Uitgewerkt lesmateriaal (Engels): poetry


Lieve Deprez & Johan Strobbe, Tinnenburgstraat 1, 8820 Torhout

  1. Introduction
  2. Bibliography
  3. What You Should Do Each Morning
  4. Just One Thing
  5. I Told a Lie Today
  6. In the Last Minute
  7. Appendix 1: split poem
  8. Appendix 2: What You Should Do Each Morning: text
  9. Appendix 3: Just One Thing... (jumbled lines)
  10. Appendix 4: Just One Thing: text and further analysis tasks: text
  11. Appendix 5: I Told a Lie Today: text
  12. Appendix 6: In the Last Minute: text
  13. Appendix 7: Questionnaire
  14. Appendix 8: Creative writing


This spring ten West Flemish secondary schools are involved in the DynaMo2-project Invite a British Writer to Your Class. The authors that are invited into the classroom are poet Robin Mellor and Jan Mark, a writer of short stories. This large scale project will result in a true literary happening, involving a great number of fellow teachers. It is not our intention to describe the project here. We will confine ourselves to presenting some ideas to work with Robin Mellor’s poetry and with poetry in general. Our suggestions are designed for the 4th and the 5th forms.

In this paper, we present ideas for working with 4 poems, viz. What You Should Do Each Morning; I Told a Lie; Just One Thing... and In the Last Minute. Of course, we do not pretend to present the definitive approaches. As a matter of fact, we found a great many other possible approaches in the literature we consulted. We tried to live up to the following principles:
- Bring in as much variation in the approaches as possible.
- Focus on the text itself, rather than give commentary or background information about the text.
- Put the pupils to work. A true interaction between the pupil and the poem should be provoked. Pupils should be offered the change to express their experiences and opinions and share them with fellow pupils.

Some of the suggested activities are rather time-consuming. The questionnaire devised by Alan Duff & Alan Maley , which we suggest for the 'finale' (see appendix 7) can help out here. The questionnaire can be used to discuss the four poems in one teaching period. Its aim is to elicit interpretations and comments: the pupils first read the poems; they then answer the questions and, finally, they are asked to compare their responses with fellow pupils.

In what follows teacher guidelines are separated from the pupils’ worksheets, which can thus be xeroxed for immediate use in the classroom.

We sincerely hope that you and your pupils will enjoy the poems as much as we did.


- "I Told a Lie Today" was published in Welsh Rhubarb. Poems for children by Robin Mellor, Victoria Press, 1993.
- "In the Last Minute" appeared in a pamphlet Out of Time (Quillstring Press, 1995), but was first published in The Last Minute Book. An Anthology of East Sussex Writing, published by the University of Sussex Institute of Education as part of the UK year of Literature 1995.
- The other two poems have not been published yet.

1 What You Should Do Each Morning

1.1 Warming up

Short discussion:
What routine actions do you do each morning?
What should you do in the morning? (get up, have a wash, brush your teeth, have breakfast, eat a piece of fruit...)

Split poem (see appendix 1)
- The teacher reads the poem aloud to the whole class and asks the pupils to recall any fragments they can remember.
- The pupils then work in pairs with appendix 1. They are asked to reconstruct the poem by matching the half lines from columns A and B.
- Round-up session. The class, now working as a single group, builds up the poem line by line.
- After this session the pupils get a handout with the 'correct' version of the poem. (See appendix 2)

- Pupils at an intermediate level (4th form) may find this exercise rather difficult. Reading the poem to them twice may be necessary.
- Pupils find this approach very challenging. It allows them to work their way through the poem gradually, from language to meaning. After having completed the poem they 'know' the poem.

1.2 Further analysis (see appendix 2)

2 Just One Thing

2.1 Starting point: jumbled lines

The teacher jumbles the lines of the poem (see appendix 3). The pupils rearrange them in an order which they find justifiable. Again the pupils will be fairly familiar with the text after having completed this task.

2.2 Further analysis (see appendix 4)

3 I Told a Lie Today

3.1 Starting point

Short discussion (anticipation)
Do you often tell lies? What do you lie about? When was the last time you told a lie? How do you feel after having told a lie? Is it sometimes justified to tell a lie?
(vocabulary: a white lie: een leugentje om bestwil)
After the discussion the teacher hands out a copy of the poem. The last two lines have been omitted. (See appendix 5) The pupils are to add them themselves, thus producing a plausible version. In a brief round-up session some pupils explain their version or comment on a classmate's version.

The teacher then presents the 'correct' version by writing the last stanza on the board so that the pupils can compare their text with the author's. The final lines of the poem are:
I think I had better confess,
before I'm completely unwound.

3.2 Further analysis (see appendix 5)

Note that we have provided some translations here of words that are vital to understand the imagery in the poem.

4 In the Last Minute

4.1 Starting point

The teacher asks the pupils to write down ten words they associate with the word tree. The pupils then compare their list with a partners’ and enlarge it. The text of the poem is handed out (see appendix 6) The pupils read the poem and compare their lists with the words Mellor uses in his poem.

4.2 Analysis of the poem

The pupils read the poem a couple of times and then work on the semantic scales on the worksheet. Working with semantic scales is not always satisfactory but we have opted for this approach because the poem is rather difficult. The scale provides pupils with terminology to talk about the poem. It, moreover, forces them to read the poem very carefully and go back to it with every new term encountered in the scales. It goes without saying that the pupil’s evaluation or interpretation of the poem is not definitive or 'correct'. S/he may change it in the course of the discussion.


APPENDIX 1: What You Should Do Each Morning: split poem

Try to reconstruct the poem by combining the two columns. Divide your text into four stanzas.

1. Peel back the curtains a. of ideas for breakfast,
2. throw off the covers b. with imagination
3. Stretch your words out c. of something happening
4. and greet d. the cobweb corners of your head,
5. Open the windows e. from your eyes,
6. Let the light breeze f. of chance.
7. blow through g. the fresh morning
8. the dusty stairs h. and symphony waistcoat.
9. Eat from a deep bowl i. buttered dawn birdsong.
10. take a large j. each foot, wear
11. with fingers of k. speckled wish
12. Pull a poem on to l. meet the day.
13. a painted shirt m. of thinking.
14. And in your shoes soled n. from your tongue.
15. go out and o. along the verandah

APPENDIX 2: What You Should Do Each Morning: text

What you Should Do Each Morning

Peel back the curtains from your eyes,
throw off the covers from your tongue.
Stretch your words out along the verandah
and greet the fresh morning.

Open the windows of chance.
Let the light breeze of something happening
blow through the cobweb corners of your head,
the dusty stairs of thinking.

Eat from a deep bowl of ideas for breakfast,
take a large speckled wish
with fingers of buttered dawn birdsong.

Pull a poem on to each foot, wear
a painted shirt and symphony waistcoat.
And in your shoes soled with imagination
go out and meet the day.

(Robin Mellor)

1. Explain that each verse refers to a routine morning action. Which words refer to that action?

2. Which of the following sentences expresses the principal idea of this poem best?

O Use your imagination!O Carpe diem! Seize the day, enjoy the present!
O Enjoy the routine actions of each morning
O Break through the rut (the fixed ways of thinking and doing things)
O .....................................................................................

APPENDIX 3: Just One Thing... (jumbled lines)

The lines of this poem have been jumbled. Try to put them in their correct order and divide the poem into three stanzas.

after you have made
one thing -
after crossing the bridges
before you see the sea.
don't pull up your trouser legs
or burning them after
when they are just eggs;
After counting chickens
that aren't even there,
every mistake you,
can imagine, I ask only
you have crossed;
or I,

APPENDIX 4: Just One Thing: text and further analysis tasks: text

Just One Thing

After counting chickens
when they are just eggs;
after crossing bridges
that aren't even there,
or burning them after
you have crossed;

after you have made
every mistake you,
or I,
can imagine, I ask only
one thing -

don't pull up your trouser legs
before you see the sea.

(Robin Mellor)

1. What do the following proverbs mean? If necessary look them up in a dictionary:

1. Don't eat the calf in the cow's belly.

2. Still waters run deep.

3. Easy come, easy go.

4. Don't count your chickens before they are hatched.

5. He who laughs last laughs longest.

6. Don't cross the bridge till you get to it.

7. Nothing ventured nothing gained.

2. Which of these proverbs go with the ideas of the poem? Explain why.

3. The poet has used some existing proverbs to write this poem and he has invented one himself. Where in the poem do you find his own?

4. Find two proverbs of your own which express the leading idea of the poem.

APPENDIX 5: I Told a Lie Today: text

I Told a Lie Today

I told a lie today
and it curled up inside me
like a steel hard *spring. (*een veer)

It was quite a clever lie -
no one guessed the truth.
They believed me;

but I've carried the *twist of it (*draai(ing))
at the centre of my body, all day,
and I think it's expanding
filling me up,
making my eyes feel red.

Perhaps it's going to *uncoil suddenly (*zich ontrollen)
and burst me open,
showing everyone what I'm really like

(Robin Mellor)

(Write down your version here)

1. Now write down the original version.

2. What incident made the poet write this poem?

3. How does he feel about it?

4. What imagery does he use to express that this feeling is getting stronger and stronger?

5. What is the outcome?

6. Have you ever had the same feeling?

7. Creative writing: The I-person in the poem has put his feelings into lines of poetry. Write out the same feelings in a prose passage in a diary.

APPENDIX 6: In the Last Minute: text

In the Last Minute

Raising an arm
your hand becomes a flower.
Five petals sparkle
in the summer sun.

Your legs stiffen
into wood and bark.
Sap runs. Ligament
and sinew sprout leaves.

You photosynthesise,
enjoy the cool soil
between thin toe roots,
the wind in your arms.

In the last minute
you have transcended,
gone beyond going,
fear nothing but the saw.

(Robin Mellor)

1. Below you find a scale from one to ten, corresponding to a certain word. The words (may) have something to do with the poem you have read.
With each word you circle the number which reflects your feeling best. It is important to mark the numbers corresponding to your own feelings or opinions, not those of somebody else.

1. beautiful 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
2. lovely 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
3. cold 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
4. resigned 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
5. restless 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
6. hopeful 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
7. dramatic 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
8. childish 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
9. clear 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
10. sophisticated 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11. frightening 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
12. sad 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

2. Explain the metaphor on which the poem is based. How is the imagery developed in the poem?

3. Some people read the last verse as some sort of an anticlimax. Can you see why?

4. How do you explain the title of the poem. Do you think this title is well-chosen? Why (not)? Could you find another title? Explain your choice.

APPENDIX 7: Questionnaire

Read through the four poems you are given. Then decide which poem and which lines you would choose in response to the questions.

1. If you had to translate one of the poems, which would it be? Which line(s) would you find most difficult?

2. If you were asked to illustrate one of the poems with a photograph or a sketch, which would you choose?
Which line(s) would provide the focus for your illustrations?

3. If somebody wanted to set one of the poems to music, which would you suggest?
Are there any lines which could be repeated, as a refrain?

4. You will have the chance of talking to Robin Mellor. Which line(s) would you ask him to explain?

APPENDIX 8: Creative writing

These are five opening lines of poems by Robin Mellor. Choose one of them to start a poem of your own. Write a poem of about 12-15 lines.

I wandered to an empty place

When I was young I used to live

I may be little but let me sing

I set up a table marked out with two places

"Where have you been?"