"Pre-reading activities on poems & on Benjamin Zephaniah"

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There are different approaches to introduce a new topic in class. Regarding this it is possible to find a way to segue into the new subject or simply to reveal the topic without a preceding transition. Without a doubt the way of introducing a new subject in class should depend on the subject itself.

Assuming that the new topic is Poetry which will be taught in grade nine, it is likely that the topic is not going to be met with approval and applause. According to a definition a poem is “a piece of writing that partakes of the nature of both speech and song that is nearly always rhythmical, usually metaphorical, and often exhibits such formal elements as meter, rhyme, and stanzaic structure” (“poem”, New Oxford American Dictionary). It is self-evident that a definition of a poem can never do justice to the whole range of existing poems. However, thinking about the way students in grade nine would define a poem, it might be possible that their understanding of poetry could be comparable to the given definition of a poem above.

Is this what poetry is all about? How would students then describe Dub Poetry? How can a teacher familiarise the students with the poetry of Benjamin Zephaniah?

Further Links for Information

The following timetable provides an overview of one possible solution of introducing Zephaniah’s poetry at school. A detailed description of every teaching unit is given below.

Time Period Activity Material / Media Social Form Intention Curriculum
10 min.


  • "What is a poem?"
  • teacher collects ideas with regard to the knowledge the students have about poems
  • “What do you expect a poem to look like?”
  • “What do you already know about poems?”
  • “Everything that comes to your mind about poems”

Possible solution brainstorming



ex-cathedra teaching
  • introduce the topic 'poems'
10 min. Video on Youtube

'Dis Poetry' -> 4 Dec 2011: Zephaniah at Narbeth Children’s Festival in West Wales


PC, Internet, Beamer

worksheets with poem [1]

whole-class teaching
  • provoke attention & curiosity
  • indirect message: poems can be fun
  • involve everyone
Listening + watching comprehension


5 min. Class discussion ex-cathedra teaching
  • collect expectations, assumptions, ideas, beliefs
20 min. Internet research


PCs, Internet


pair work
  • self-dependent research

(finish Internet research)

Detailed description

The first lesson focuses on pre-reading activities and starts with a brainstorming. The following questions can be taken as a basis for the brainstorming:

“What do you know about poems?”

“What do you expect a poem to look like?”

“What comes to your mind when you think about poetry?”

Possible solution brainstorming

Starting with this kind of activity enables the teacher to introduce the new topic about poetry through the students’ participation. The teacher recalls old knowledge and writes down some ideas about poetry on the blackboard and by doing so he/she is able to strike up a conversation with the students. At that point the students already know that they will deal with poetry and ideally they expect the poems to be traditional ones. In order to maintain these expectations the teacher should not mention Benjamin Zephaniah and his poems. Instead he/she can create an atmosphere in which the students can gather their own experiences with respect to Zephaniah’s poetry. How this atmosphere can be created is part of the next teaching unit.

The teacher uses English the whole time and the pupils are expected to answer in English, too, because according to the Thuringian Curriculum the students in grade nine are supposed to communicate in the foreign language as well as to start, sustain and complete a conversation, based on situation and addressee (cf. TMBWK 2011: 33-34).

Students Rapping

A short video clip on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2jSG2dmdfs) can be used to familiarise the students with Benjamin Zephaniah and his poem Dis Poetry. It may call their attention and provoke curiosity by showing them another kind of poetry, namely Dub Poetry.

The students can watch the video for the first time without a handout of the written poem and without any additional tasks. They can enjoy the video and Zephaniah’s way of performing his poem and they can train their listening comprehension at the same time. After that it is recommendable to hand out a sheet with the written poem and play the video again, so that the students get the chance to hear and read the poem simultaneously. Moreover, they can draw first conclusions about the difference between written poetry and performance poetry. With respect to the pupils’ auditory and visual comprehension they understand literary texts, presented by different media – in this case the recited poem. Besides, they are able to react appropriately to unknown materials by adapting to the speaker’s characteristics, like rate of speech, facial expression and gesture (cf. TMBWK 2011: 30-31).

In the next step the teacher asks his students to take the copy of the written poem [2] and to line-up a circle in the middle of the classroom, so that every student gets the chance to read out some lines of the poem. In this context it is important that the teacher starts by reading out the first lines. He/ she should be lively in his performance and should encourage every student to be as creative as possible while reading aloud.

The students can:

  • rap the lines of the poem
  • try to pronounce it in the way it is written or in different ways
  • change the volume while reading out loud
  • make use of different gestures and facial expressions

This activity can be repeated several times. The idea behind it is that rapping in a circle eases the situation in class, because both students and the teacher get involved.

Flag of Jamaica, home of dub poetry

According to Mervyn Morris, Dub Poetry “[...] is written to be performed [and] incorporates a music beat, often a reggae beat. Often, but not always, the performance is done to the accompaniment of music, recorded or live. Dub poetry is usually, but not always, written in Jamaican language; in Jamaican creole/dialect/vernacular/nation language. By extension, it may be written in the informal language of people from anywhere. Most often it is politically focused, attacking oppression and injustice” (1997: 1).

If Dub Poetry is written to be performed, what should prevent the teacher from doing the same with the students in class?

Following the students’ performances the teacher can step into a discussion with the class. By virtue of the Curriculum the students are supposed to give their opinion by talking about cultural, historical and geographical aspects, as well as to express views and draw conclusions (cf. TMBWK 2011: 33). This task supports the pupils in improving their speaking skills. The students are not expected to analyse the poem. Instead they discuss their expectations, assumptions and beliefs with respect to the person Benjamin Zephaniah. The teacher can rise up the questions listed below:

What do you think about Benjamin Zephaniah?

Do you expect him to be a famous poet?

What do you think/know about his origin?

What do you know about his language?

This brief class discussion can be regarded as a transition to the next teaching unit, in which the students are expected to get together in pairs in order to do some research on the Internet. There are four tasks prepared with a focus on Zephaniah’s biography, his publications, the political as well as the historical background. Tasks

With reference to the students’ reading comprehension they are able to read and understand texts, written in an electronic form, as well as to adopt different reading methods, like skimming and scanning. They are also supposed to take structured notes independently and to develop contexts with the help of recognised key words (cf. TMBWK 2011: 31-32). The teacher assigns a task to every pair which is then expected to find information on its respective field. In this context it is crucial to advise the students to search the Internet for some facts, catchwords and keynotes. This is useful to avoid a copy and paste. Moreover, it is possible to provide the students with some interesting Internet addresses so that they can start their work without searching the whole Internet.

This form of activity enables the students to do some self-dependent research. As they have to work in pairs they can assist each other. Moreover, they can learn how to reach a consensus on the information they are expected to find.

To sum up, it can be said that the first lesson is based on the following philosophy:

Before starting with an analysis of a poem, let us have fun with poetry. Poems arise through creativity and they are not only written to be interpreted. So let us be creative and let us regard poetry from a different angle.

Before going into a detailed analysis, let us have a look at the author Benjamin Zephaniah. Poems are written by poets, strictly speaking they are written by persons; each person has another biography. So let us see who this person really is. Let us embed the poem in a certain context and talk about our expectations, beliefs and assumptions, because they can be helpful for further interpretations.

Proceed to Lesson 2 "Pre- and while-reading activities on Zephaniah and his poems"

Back to “Verbal Riddim”: Poems by Benjamin Zephaniah

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