sum up the learning. Thankfully, my colleague Nora Afraoui (@3dimension1) showed me her zones of relevance PowerPoint for Year 7 a few days ago. Hey presto! Year 9 Zones of relevance and zooming in/out for analysis and evaluation. The pictures don’t do this justice: the children seemed genuinely excited by iy and I will be developing more strands…

KS3 lesson on language techniques zone of relevance

new doc (9)


Filed under EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, IGCSE support, poetry, teacher training, writing skills

Zooming into Disabled: Wilfred Owen

A short powerpoint to help with writing analysis – the ideas are quite straightforward and are designed to start discussion rather than to act as the finished article.

zooming into disabled

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Year 8: beginning to write an essay

new doc (3) (2)

I have two Year 8 classes. Both are about to write essays as we complete the Poetry and Classics module I have blogged about in the past.
This PowerPoint is to assist the students when organising their thoughts and planning. It uses a mixture of simple SOLO and Hexagon Tessellation to make the idea of how to approach planning one that they should be able to grasp.

Pearl lesson 8HA

I may well upload their completed sheets, to assist their learning. Feel free to use them!


Filed under KS3, poetry

Odysseus’ Pearls

texts: poems

I am marking Year 8 annotations of the Pope translation of the Odyssey as part of the poetry and classics module about which I have blogged on here. I wanted to share this Powerpoint and screencast which should help them to understand what is required in analysis of literature. Whehter you PEE or PEARL, this should be useful.

PEE to Pearl odyssey

The screencast is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alovd5vdS8g&feature=youtu.be

pope sheets

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Filed under KS3, podcast for english revision, poetry, writing skills