Speaking Poetry: Exploring Sonic Patterns Through Performance
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Having explored how Robert Hayden uses consonance, assonance, and alliteration to illustrate a complex relationship between a father and a son in "Those Winter Sundays," students engage in a variety of vocal activities and performance techniques based on word sounds. Students then prepare a recitation of the poem for small group performances and compare their interpretative choices as part of the reflection process.
Close Reading Notes for "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden: Use this resource to help students understand how poets use sounds to develop characters and conflicts.
Getting Ready to Recite: Use this handout to help students explore sound and how different words can be "played" like instruments to convey different feelings or meanings.
From Theory to Practice
In Wordplaygrounds: Reading, Writing, and Performing Poetry in the English Classroom, John S. O'Connor observes that poetry is "too often taught as a solipsistic act: something to be done in private, with no regard for an audience beyond the poet" (8). He argues for a performance based approach to teaching and experiencing poetry, offering "students the opportunity to celebrate language through a wide range of media, including the instrument of their own voices" (8""9).
Similarly, Lindsay Ellis, Anne Ruggles Gere, and L. Jill Lamberton note in their English Journal article, "[i]f one thinks of poetry as inherently oral-and we do-then it follows that this orality ought to shape the way we teach" (44). This lesson asks students to engage with a poem as if it is a script for performance. Recitation, after all, demands that readers embody the speaker of the poem and utter the words of the text in the way the way the speaker they have constructed in their critical imaginations might utter them.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden
- Audio example: Playing the Sounds in the Word "Those"
- Online video of recitation of "Dulce Et Decorum Est"
- "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen
- Internet-connected computer with projector and speakers
- This activity assumes that students have already completed close reading activities focusing on sound and sense as they relate to the relationship between the speaker and his father in "Those Winter Sundays." Use or adapt the activities from Sessions One through Four of Sonic Patterns: Exploring Poetic Techniques Through Close Reading to give students the necessary foundation.
- Prepare copies of necessary handouts and overhead transparencies of the poem and the Literary Terms Quick Reference.
- Review the Close Reading Notes for "Those Winter Sundays."
- Practice reading the poem aloud until you are sensitive to the sonic patterns and are able to present a fluid reading to the class, emphasizing the repeated sounds. This should not be a recitation, as students may take your performance as authoritative. It should simply be a good, fluent reading.
- Test the Audio Example of Playing the Sounds in the Word "Those" on your computers.
- Review the Script for Playing the Sounds in the Word "Those" and accompanying audio file.
- If performance is new to you or to your students, completing the performance exercises yourself prior to introducing them to your students will help you get a sense of the process and its rewards.
- Test the ReadWriteThink Notetaker tool on your computers. Ensure that you have the proper Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- understand sonic patterns and the tools poets use (such as assonance, consonance, and alliteration) to manipulate relationships between sound and meaning.
- learn how to use their own voices as interpretive instruments as they explore and construct meaning aloud.
- Begin the session by telling students they will be preparing a recitation of "Those Winter Sundays," capitalizing on their already developed knowledge of the poem and sonic repetition. Review with students the Literary Terms Quick Reference.
- Explain that, as close and careful readers of "Those Winter Sundays," they have developed a sense of the speaker, his father, and their relationship, and are and will now prepare a performance of the poem to communicate their understanding. Tell students that they will be learning how an actor or performer might approach a text, focusing on their concern for the vocal elements of the piece and how these elements relate to and enhance meaning.
- Distribute copies of Wilfred Owen's alliteration-filled anti-war poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" and have students read along as they watch the online video of recitation of "Dulce Et Decorum Est" (scroll down to find this particular example). Discuss the recitation, pointing out the cacophonous sounds the poet weaves together as he describes the horror of war.
- Give students the Getting Ready to Recite handout and explain that each student will prepare a performance of the Hayden poem for their group.
- Explain that the first portion of the handout involves individual vocal work (to be completed first), while the second part asks students to work in groups. Tell students that they will complete the individual work first, and before they engage in the group activities you will guide them through Three Vocal Warm-Ups.
- Read through the directions in first part of the handout: "Individual Explorations: Sonic Patterns." Stress to students the idea that they are paying attention to what their mouths are doing as they speak, looking for connections between the sounds they are making and the sense or image they are communicating.
- Discuss with students the example in the last paragraph, pointing out the idea that these are the kinds of questions that they should raise with this kind of analysis:
Consider the connection between sounds and images. For example, you might note that it takes a little more work to say the colloquial "got up" and "put on" than it does to say the more formal "rise" and "dress." Why might the poet have made those choices?
- Allow students the rest of the session to work through this notetaking activity individually. You may wish to have students use the ReadWriteThink Notetaker to facilitate this process.
- Circulate the room to monitor student progress and provide assistance as necessary.
- To get ready for performance activities, lead students in one or more of the Three Vocal Warm-Ups. This part of the lesson is about having fun and freeing the voice, so encourage students to let down their guard and participate freely.
- Before beginning the group activity, explain to students that playing the sounds of words is a technique used in voice training for actors. Arthur Lessac, outlining the "symphony of sounds" in our language in The Use and Training of the Human Voice, suggests that the sounds of our language are much more varied than the simple phonetic sounds we produce in words. We use these sounds for various effects as we produce the sounds orally in real speech.
- Provide an example of how to "play the sounds of a word," by using the Audio Example of Playing the Sounds in the Word "Those." You may play it for students or simply listen to it as an example of how a teacher might present the idea to a class orally. If you have a particularly talented student, you might ask that student to present it from the Script for Playing the Sounds in the Word "Those" provided. The script could be copied for students to mark the played up parts of the word those.
- Go over the directions for groups on the Getting Ready to Recite handout. You should highlight the three bulleted items near the bottom of the page, clarifying the expectations for the way the groups should work.
- Give students time to complete the small group exercise "Playing Your Sounds," tasks 1 - 4. Then have a few groups volunteer to perform their interpretation of Task 4 for the class.
- For homework, have students work through the rest of the poem, marking the playable sounds, memorizing, and preparing a recitation. Negotiate with students an appropriate day for recitations to take place.
- Lead (or have a student volunteer lead) the class through one or more of the Three Vocal Warm-Ups again in order to prepare students for performances.
- Hand out the Recitation Reflection sheet and discuss the expectations for this activity.
- Have students join their group members and perform their recitations.
- Students should complete an entry on the Recitation Reflection sheet after each performance.
- Once all the performances have been completed, have students discuss their responses to various interpretations of the speaker's attitudes and feelings toward his father.
- Have several students perform for the whole class and discuss the similarities and differences in their interpretations.
- Many other poems capitalize on the use of sonic repetition. Have students explore books of poetry and the The Poetry Foundation site, finding examples of sonic repetition. Other poems that would be ideal for this exercise include, "Let Evening Come," "Blackberry Picking," "Dulce et Decorum Est," "Suzie Asado," and "We Real Cool."
- Have students present recitations of other poems the class is studying or poems students find on the Poetry Out Loud Website or elsewhere.
- Students can share recitations through podcasts or an online video sharing network.
- Introduce students to Poetry Slams through video. Many performances are available on video and through online video sharing networks.
- Have students organize their original poems into a performance for other classes. Using readers theater techniques such as choral readings and movement, students can stage the poems as if it were a single script for a play.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Participation is the most important aspect of the project. If students participate in the activities, they will know so much more about the art of a poetic text and be able to use some of the poet’s tools in their own work.
- Meet with students to discuss the Recitation Reflection. Discuss with them both the feedback they gave to their peers, as well as the comments they got from their performance. If time does not permit one-on-one conferences, meet with small groups or have students write written reflections about their performance and learning.