Introducing the Concepts: an activity

The concepts - an introductory activity

It is important to introduce students to the seven concepts early on in the course so that they become familiar with them and begin the process of exploring, discussing and connecting them in the context of specific texts.  The activity below is designed to do just this and uses short poems as a relatively quick and accessible means of getting students to apply the concepts to literary works. Alongside the poems, students work with three questions for each concept, designed to provoke thought and discussion; these are available to download as a handout below.  

This activity could work with many different texts and of course you can choose your own preferred poems, or any other literary extracts as it does not have to be an activity that focuses just on poetry.  However, we have chosen short poems for the activity as there is a benefit to having the students work with complete texts rather than worrying about what they may be missing from extracts. The poems suggested below have been chosen because they are short enough for the activity to work within a lesson (or possibly two), while they all also clearly connect to one or more of the core concepts. We also think they are all great poems that should provoke plenty of thought and rich discussion!

 

There are different ways you could approach this activity, with variations in terms of how much variety, choice and independence you give to students.  The central aims, however, will be the same: students will look at a range of literary texts through different conceptual lenses, asking, discussing and answering big literary questions in the context of these specific texts.  In doing so, students will become familiar with the seven course concepts and start to see how they can apply to different texts, as well as how they overlap and connect with each other.  While the activity starts with a clear connection between a concept and text, the aim is also to get students to see how all concepts can apply to all texts, even if such connections are not immediately obvious.  

The handout is shown as a screenshot and available to download below.  Depending on your preference, this could be projected, given to students as is, or cut into seven concept cards for use in the classroom.

 Course concepts and questions

Introducing the concepts: an activity

Set-up

Create seven 'stations' around the room, with a different poem at each station. The poems should be big enough for a group to read and work on together.  At each station there should also be a large piece of poster paper/whiteboard, pens and a concept card with 3 questions (see handout above).  There are poem and concept combinations suggested below: the aim with these is to start the activity off with poems and concepts that clearly connect; as the activity develops, students will look for less obvious connections between concepts and poems.     

Put students into seven groups (ideally with two or three students per group) and assign each group to one of the stations.  

Round 1

Give groups 3 - 5 minutes with each poem and concept, asking them to record their thinking in response to one or more of the questions on the paper/whiteboard.  

In round one the aim is for each group to look at each poem and concept: you can decide how much time to give but given these are short poems, 5 minutes should be enough time, meaning that round one will last about 30 - 35 minutes.  

When they rotate, they should begin to respond directly to other students’ thinking / answers, as well as the questions. 

Each group should end up back at their original starting point.  Ask them to look at all that has been written in response to that poem and concept.  

Round 2

In this round, groups stay where they are but ask them to rotate the concept cards so that they now look at their original poem through a different conceptual lens.  

Depending on how much time you have, this can be repeated with variations (e.g. students rotate and rotate concept cards, students roam and are free to choose which concept to apply to which poem etc.).  The aim in round 2 is to get students looking at different poems through different conceptual lenses, adding their thinking and making connections to the ideas already on the paper/whiteboard. 

Plenary

Make sure you leave time for follow up reflection and discussion, even if that is in the next lesson.  The questions below could be used for reflection, exit cards, homework and/or discussion.  

  • What did you learn about literature from the activity? 
  • Which concepts do you think are most important or interesting in the context of studying literature? 
  • Which concepts and/or questions did you find most challenging? Why do you think this was? 
  • Were there any concepts and poems you struggled to connect?  If so, why was this? 
  • Which concepts stand out for you in terms of how they connect or overlap with each other? 
  • How do you think these concepts will help your learning as we move forward on the IB Literature course? 

Concepts and suggested Poems for Round 1

Identity

I, Too by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Culture

Kissing in Vietnamese by Ocean Vuong

My grandmother kisses

as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,

where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes

through the kitchen window,

as if somewhere, a body is falling apart

and flames are making their way back

through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,

as if to walk out the door, your torso

would dance from exit wounds.

When my grandmother kisses, there would be

no flashy smooching, no western music

of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe

you inside her, nose pressed to cheek

so that your scent is relearned

and your sweat pearls into drops of gold

inside her lungs, as if while she holds you

death also, is clutching your wrist.

My grandmother kisses as if history

never ended, as if somewhere

a body is still

falling apart.

Creativity

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room

and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski

across the surface of a poem

waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.

Communication

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

Perspective

Mirror by Sylvia Plath

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Transformation

Medusa by Carol Ann Duffy

A suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy

grew in my mind,

which turned the hairs on my head to filthy snakes

as though my thoughts

hissed and spat on my scalp.

My bride’s breath soured, stank

in the grey bags of my lungs.

I’m foul mouthed now, foul tongued,

yellow fanged.

There are bullet tears in my eyes.

Are you terrified?

Be terrified.

It’s you I love,

perfect man, Greek God, my own;

but I know you’ll go, betray me, stray

from home.

So better be for me if you were stone.

I glanced at a buzzing bee,

a dull grey pebble fell

to the ground.

I glanced at a singing bird,

a handful of dusty gravel

spattered down.

I looked at a ginger cat,

a housebrick

shattered a bowl of milk.

I looked at a snuffling pig,

a boulder rolled

in a heap of shit.

I stared in the mirror.

Love gone bad

showed me a Gorgon.

I stared at a dragon.

Fire spewed

from the mouth of a mountain.

And here you come

with a shield for a heart

and a sword for a tongue

and your girls, your girls.

Wasn’t I beautiful

Wasn’t I fragrant and young?

Look at me now.

Representation

Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.

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