1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.
  2. Hi Guest, welcome to the TES Community!

    Connect with like-minded education professionals and have your say on the issues that matter to you.

    Don't forget to look at the how to guide.

    Dismiss Notice

Teaching poetry to boys

Discussion in 'Secondary' started by kedyer, Oct 31, 2019.

  1. kedyer

    kedyer New commenter

    This is the first time I have posted on here and I'm hoping to tap into a wealth of ideas and insight! I am doing some research into the current thinking and methods of teaching poetry to boys (specifically the AQA GCSE power and conflict cluster). I would love to hear of any different approaches you have tried (whether successful or not), as well as any useful links you may have to academic research in this area - historical or current. Thank you in advance!
  2. lynne33

    lynne33 New commenter

    Don't assume that boys like war and conflict poetry. Read 'Boys Don't Try' as a starting point.
    varcolac likes this.
  3. lindenlea

    lindenlea Star commenter

    I found that primary boys really enjoyed poetry because it didn't overface them with masses of dense print on a page and yet carried a lot of meaning and subtlety. My Y3s always cheered when we started a poetry unit of work and the Y6s enjoyed it too. Humour went a long way of course but not just that.
  4. CandysDog

    CandysDog Established commenter

    Ofsted has done quite a bit of research in the past. The ‘Excellence in English’ report (2011) has a case study on a school where boys do particularly well in English on page 33 onwards.

    Like Boys Don’t Try, the notion of a ‘boy-friendly’ curriculum is rejected.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2019
  5. CandysDog

    CandysDog Established commenter

  6. ViolaClef

    ViolaClef Lead commenter

    Perhaps because it is not politically correct to suggest that some topics, subjects or types of poetry/writing may appeal more to boys?

    If you know your pupils well, hopefully you can choose the books/themes/poetry which you think will appeal to them most and ones where, with your creativity, you can engage them by the way you introduce and present the literature. A novel approach can spark interest and a teacher’s enthusiasm can be infectious.
  7. CandysDog

    CandysDog Established commenter

    Yes, but that is very different to the oft-given advice to teach boys poems about war and football because they are not interested in anything else.
  8. rachelsays

    rachelsays New commenter

    I can’t say that I’ve ever thought about needing to teach the boys in my classes differently to the girls, or have any specific ‘boy’ strategies or texts. It is disappointing that these are still considered necessary to engage boys in English lessons or reading.

    Good teaching should be sufficient to engage everyone in what you’re doing regardless of the genre or topic and regardless of the background of the student.

    Poetry in my experience is often taught badly. It becomes limited to spot the literary device and highlighters and unsurprisingly many students - girls included - switch off and develop a disliking for it.

    Just as you would with teaching any other type of text, you have to make it varied and interesting and allow pupils to make a connection between themselves and the story and characters. Poems are just stories by another name - but many people are never encouraged to see poetry in that way. Instead they see them as impenetrable puzzles - largely due to the spot the device with a highlighter method — and so they can’t find any connection with or enthusiasm for them.

    Ways to engage kids - both boys and girls! - with poetry:

    1. Act out the poem
    2. Write a diary entry in the voice of the speaker/one of the characters, or a letter from one to the other
    3. Write a poem in response and create a class anthology
    4. Run a class poetry by heart competition (see the website for Poetry by Heart)
    5. Have a Socratic seminar to allow them to explore their thoughts and feelings about the poem and ask questions without needing to write anything down
    6. Working in pairs or small groups to explore the poem independently and then present their ideas in any way they choose
    7. Printing copies of the poem on A3 and then sticking them up on the wall, allowing students to move around the room and annotate these copies with their ideas and respond to each others’ annotations with questions, comments and developments before bringing everyone’s ideas together in a definitive annotation
    8. Cutting up the poem and asking students to put it in the right order (before they’ve read it, obviously!) and then looking at others’ choices and discussing them before looking at the actual poem and then thinking why and how our versions differ and what that tells us about the poet’s choices
    9. Using magazines and newspapers to make a collage to represent the poem, choosing prominent images, themes and quotes to depict

    I could go on and on. Most kids like being up and about and active during a lesson, and most enjoy working together and having the chance to try out ideas before being asked to share them in front of everyone. I also find that most kids - even boys! - love the opportunity to be creative. Creating an annotated version of the poem is never the main activity in my poetry lessons - it’s the outcome of all the other work we do. In my experience that strategy has always worked to engage students in poetry and I’ve never had any complaints from the boys or any difference in their results!
    sbkrobson and MissGeorgi like this.
  9. ViolaClef

    ViolaClef Lead commenter

    Agreed. There should be a broad spectrum of themes and subjects which boys would find appealing. There are also activities, strategies and ways of teaching which appeal more to boys. This is something which single-sex schools often point out - that they understand how boys (or girls) learn - and they can focus on this in a way that benefits the pupils.
  10. Jonntyboy

    Jonntyboy Lead commenter

    My only advice would be to make sure that it really IS poetry, and not simply pretentious prose cut up into short lines by pseudo-poets.
    Doitforfree likes this.
  11. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    We did loads of poetry at primary school but we didn't analyse it to death, or really at all. We just read a lot of poems and, critically I think, wrote a lot of poems. And enjoyed them. One time the school got in a huge pile of rubbish and we were encouraged to look at it and be inspired to write poems. This was back in the seventies when the idea, in my school at least, that boys and girls should be treated differently, would have been very frowned upon.
  12. streetno9

    streetno9 New commenter

    A few ideas for you.
    1. Use the poems as the starting point for gender related conversations - don't just focus on boy or male related issues though. For example:
      • Ozymandias - the alpha male persona
      • London - prostitution and male/female attitudes towards it as it applied to Victorian/modern day times
      • The Prelude - the internalisation of grief and repression of "weak" emotions
      • My Last Duchess - male/female power related issues, patriarchy
      • Charge of the Light Brigade - being seen to be doing the "right" thing and the associated cost of conforming to gender stereotypes
      • Exposure - as Charge of the Light Brigade, but WW1 flavoured
    • As you can see, each poem can be turned towards a conversation that challenges gender related issues should you wish.
    2. Start with structure - I've often found that lads struggle to talk about poems as a whole construct. I have encouraged my students (not just lads) to begin with a structure based approach first. For example, they state whether a poem is structured regularly or irregularly (or a mixture) then discuss how specific structural features tie in with the theme of a poem (First person monologue style of My Last Duchess being representative of the patriarchal structure of society, and of the idea that the Duke values his own voice over all others etc.)

    3. Battle cards - a bit of a shameless plug as this is a resource that I sell.
    Basically, we rate several themes out of ten and then the students then "battle" each other by referencing the methods used by the poets to present that theme, and justifying why they have given the score that they have. I've found that this encourages a kind of academic shorthand (The Prelude, Internal Conflict TEN, symbol of mountain representing the build up of grief from his parents death, the dark dream imagery showing how he is still troubled by these images even after he has ran away from the mountain, the iambic pentameter showing how he is trying to get some sense of order into the chaos of his experience etc.)

    Hope this helps.
  13. VeronicAmb

    VeronicAmb Occasional commenter

    Couldn't agree more!

    I was taught this way and ever since, had always disliked poetry (I know - ironic coming from an ex English teacher).

    I vowed never to teach English this way. Of course, I had my moments when I did. But for the large part of my teaching career, I tried to make it as imaginative and explorative as possible without using the "spot the device and highlighter method".

Share This Page