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Patterns in poetry

Watch Luke Pearce demonstrate how this poem paints a vivid picture through making and breaking grammatical patterns.
OK, so now we’re continuing with our teaching English grammar in context course, and we’re looking at fiction and literary texts, so we’re going to start off with some poetry. So, as always, if you’re doing this kind of activity in the class, we want to make those initial connections to the wider context and make sure our learners have a decent understanding of the wider context before we zoom in and look at the text in detail. And we don’t need to do this in this video in great depth.
But when you’re looking at poetry, I think one thing which you probably have experience of is that it’s often difficult for students just to understand what the purpose is of poetry and what they’re supposed to get out of it. Especially as many learners wouldn’t be reading poetry in their free time recreationally. And with this specific poem, it would be quite interesting to start the lesson by asking learners to discuss or to write about their own experiences with pets and owning pets and what pets they’ve had, which they prefer? Because this poem is a really great one for that personal reaction.
So we want to try and bring those experiences to the fore before we look at the poem and they will definitely influence how the students interpret the poem and what they take from it. So we’ve already had a look at the poem and, because when I’ve looked at this poem before in training sessions and and people have talked about their pets and you could have a more emotional response to this poem, especially one participant mentioned how they had a cat who passed away, and it reminded them of this pet. So lots of great opportunities to have that personal reaction to that poem. And then, of course, that final question. How do we account for these responses?
So after writing down, making a note of our personal responses and what we think the author is trying to portray in this poem, we’re going to take another look. Look more closely at the language, but this time we’re going to do that using a particular frame which we’ve already discussed which is this idea of patterns and the great thing about looking at poetry is because they’re so kind of much shorter than we would expect you know, prose fiction to be these kinds of patterns really jump out at the learners, and it can be a good way to practice for seeking out those patterns in longer texts, which can be a little bit more difficult.
So as we already saw earlier in the steps, this idea of linguistic foregrounding, basically saying as we can kind of illustrate in this picture. Quite unusual things going on in that image. What stands out to the reader? What’s put in the foreground? What’s put in the background? What grabs your attention? And I’m specifically thinking about linguistic foregrounding. We have these two ideas of parallelism and deviation. So very often the author will create a certain pattern which is regular, and then they break that pattern and and shift to something else.
And instead of kind of falling into that trap of saying, oh, I can see that there are nouns or verbs or adjectives in this text, it’s very likely almost every text contains word classes by default, it can’t not contain those. To use, by looking for patterns, we can find something useful to say, so let’s have another look at this poem, and we’ll use this idea of patterns to see if it helps things jump out to us a bit more. So some questions we could use to elicit this response from our students. What patterns do you notice? Where are they consistent? Where do they break, and what is the intended effect of these?
So that’s kind of leading to a final step of the interpretation. And as you can see here in the poem, it’s colour coded, which is a really useful technique. So again, you’ve already had time to look at this poem, but just to illustrate, now we can really see those patterns jumping out at us. So the first line of each verse or each stanza, and we can see how that changes. So let’s have a look at some answers. And now finally at this kind of end step with as always, bringing in the grammar and the technical language here. Not putting that at the start.
So what can we see in terms of the patterns very clearly that we have the First 3 verses which are about the cat and the last verse is about the dog. How is that expressed through the grammar? We can see this parallelism of the imperatives. Each line of the first 3 verses starting with an imperative, which is that the same imperative Teach me, Teach me, Teach me. We have a couple of other imperatives thrown in there. Let me and show me. And also the three verses about the cat tend to use many more noun phrases. The slow motion blink, a wide mouthed hiss, the distant shake, so we have a determiner, a noun, some adjectives, pre-modifiers, post-modifiers.
Then when we get to the final verse and just to make it super obvious, we have that line there showing the distinction between the two, the two sections.
This is where we have the deviation, so not only is the topic being there’s a deviation in terms of the the topic being referred to, so we’ve shifted from focusing on the cat to the dog, but that’s also reflected in the grammar, so we have an imperative in the same place, but it’s the negated imperative. And then we have instead of so many noun phrases, we have verbs and these are verbs of action verbs like please, slobber, yap, beg, etcetera. So again, very clearly using the colour coding and having our kind of resource of knowing the technical terminology suddenly it kind of jumps out at you how how these effects are created. So what do those things actually do?
The for instance, the noun phrases and the action verbs. Well, we could say that the cat, we’re going to relate these kind of interpretations, are very related to our probably our initial reader response. The cat is presented as being demanding and still, how is that done? And if you are doing GCSE type level stuff, you might start thinking about your Point, quote, comment or point evidence explain or what, how, why paragraphs, the cat is shown as being demanding and still this is shown through the use of noun phrases. So we have just these kind of snapshots of the cat, bits of the cat, we don’t ever quite get the full picture of the cat.
And then, in contrast to that with the patterns, the verbs, the active action verbs show that the dog is much more excitable and active, and the imperatives there are clearly demonstrating the authors attitude towards the two of them. So a really nice poem to look at. I think it’s a really good example, and what’s interesting is that we’ve been looking at this poem, and I haven’t really talked about anything specific to do with, you know, poetic techniques like the rhyming pattern or enjambment. Or, you know, iambic pentameter and and so on.
Obviously we want our learners to know all these things, but come, you know, exam time if they’re under pressure and they are struggling to identify something in a poem or a text. That’s why the grammar can be useful to have in the back pocket because. The text will contain obviously grammar you know. So if your learners can start looking for those patterns, that can be quite straightforward one to identify if they are struggling to analyze using poetic techniques, and I think you could definitely hear earlier there’s so much we could talk about, especially with the kind of the sound of the poem, the fricatives, things like box full of biscuits and clink onomatopoeia, that kind of thing.
So hopefully your learners are getting to a step the stage where they’re combining all those things you know they’re talking about the grammar and the techniques and how they work together and form patterns in the text. So there’s an example of how we can use the patterns of language and grammar to analyze this poem. So what do you think about this activity? Are you a cat or a dog person? Would this be a useful poem and approach? This approach of looking at patterning to use in your setting in your context with your learners and as always, finally, how could we turn this from this reading analysis task into a writing task.

In this example, we started by responding to the poem as readers, and discussed what it means to us.

Then, we looked again at the poem to account for those meanings by looking for patterns.

Unsurprisingly, there is no single correct or exhaustive interpretation of any text. For your guidance, here are some patterns you may have noticed when analysing this poem:

•The first three verses follow a pattern. The first line of each starts with a command (imperative) ‘Teach me…’ The narrator wants to learn to be more like a cat.

•The last verse breaks this pattern with a negated command: ‘Don’t teach me Dog’. This shows how the author’s attitude changes when considering dogs.

•The first three verses use many noun-phrases: ‘the slow-motion blink’, ‘dents in cushions’. We do not get a full picture of the cat, but we catch glimpses and see signs of its presence.

•The last verse uses more verbs: ‘slobbers’ ‘yaps’ ‘begs’ ‘sits’. This presents the dog as more excitable and active.

In the interpretations above, we are connecting our response to the poem to linguistic patterns that account for those responses. We only make reference to linguistic and grammatical terminology in reference to responses and meanings.

Did you make the same connections? Did you spot anything different?

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Teaching English Grammar in Context

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