Lesson Plan: KS4 English – approaching the unseen poem

​BETWEEN THE LINES

Give learners confidence in their own reponses to unseen poetry with John Irving Clarke’s playful plan…

Those long enough in the tooth to remember the introduction of GCSE will also remember the title: the liberating exam. By the end of course, with clunky scaffolds around coursework submissions and didacticism running wild in teaching anthologised poetry, it didn’t feel like much of a liberation.

It is no surprise then to find that the unseen poetry element of GCSE English Literature assessment has been broadly welcomed by English teachers. There is a different emphasis now, of course, when it is impossible to second guess the examiner. These days pupils need to enter the examination hall with confidence in their own ability to meet, read and enjoy the prospect of responding to otherwise unknown texts. Gone – thankfully – are the days of trying to remember what sir or miss said about what this poem means.

This lesson plan calls for pupils to work in pairs and groups. It requires an ability to sequence poetry text, to make and justify proposals and to compare texts in terms of structure and meaning. Above all, it is a lesson designed to encourage participation. Although we end up with the poet’s final published draft, there are no absolutely right answers. Hypothesising and trialling can be fun and presenting a case to support suggestions is formative. Ultimately, playing with words will be as pleasurable as messing with paints or jamming with musical instruments.

STARTER ACTIVITY

Reveal the title first of all:

Another Cup of Coffee

What might pupils expect from a poem with such a title? Ask them to write down one word to sum up their response. Share these and consider what has been revealed about the class’s expectations of the poem.

MAIN ACTIVITIES

MIX IT UP

Hand out this version of Another Cup of Coffee, where the poem is randomly arranged:

Another Cup of Coffee

The search for food or

something acrobatics

of a squirrel performing

dangerous tricks.

Fleeting flight, Cabbage White

catches the sun then is gone.

The black cloud forecasted sky

unleashes its salvo

and the pegged out washing

needs saving.

And a coal tit drawn to the

newly filled,

no, not by me, dangling feeds,

busily weeds out chaff

like a jumble sale shopper

returning and dipping in selection.

These rattan chairs

knocked out in a warehouse

round our way

speak of colonial splendour,

of moments such as this.

The papers turn up on time

for once

proclaiming cultural significances

superior to their tabloid breed.

The wind chime

strategically placed

strikes occasional notes but fades

against the Sunday

opening overture.

Re-sequence the order of the

poem to find an order which the

pupils find satisfactory. How were

decisions made about the order of

the poem? Were there any clues in

the structure or the meaning of the

poem? Compare responses

and allow pupils to articulate

their thinking processes

and justifications.

2 FINISHING TOUCHES

Ask the pupils to provide a five-word final line to the poem (the original has so far been omitted). Again share responses.

Read the original version of the poem.

Another Cup of Coffee

The papers turn up on time for

once

proclaiming cultural significances

superior to their tabloid breed.

These rattan chairs

knocked out in a warehouse round

our way

speak of colonial splendour,

of moments such as this.

The wind chime

strategically placed

strikes occasional notes but fades

against the Sunday

opening overture.

And a coal tit drawn to the

newly filled,

no, not by me, dangling feeds,

busily weeds out chaff

like a jumble sale shopper

returning and dipping in selection.

The search for food or

something acrobatics

of a squirrel performing

dangerous tricks.

Fleeting flight, Cabbage White

catches the sun then is gone.

The black cloud forecasted sky

unleashes its salvo

and the pegged out washing

needs saving.

I have wasted this morning.

Jack Irving

How do the pupils’ versions

compare with the original?

What effect is achieved by the

poet’s final line?

How would the pupils sum

up the attitude expressed by

the poet?

3. TALK ABOUT IT

Ask pupils to choose the line or phrase which they find most striking and then share responses. Which part of the poem was chosen most often? Ask for explanations of why this should be.

Conversely, which part of the poem wasn’t chosen very often? Again, investigate possible reasons for this.

Finally, ask students: If you could meet the person who “voices this poem”, the narrator, what questions would you want to ask him?

SUMMARY

Which of these statements would your learners

say is most accurate? Use them as a basis

for discussion:

I. Another Cup of Coffee is a poem where nothing much happens.

II. The person whose voice we hear in this poem feels as though he has wasted a morning. He may even feel that he has wasted his whole life.

III. The person whose voice we hear in this poem is very observant of the world around him. He hears the wind chime and watches carefully the creatures in his garden: coal tits, squirrels and cabbage white butterflies. He also notes the change which is about to take place in the weather.

IV. The person in this poem is a bit of a waster; he would rather sit and watch the world go by rather than deal with important things like bringing in the washing.

Key points to summarise: the poem does seem to reflect the viewpoint of someone who is happy to read papers and watch the world goes by and it does look likely that the washing will get wet due to this person’s inactivity. However, his observations are quite charmingly expressed and he seems drawn towards the activities of the birds, squirrels and butterflies. Surely someone who has developed this level of affinity with the natural world has not wasted his life?

Finally, take away any dread remaining of poetry. Point out to students how they have interacted with the poems and the high order skills they have employed. Congratulate them on their efforts.

Sign up here for your free Brilliant Teacher Box Set

Help your students succeed in secondary English / Get your free download Top tips for teaching secondary English / Download your free CPD

Find out more here >