Rhythm and Scansion
Lesson 8 of 14
Objective: Students will be able to analyze a poem's rhythm by identifying the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables (scanning).
This week we're reading a social studies passage about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. Coincidentally, students are learning about this in history class as well. We should have planned for this!
A big focus for today's passage is capitalization of common and proper nouns, apostrophes for possessives, and hyphens in numbers.
The passages that I use for the bellwork are from Evan Moore's Daily Paragraph Editing book. They're also working on app for this, apparently, that will be out in March 2013. The author of the book puts a heavy focus on spelling. I would rather focus on grammar, conventions, homonyms, than spelling. That's why I retype the paragraphs. I take out the spelling errors, and add errors that my students need to work on.
One of my favorite poetry assessments is the lyric project. I've done this project for four years, and it's always a highlight of the year.
Figurative language is all around us. Students hear similes, metaphors, allusions, rhythm, and rhyme scheme every day. They hear poetry every day. They just don't realize it because they don't think of music as poetry. This assignment helps them make those connections, see the relevance to their lives, and provides a fun and authentic way to measure their understanding.
For today, I just introduced the assignment. I'll be talking more about this assignment in the next few lessons. For the purposes of today, I told students that they would need to find a song that they like. They would need to print a copy of the lyrics or copy the lyrics. They would need to bring copes of those lyrics to class. They would need those lyrics on Wednesday. If they didn't have a song or the song turned out to be inappropriate for school, I would have a song ready. I may or may not have disco danced for them.
For my honors classes, this his homework. For my co-taught classes, I'll carve out some time in the library for them to search for a song and print it out. You and your students' mileage may vary. Maybe you have access to iPads and can use an app like Google docs or Subtext. I don't have ready access to that, so this is what I'm doing. But dude. Taking this assignment to Google docs? Phenomenal opportunity there.
I've included two videos below. I didn't play these videos for my honors students, but I did for my co-taught classes. They provide an audio and visual example of what I'm saying, and for those classes, I played the video before giving directions the project.
Types of Rhythm
As we've worked with ballads and sonnets, we've worked with iambic triameter, tetrameter, and pentameter. Those aren't the only types of rhythm, however, and today's lesson was a crash course in those other types of feet: trochee, anapest, dactyl, spondee, and pyrrhic. I don't expect them to become experts at this after one lesson. I don't think I learned about this until high school, for that matter, and certainly not this in depth.
I gave them a rhythm reference sheet. We stapled it to their purple poetry packets. We read through the types of feet.
An iamb, as we know, has an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (deLIGHT, beWARE). A trochee is the opposite. The stressed syllable comes before the unstressed syllable (BADger).
A foot doesn't have to be just two syllabloes. It can have three syllables! The anapest foot is unstressed, unstressed, stressed (un-a-WARE). Another foot with three syllables is the dactyl foot with stressed, unstressed, unstressed (MUL-ti-ple).
Two other (uncommon) feet with two syllables are spondee, which has two stressed syllables (TOOTH-ACHE) and pyrrhic, which has two unstressed syllables (such as).
I modeled this with two different texts. The first was a line from the poetry reference sheet, from John Heath Stubbs' "The Mulberry Tree," which reads, "A caterpillar among those mulberry leaves."
We counted the syllables. There are twelve syllables. (N.B. he rhythm depends on how you pronounce mulberry. My students and I pronounce it with three syllables. I don't know how you'd pronounce it with two syllables, so if you know, please speak up.)
Which syllables are stressed and which ones are unstressed? Start with the first two syllables, a cat. a cat. a CAT. a is unstressed and CAT is stressed. a CAT. That's one foot, and it happens to be an iamb (unstressed, stressed).
The next two syllables are er and pill. er pill. er PILL. er is unstressed and PILL is stressed. That's another iamb.
Consider the next three syllables. Those are ar a mong. ar a mong. ar a MONG. Here we've got a anapest. Two unstressed syllables (ar and a) followed by a stressed syllable (MONG).
The next two syllables are those mul. those mul. those MUL. Another iamb.
The last three syllables are ber ry leaves. ber ry leaves. ber ry LEAVES. That's another anapest.
That's scansion, the process of determining where the stresses fall in poetry.
I gave students a copy of Shel Silverstein's "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout," a funny poem about a girl who doesn't take out the trash and it takes over the world. The language is much simpler than Shakespeare or even "The Jabberwocky," so it's much more accessible to students. It's also full of hyperbole and who doesn't love hyperbole? It's like not liking Sara Lee! It's just not possible.
I modeled the first three lines. Here's a video of my modeling. I know the video is long, but it's much easier model annotating rhythm with one's voice. I also cannot stress the importance of encouraging, and by encouraging I mean forcing, students to refer to the rhythm reference sheet.
- The first line (Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout) has one trochee foot (stressed, unstressed) and two dactyl feet (stressed, unstressed, unstressed) and a left-over stressed syllable.
- The second line (Would not take the garbage out) has two trochee feet (stressed, unstressed) and a dactyl foot (stressed, unstressed, unstressed).
- The third line (She'd scour the pots and scrape the pans) has an iambic foot (unstressed, stressed), an anapest foot (unstressed, unstressed, stressed), and two more iambic feet.
After I modeled the first three lines, I divided students up into groups. We used their clock appointments, which they LOVE. (I have a new student who wasn't included in the appointment setting up, so I tacked her onto a group to make a group of three. If I'd had a student who was absent, I would have slipped her into that slot.)
Their job was to read their lines, identify how many syllables there were in each line, determine which ones were stressed and unstressed, and whether they were iambs, trochees, anapests, dactyls, spondees, or pyrrhics.
They ended up with about ten minutes to work on this. I'll give them another ten minutes tomorrow to work on it before they show what they came up with.