What does POETRY in Grade 9 look like?

Just before the October break, I introduced my Grade 9 classes to our unit on Poetry. We studied the requisite terms and looked at different forms of poetry, but I felt that something was missing. There didn’t seem to be the same type of excitement that usually surrounds our study of poetry, so I decided to mix things up a bit.

Enter Taylor Swift.

I told my class that it was #TaylorTuesday (on a Tuesday, of course) and introduced them to her song “Look What You Made Me Do.” Many of my kiddos were excited at the prospect of studying a Swift song in class rather than another poem (note: lyrics are also poetry, so I wasn’t veering too far off the curriculum). We read the lyrics, watched the video, and studied the context (I didn’t realise she had so many feuds with so many different celebrities!) My plan was working: students were annotating her lyrics to look for devices and effects. They were excited again!

An example of how one student annotated Swift’s lyrics.

We spent a long time on this. I scaffolded their learning by introducing them to commentary writing, paragraph by paragraph. I wanted them to really understand how writers (including songwriters) use various devices to create a particular effect on the reader. They created thesis strands and used the PEEEA method (Point-Evidence-Explanation-Effect-Anaylsis) to organise their commentaries. They worked collaboratively to outline and draft their ideas, then submitted them to me for feedback. I’m excited to read their interpretations of Swift’s lyrics of self-reflection. I’ll be using CheckMark (a Google Extension) in addition to my own comments to help guide them as they apply my feedback to their final drafts.

The Fast and the Furious

These #TaylorTuesday lessons (which also took place on Wednesdays) were the perfect segue to a formal piece of poetry (“Nettles” by Vernon Scannell) on which I also wanted students to practice their annotation and writing skills. The difference here is that I only gave them one class period to work on it. No, I’m not a monster; I am trying to get students used to the idea of timed-writing. In both IGCSE and IB, students will be given a limited amount of time to write certain assignments. It is therefore vital for them to get used to writing in a finite timeframe. I call this The Fast and the Furious, mainly because I love Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock), but also because I can see my students’ brains working overtime as they quickly write down their insights and ideas.

What started out with cries of “What? One period? How??” turned into sighs of “Wow. I can’t believe I did that in one period.” I’ll be honest: I don’t think all of my students finished the entire commentary, and that’s okay. What matters is that they used the skills they’ve acquired and tried their best to complete their commentaries in a detailed and thoughtful way.

The efficiency of their writing will come … in time.


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