This lesson is one of my favorite lessons to do with my students. It’s a lot of fun and has the added bonus of teaching them something rather complex in a fun and easy way.
I start the lesson by asking students if they have ever heard of “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” (Crickets) Then, I ask them if they remember the scene in The Blind Side wherein the football player has to study a poem with his tutor. (This is usually met with more enthusiasm.)
This poem is pretty complex, but on the other hand, it is the timeless story of soldiers going into battle. The students need several readings to "see" the poem for what it is, and this approach is a fun way to do this.
In the most basic terms, this lesson requires the students to read the poem again and again. We end up reading it about five times, but we do so in a “waterfall” format. In a waterfall reading, each student is responsible for a small piece of a poem. Then the poem is read as a class, with everyone doing their part. Because my classes are usually about 27 kids, this works out to about two lines per student.
I assign the lines and remind students about the existence of line numbers in their texts. I give them a few minutes to rehearse and to ask any questions. The poem has some tricky language in it (Cossack, saber stroke) so we iron out pronunciation, etc.
Then we read the poem, using our best theatre voices.
Then we read it again, using a British accent.
Then again, with a Southern accent.
Once more, sounding like a robot.
Then, finally, the students get to choose. This year, they chose “preppy girl,” which I really didn’t think would be fun. But they did a great job.
So, why read a poem so many times? And what’s with the accents? First, I think performance and elocution are both important. We really don’t memorize in English class, at least we don’t do so as much as we once did. The students gain confidence and an appreciation for the talents of their peers. Also, what is so great about this poem is that – regardless of how it is read – Tennyson controls the reading. Through his masterful manipulation of rhyme and meter, you are forced to read the battle lines excitedly, and you must emphasize the lines that he wants to highlight. It’s a good lesson on writer’s craft. And the best thing about is that students don’t even realize they are learning.