This week I’m going to be exploring some teaching ideas for the popular GCSE English poems. Today I’m going to be looking at William Blake’s wonderful poem London. Here are some ideas for teaching it:
Some of the vocabulary used in the poem may be unfamiliar to students, so starting with a simple vocabulary chart can help to take some of the fear out of studying it and help to increase confidence.
The next step could be to ask students to “word bomb” each of the words in the first activity, writing down (or sketching) all the associations they can think of for that particular word. This also serves to increase confidence when looking at the whole poem.
Context – Hogarth’s “Gin Lane”
Give the students a copy of Hogarth’s Gin Alley and ask them to note down what impressions of London this creates. I like to stuck this on a piece of A3 paper and ask them to write their ideas around it. Make sure they focus on the individual characters as well as the overall scene. I love using this image as it tends to generate some really rich discussion.
Ask students to answer the following questions:
- How did William Blake feel about established religion?
- What were the conditions for children in London like when the poem was written>
- What are the Songs of Innocence and Experience?
- Why is the French Revolution relevant to the poem?
Language and structure
- What aspect of London life does Blake explore in each stanza?
- Why does Blake repeat the words “chartered” and “marks” in the poem?
- Write down three examples of negative language used in the poem and comment on the possible effect of each.
Think / pair / share / square images
Give students one of the images from the poem. Give them some silent reflection time to consider the image. They should then join with a pair to discuss the ideas. Once their confidence has been built hold a class discussion about the images, pushing them to develop their thoughts and ideas. Finally, pairs should join up to discuss and consolidate their ideas. I use the following images:
- Marks of weakness
- Marks of woe
- Mind-forge’d manacles (I think this one is genius and I have problems keeping my enthusiasm in check when I teach it!)
- Runs in blood down palace walls
- Youthful harlot’s curse
- Marriage Hearse
I love this activity as I’ve seen some brilliant work produced about the poem from this over the years.
To me, the power of this poem come from its incredible images and the students really need to get to grips with them if they are to gain a solid understanding of the poem.
Ask them to create an image slide of the poem. This can be differentiated in a range of ways such as the required number of slides or recording a voiceover for the images etc.
Afterwards these can even be printed out and used for a classroom display as a powerful visual reminder of the poem.
I’m a big fan of this one as it involves a gratuitous video of Idris Elba – but it does have educational merit, I promise!
Ask students to watch the following clip of Elba reading Blake’s London:
When you have watched it, hold a class discussion about whether to poem is still relevant in today’s society.
I hope you find some of these ideas useful. Enjoy Edris – (*ahem) – teaching the poem!