How do I teach students poetry when I have zero training or background of TEASL?

When I did my Latihan Ikhtisas, I noticed that they incorporate poems in English.  I never learned any poem when I was in secondary school.  I start to read English poems when I was at university (when I was in my early 20s).  But reading for leisure and teaching it to students formally are two different matters.   Teaching involves explanation and as a teacher, I have to make sure the students would understand and appreciate the things that I teach.  That’s not easy. 

How on earth am I going to teach poems which I never learned before?  That’s the question that going on my mind that I ask myself repeatedly.  Well, whether I had learned it or not, it is my responsibility to teach it and so I asked around how they teach poems in their class.  Basically, I taught four poems:

  1. News Break (form 1)
  2. Sad I Ams (form 1)
  3. The Living Photograph (form 4)
  4. The Charge of the Light Brigade (form 4)

I started to google some tips and having a former student who happened to be one of the SPM examiners (penanda kertas soalan) is certainly a bonus.  So, this is how I teach students poems, step by step.

First: I would read the poem once.  They have to listen how I pronounce certain unfamiliar words.  As an alternative, you can download video on the Youtube.  There are videos made about the poems (Malaysian actress, Juliana Evans did videos on The Charge of the Light Brigade and The Living Photograph.  If you want to spice up a bit your class, you can choose videos with British pronunciation like A Poison Tree and What has happened to Lulu?.  There are other videos by Malaysian teachers too! Kudos to all Malaysian teachers who are committed in their teaching!)  

Second: I would ask the students to read aloud the poem individually by taking turn.  All of them have to read. Nobody will be exempted in this case.

Third: I would ask the students to highlight the words they don’t understand.  I would ask them to write the words in their exercise book, so when we discuss the meaning/synonym/antonym of the words, they have to write it down on the exercise book.

Fourth: I would explain in general what the poem is all about, a bit on the writer and any event that related to poem.  For example, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Lord Alfred Tennyson is based on Crimean war.  A war between British and Russian army in 1863 to 1865.   I would explain a bit about the war and who is Lord Tennyson at that time.  This would set the imagination of the students about the poem itself (this is what I hope for).  

Fifth: I would explain the literal and laden meaning of the poem based on stanza.  Normally, there would be 4 to 5+/- stanzas in a poem.   

Sixth: I would give them a handout with questions that they need to answer in pair/group.  They need to discuss with others to answer the questions.  In this case, I am incorporating active learning.  Note: The handout has questions that I took from various sources and sometimes I changed some of the questions too.  I also put some of the questions on my Quizziz that I made public.  So, teachers can use any of the quiz in Quizziz without creating their own questions.  Save time.  Sharing is caring.  For example, a quiz on my Quizziz – The Living Photograph (form 4), The Charge of the Light Brigade (form 4) and Sad I Ams (form 1).  

Seventh: After every student has finished answering the questions, I would discuss the answers and they have to write the correct answer in their exercise book.  If you use Quizziz, you can get direct results of your students performance and you can even email it to their parents if you have their parents’ emails 😀 

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