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Using short film as a poetry stimulus

Teachers working to improve literacy will know that creating poetry can be challenging for young people who may struggle with narrative structure. A blank page may seem an unassailable mountain for a child faced with writing a poem, and so a visual image, such as the use of a film still, can help to provide some much needed scaffolding.

We looked in our previous step at how a young person can use different camera shots and positions to help visualise a story and create a simple but effective narrative structure. In this step we are going to use similar techniques to create poetry.

How can camera shots inspire poetry?

Once learners have been given their stimuli, teachers can produce a Shot List for them to follow. For example, the first line of a poem equates to the extreme long shot. Envisioning the opening shot enables the pupils to imagine what they would see if they were shooting the scene and therefore to describe what they ‘see’. N.B. Not all films begin with an establishing shot, many start with close ups as a way of startling or disorienting the audience.

The next line of the poem might be a long shot, which will bring the focus onto an object or person, and then to a close up so we can meet a key character, for example.

To introduce this concept, it would be a good idea to look at some famous lines from poems and ask pupils to write their own Shot List, linking a shot type to each line of text.

Look at the first paragraph from the poem Paul Bunyan by Shel Silverstein below, and a sample Poetry Shot List created for it.

He rode through the woods on a big blue ox,
He had fists as hard as choppin’ blocks,
Five hundred pounds and nine feet tall…that’s Paul.

Do you agree with the information in this table?

Poetry Shot List Line - He rode through the woods on a big blue ox,
Shot title - Long/wide shot (establishing shot)
Shot notes/description - A huge, imposing man riding a muscled ox through dappled woodland.
Line - He had fists as hard as choppin' blocks,
Shot title - Extreme close up
Shot notes/description - Large, gnarled fists, loosely gripping leather reigns.
Line - Five hundred pounds and nine feet tall...that's Paul.
Shot title - Low angled, long shot
Shot notes/description - The weight of the mighty ox shifts from side to side as Paul reclines in his saddle.

Use the Poetry Shot List template above to create your own shot list from the first paragraph of The Fisherman by Abbie Farwell Brown and fill in your own descriptions in the notes/description column.

The Fisherman goes out at dawn,
When everyone’s in bed,
And from the bottom of the sea,
Draws up his daily bread.

Once your pupils have looked at a couple of poems in this manner they’ll be able to start creating their own using shot type templates. An example template can be found below, and adapted as you wish.

Try working with different lists of shot types to see which works best as a poetic stimulus for each of your cohorts. It can be a useful rule of thumb to start with an extreme long shot and make sure that emotive moments are linked to close ups. However, no rules are hard and fast, and emotion could equally be shown by metaphoric imagery.

How do you find the use of shots as a stimulus for poetry? Please add to the comments below.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Literacy Through Film

The British Film Institute (BFI)

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Why use film to improve literacy?
    Why use film to improve literacy?

    Watch this short video to discover how and why learning through film improves literacy.

  • Foley sound
    Foley sound

    This step is an introduction to Foley art, and has a video clip with Foley artist, John Fewell.

  • Stills from The Girl and the Fox that show different shot sizes.
    Developing writing through camera shots

    Linking camera shots and positions to still images in this activity, can provide a great writing stimulus in creating narrative.

  • Record and Playback
    Record and Playback

    An introduction to the technique of Record and Playback, a simple but very effective tool for curricular learning.

  • Two images each showing samples of a shoe box set design.
    Shoebox set design

    Making a shoe box set takes your pupils on a filmmaking journey that produces literacy outcomes, and is a great tool for assessment. PDF provided.