Friday, 1 February 2013

Leave your bananas at home...

The 'fruit poetry' lesson I learnt about and trialled during my PGCE (1994) has remained a favourite, being adapted over the years as the fruit is replaced variously with chocolate or marshmallows... 

It was a textbook-inspired thing, I seem to recall, centring on a Judith Nicholls poem, 'How to eat a Strawberry'. I've long lost the original materials but feel happy to swim freestyle with this one.

Students are asked to bring in fruit (ideally an apple or satsuma - no bananas in my classroom...I have an irrational shiver-down-the-spine reaction to them). I always have a few fruity spares, just in case.

Step-by-step, they build an ideas bank, progressing through the senses. I time-manage this, making them look, touch and sniff for long enough to get them tantalised. They might be writing single words or brief phrases, nothing more structured is necessary.

Some senses need to be revisited. As they peel their satsuma they need to think of smell as well as touch; as they bite into their apple they need to explore sound and texture as well as taste. Once they're munching, I leave them to it for a while, letting their imaginations reign.

The next stages can be extended as required - combinations of class and homework, individual and pair work can be used to fit the students and the time available.

Initial ideas are built into lines of poetry. Similes and metaphors are encouraged. Precision of description and vocabulary is a must. Students are reminded to ask themselves and each other (I often create critical pairs for this activity) why they have chosen certain words and/or phrases. This reflection is not only relevant to their own writing but is designed to instil confidence when responding to others' poetry.

The drafting process is vital. Students usually write at least three versions - again, it's versatile and flexible. We learn about line divisions, end-stops and enjambment. We think about emphasis and impact; the art of positioning words carefully.

But mostly, they just write and discuss and question and edit and continue in a glorious spiralling burst towards some of the best poetry I have ever read. 

Yes, it can be messy. Yes, it can be a bit risky. And yes, it doesn't always go according to plan. So what?

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