Unseen poetry is something that, as a department we would say, we didn’t do enough of.
We added it in, like a condiment on the side, in between the main servings of Jekyll and Macbeth. We trusted that everything known about Heaney, Duffy, Byron, Shelley et al. would morph into any poem, anywhere, any table, any chair.
Next year, we can do better. We do not give students anything like enough exposure to unseen poems. We have rightly adopted a depth over breadth approach to texts, but without allowing access to more poetry, there will always be a fear of the unknown.
So, as part of our of our extended writing programme, I want students from Y7 – 11 to experience unseen poetry, building confidence and voice. I’ve put together a poetry anthology, which we’ll give to students as a booklet.
The main ideas behind it are labelled above. Essentially, it was put together with the following in mind:
- To be a physical resource, available in the classroom, useful for class teachers, cover teachers and avoid the need for last minute photocopying.
- To double up as a help guide, fostering a sense of independence and resourcefulness.
- To activate schema in the first stage, in a similar way to the unseen GCSE questions. Positioning the reader through a written (and visual) prompt so that existing knowledge of the topic is drawn upon, will aid understanding.
- To insist on a paired reading of the poem, challenging students to think about rhythm and rhyme, when they are powerless to resist! Reading poetry forces these things upon the speaker and demands their attention.
- To provide bridging questions that can support and scaffold, modelling how to notice what to notice.
- To include an opportunity for silent, extended writing.
- To provide a range of poems that deal with different types of voices, types of people, types of relationships, types of situations, types of environments. It was not intended to be balanced by gender, race or era, but by a range of different experiences. As unseen poems, it’s also important to choose poems of a reasonable length and without obscure and implicit contextual depth. For that reason, past exam papers, Poetry By Heart and the Cambridge University Poetry & Memory Project shared by Daisy Christodoulou were fantastic sources of inspiration.
- Finally, to challenge students. The final 5 are more suited for KS4. The last poem, by Simon Armitage, has a reference to an anatomical part, that is best not shared with Y7, but Y11 could probably benefit from thinking about the richness of language and the poet’s prerogative to vividly depict the world.