The projects in this unit broadly group around poems featuring people – though Five Car Family focuses on the impact of people on the environment and is thus more issue based than the others. The suggested starting point is Project 1: Why Brownlee Left by Paul Muldoon which focuses particularly on the way the reading aloud of poems can impact on the way listeners take meaning from them.

Key Questions

  1. How should I say it?
  2. What’s involved in performing reading?
  3. How did we do?
  4. How can I shape words, images and sound to get my message across?
  5. How important is imagination when responding to a poem?

Project 1

Lesson 1
Voices on the Screen

Key Question:
How should I say it?

Pupils are learning to:

  • listen carefully to the way a poem is read aloud;
  • reflect on and evaluate their own oral presentations and those of others.

Explain that spoken language can contain all sorts of meaning which the written word cannot encode.  Provide an example of the effect of emphasis by reciting this sentence, putting the stress on each word in turn:

I think he killed her… I think he killed her… I think he killed her…etc.

Write another simple sentence on the board. Pupils read sentence, each putting the emphasis on a different word. Pupils provide a sentence where the emphasis is put on two words. Pupils change the meaning by putting the emphasis on different words.

Distribute a card to each group on which one of the following words is written:


Pupils are asked to say what they understand the word(s) to mean. Encourage pupils to use a dictionary initially and if still unsure, seek guidance as to the exact meaning.

Pupils write a sentence and each person in the group has to alter the meaning by varying the delivery with reference to the word on their card. Pupils practise these until they can give a polished set of performances.

Each group performs their sentence; class guesses what the word on their card was.

Cards are reallocated to groups check that no group has a card that they have already worked on. Pupils are now simply reinforcing their understanding of the key words. Pupils repeat the activity and perform it. Insist pupils do not call out the word until everyone in the group have performed their version of the sentence. Write the words on the board as they are guessed and add emphasis.

Show pupils Phil Bowen’s reading of Why Brownlee Left. Ask pupils to watch carefully to see how, using the words on the board, Bowen creates meaning in his reading. Discuss a few examples of what they have noticed in brief whole class discussion.


Remind pupils that meaning is carried by much more than just the word itself when it is spoken language we are dealing with.

Lesson 2

Key Question:
What’s involved in performing reading?

Additional resources required for this lesson are:

  • Video camcorder and tripod;
  • External microphone if available;
  • Lighting if available.

Recap on the key points to bear in mind when planning a reading of a poem:








Pupils provide an example they can remember from the previous lesson which relates to the key points.

Distribute a selection of poems to each group. (The three poems included could be used, or teachers may wish to provide their own. It is important that the poems are short to make sure that pupils spend sufficient time thinking in detail about their presentation of each line). Pupils are asked to choose one and prepare a reading of it to be video recorded.

Pupils discuss and allocate production roles: who is going to do the reading, who is to operate the camera and who will act as director during the shoot. Pupils are told that it will be filmed as one uninterrupted medium close up (MCU). (Pupils can begin again if there are mistakes made in the reading, but the aim is to record it as one shot without any transitions). All the poems will be recorded on one tape, one after the other.

Pupils rehearse a reading of their chosen poem, thinking about all the key points of performance.

Readings are recorded. The class may be used as a studio audience.

Lesson 3

Key Question:
How did we do?

Take feedback from each group identifying what they found most difficult when recording their reading and what they have learned as a result of this activity.

Pupils view each of the poetry readings.

Review each reading of a poem in turn. Pupils are asked to make brief notes about how well the reader has performed against each of the key ideas. Take feedback.


Refer to the key ideas for improving presentation. Explain that though these have been applied to poetry reading, they are essentially the building blocks for any form of presentational talk. Give examples of news reader, headteacher in assembly and actor playing a role on stage to illustrate the point.

Some Poems for Reading Aloud

Supernatural Songs IX:

The Four Ages of Man

He with body waged a fight,
But body won; it walks upright.

Then he struggled with the heart;
Innocence and peace depart.

Then he struggled with the mind;
His proud heart he left behind.

Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight God shall win.


I Shall Paint My Nails Red

Because a bit of colour is a public service.
Because I am proud of my hands.
Because it will remind me I am a woman.
Because I will look like a survivor.
Because I can admire them in traffic jams.
Because my daughter will say ugh.
Because my lover will be surprised.
Because it is quicker than dyeing my hair.
Because it is a ten-minute moratorium.
Because it is reversible.

Carole Satyamurti

The Eagle
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Project 2

Key Questions:
How can I shape words, images and sound to get my message across?

Pupils are learning to:

  • to develop critical reading and viewing skills;
  • to consider how to match the pace of a reading with an appropriately paced edit.

Five Car Family

You are a member of a video production unit who works for Greenpeace.

Greenpeace are planning a series of media events to raise awareness of the impact of traffic on global warming. Many of the events will be very factual and serious in tone. However, they want to include a short film which takes a more imaginative and light-hearted look at the subject. They hope to buy some early evening advertising slots in selected regional TV companies.

You have the following material from which you can choose whatever pictures and soundtrack you think will most effectively meet your requirements.

Greenpeace have been given permission by the poet Roger McGough to use his poem Five Car Family. A voice artist has recorded a reading of the poem.

Your film crew have shot material in various locations showing heavy traffic.

There are also two music tracks from which you can select sections if you need them. You should consider carefully whether or not they fit with the reading you have been given. You could choose to use one of the music tracks and record your own reading of the poem.

You are the editor(s) who must now assemble a fine cut of Five Car Family ready for transmission.

You will need to look carefully through all the footage of traffic. It would be very easy to just edit together endless shots of cars: your job is to make a poem film which holds the viewers’ attention through clever use of the material you have been given. See if you can come up with patterns of movement or shots which link together in an imaginative way.

When you have selected the shots you think you will need to use, the biggest challenge will be to match the pace of your edit to the pace of the reading – either the one you produce yourself or the pre-recorded version. For example, at the beginning of the pre-recorded version, the reading is quite moderately paced – but there is a strong sense of rhythm which should help you to decide when to cut from one shot to another. As the reading progresses, the pace picks up: you need to increase the rate of cutting to match this. This means that each shot you edit will gradually become shorter and shorter.

You also need to decide whether to use one of the two soundtracks which you have been offered. They are very different in mood and in rhythm. Consider carefully how they complement the pace and rhythm of both the reading and the visual edit that you produce.

Five-car family
We’re a five-car family
We got what it takes
Eight thousand cc
Four different makes

One each for the kids
I run two One for the missus
When there’s shopping to do

Cars are Japanese of course
Subaru and Mazda
And the Nissan that the missus takes
For nipping down to Asda

We’re a load of noisy parkers
We never do it neat
Drive the neighbours crazy
When we take up half the street

Unleaded petrol?
That’s gotta be a joke
Stepping on the gas we like
The smoke to make you choke

Carbon monoxide
Take a deep breath
Benzine dioxide
Automanic death

‘Cos it’s all about noise
And it’s all about speed
And it’s all about power
And it’s all about greed

And it’s all about fantasy
And it’s all about dash
And it’s all about machismo
And it’s all about cash

And it’s all about blood
And it’s all about gore
And it’s all about oil
And it’s all about water

And it’s all about money
And it’s all about spend
And it’s all about time
That it came to an end

Roger McGough

Project 3

Key Question:
How can I shape words, images and sound to get my message across?

Pupils are learning to:

  • to develop critical reading and viewing skills;
  • to complete an insert edit, selecting appropriate visual material, and adding two soundtracks to create a finished poem film.

W.B.Yeats: Under Ben Bulben

BBC 4 has made a documentary about the poet William Butler Yeats. They are not happy with the final section of the programme and have asked your advice on how to make a short sequence which will run just before the end credits come up. They want you to use the final lines of W.B. Yeats’s poem Under Ben Bulben, in which he prefigured his own death and indicated where he wanted to be buried and what his headstone should say.

You have been given a series of shots of Yeats’s grave in Drumcliff to work with. The BBC has provided you with four short pieces of music and given you freedom to use whichever one most appropriately fits your visual edit.

You must now assemble a finished version of Under Ben Bulben. You will need to record a reading of the poem first, then carefully select shots which fit best with the words of the poem and finally the most appropriate piece of music.

From Under Ben Bulben
by W.B. Yeats

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Unit 5e


Project 4

Key Question:
How important is imagination when responding to a poem?

Pupils are learning to:

  • to bring together all their pre-production, production and post-production skills to create their own poem-film.

The Shoes

The education channel Teachers’ TV is making three short programmes about teaching poetry.

You are a member of a production company commissioned by Teachers’ TV to make a poem film of The Shoes by John Mole.

  • Storyboard the shots you would use to interpret the poem visually. Avoid filming a lot of shots which just show on screen exactly what the words of the poem are saying a bike needing mending, shavings in the shed, etc. The poem is about a child’s relationship with an absent father. Think of imaginative ways of revealing things about the father’s identity and the child’s sense of loss.
  • Choose an appropriate piece of music – without lyrics – which would fit in with the mood of the two sections of the poem.
  • With guidance from your teacher as to how you should prepare for production and post production, film and edit the poem film you have planned.

The Shoes

These are the shoes
Dad walked about in
When we did jobs
In the garden,
When his shed
Was full of shavings,
When he tried
To put the fence up,
When my old bike
Needed mending,
When the car
Could not get started,
When he got up late
On Sunday.
These are the shoes
Dad walked about in
And I’ve kept them
in my room.

These are not the shoes
That Dad walked out in
When we didn’t know
Where he was going,
When I tried to lift
His suitcase,
When he said goodbye
And kissed me,
When he left his door-key
On the table,
When he promised Mum
He’d send a postcard,
When I couldn’t hear
His special footsteps.

These are not the shoes
That Dad walked out in
But he’ll need them
When he comes back home.

John Mole