Strategies for lecture, seminar and independent student work

Poetry, Seminar teaching

It is sometimes difficult to know what strategies might work well, particularly when a lecturer’s own experiences of learning poetry were less than positive or are now only faintly recalled. A good first step in preparing to teach poetry is reflection.  Do you enjoy poetry?  Do you read it for pleasure? Do you go to listen to live poetry performances?  A ‘yes’ answer to any of these questions probably means you approach the task of teaching poetry with a good measure of confidence that in turn fosters confidence and enthusiasm in some of your students.  But consider your ‘no’ answers as well. What do they tell you? Pose such questions to your students to gain an understanding of their attitudes towards poetry and to devise routes into poetry for them.


One way to gain an understanding of students’ attitudes towards poetry is to ask them to keep a reading log or a diary.  You can browse this website (put ‘reading log’ or ‘diary’ in the search box) for several examples of how lecturers have used logs and diaries with their students.


There is plenty of good practice that can be borrowed from how poetry is taught within the secondary sector and we are big fans of the English and Media Centre (EMC) and The National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE).

The EMC has free resources and print publications available for purchase:

  • The Poetry Pack: Exploring Poetry at GCSE and A Level by Barbara Bleiman which includes a DVD, classroom strategies and a selection of poems from different centuries and cultures;
  • Studying Blake’s Songs
  • English All Sorts – which is a compendium of strategies for ideas for teachers, not limited to poetry. It is also worth browsing the English and Media Centre’s online resources too.

NATE has a very useful collection of articles from the back issues of their magazine.  Generally you have to subscribe to the magazine, but we have received permission to reprint some articles as PDFs. These will become available shortly.


Multi-media tools are currently making teaching poetry at university level very different for the present and future than it was even at the end of the twentieth century.  The resources below have been featured in WordPlay magazine’s ‘IT Works!’ column by Brett Lucas . Explore the back issues for more ideas. (use the search on this site)

When exploring the historical context for a poem or a group of poets, why not create a multi-media timeline with Dipity? It’s a free, online ‘time creator’ that is very easy to use. It allows you to create a timeline on an interactive web page and either save it online or embed it in your own website/web page/online course using JavaScript. You could create one for use in a live seminar or lecture instead of PowerPoint. It is also possible to attach your own photos and link to YouTube videos as well as add geographical info. Think about how this could be used with texts/authors or themes you are working on that have would benefit from a visual perspective. There are many examples to browse on the Dipity website.

JISC Digital Media focuses on providing all the information you might need when using digital media (i.e. moving image, still image and sound) in your teaching. There are tutorials on topics like uploading images/video to popular websites like Flickr and YouTube, optimizing large images, creating your own image archives, basic audio editing, where to find copyright-free images, etc. The site details a comprehensive range of training events, contains a useful blog highlighting new trends in digital media and even has a helpdesk offering free advice!

Link poetry to film and media studies and the other creative arts

Connect reading and analysing poetry to Creative Writing, English Language and to film and media studies.  This can be as straightforward as encouraging students to experiment with how poetry sounds when spoken aloud.   A quick visit to the Poetry Archive in seminar or lecture, or as part of a brief assignment can accomplish this.

You could also explore the BBC Motion Gallery together with your students.  This is a step-up from YouTube or Google Video into the world of professional motion pictures. This collection is available through JISC and the BBC Motion Gallery. It spans 70 years and contains more than 20,000 clips. The JISC Collections license for this resource allows staff and students to search for, download, edit and use footage in student assignments and projects, show reels, résumés, competition entries, presentations, course packs, Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) and deposit footage in learning and teaching repositories such as JORUM and the forthcoming Humanities based collection – HumBox.

If you interested in connecting poetry to a wider range of the creative arts consider using PRISM, the interdisciplinary learning website produced by PALATINE (the Dance, Drama & Music Subject Centre). PRISM allows lecturers and students to view and assemble collections of exemplar works from the subject areas of dance, music, theatre, architecture & design, art and film in some of the influential art movements of the ‘modern’ period in Europe and the United States. Works, productions and artifacts are grouped by movement (or ‘ism’). Exemplars are contributed by subject specialists and each one is accompanied by a rationale that includes examples of how the work might be used in learning and teaching across the creative and performing arts. The resource also allows users to save material in a password protected area and upload new coursework to the website.

Get writing

Get students to be ‘active readers’ by experimenting with the forms they are studying. One example would be an assignment where students are asked to compose a sonnet if they are reading a selection of sonnets.  This type of assignment works well as a formative task, thus freeing student and lecturer from any anxiety about quality and assessment.

Read differently

Another active reading task can be designed around asking students to choose a metaphor or simile from a poem and then compose a new poem around it (see B. Knights and C. Thurgar-Dawson Active Reading Continuum 2006).  Working in a particular form often reveals its complexities and beauty more effectively than just talking about it.  It can also lead to so-called ‘deep learning.’ If these types of exercises seem like a radical departure from your normal pedagogical practice, try incorporating them in small doses to seminar, lecture, group work, individual work, online, or face-to-face learning.  They need not be time-consuming and you can choose to formally assess them or not. See Ben Knight’s article ‘Reading, Writing and ‘Doing English’: Creative Critical Approaches to Literature’ in EnglishDramaMedia Issue 12 (17 – 21), October 2008