Teaching: The ‘Wally Zone’ (Introduction to poetry)

Hello again,

This week saw the start of a poetry unit with year 7. Exciting times.

I’m keen to embed the kind of analysis skills that I expect from A level students from a far earlier stage, so wanted to begin with an almost idealogical approach. What is poetry? Why do we write it? Why do we study it? How do we study it?

So, I came up with a little something called the ‘Wally Zone’, introduced in the lesson below.


What is poetry and how/why do we study it?

Step 1:

  • Do now: Read through the statements about poetry.
  • Choose one or two that you like.
  • Be ready to explain why!

(I used the following statements, which students then discussed in a ‘Cocktail party’)

Poetry is…

Poetry is just the evidence of life.  If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.  ~Leonard Cohen

Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.  ~Kahlil Gibran

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.  ~Robert Frost

A poem is never finished, only abandoned.  ~Paul Valéry

The poet doesn’t invent.  He listens.  ~Jean Cocteau

You can’t write poetry on the computer.  ~Quentin Tarantino

Each man carries within him the soul of a poet who died young.  ~Sainte-Beuve, Portraits littéraires, 1862

God is the perfect poet.  ~Robert Browning

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.  ~Carl Sandburg

Poetry is not always words.  ~Audrey Foris

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.  ~T.S. Eliot, Dante, 1920

Poets are like magicians, searching for magical phrases to pull rabbits out of people’s souls.  ~Glade Byron Addams

To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.  ~Robert Frost

The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.  ~Jean Cocteau

Poetry is nobody’s business except the poet’s ~Philip Larkin

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.  ~Robert Frost

You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you.  ~Joseph Joubert


Step 2:

Spend a few minutes writing your thoughts…

  • What is difficult about poetry?
  • How do you feel about poetry?
  • What do you like about poetry?
  • Dislike?

Step 3:

Supply a Where’s Wally picture. Students have to a) find Wally, b) find up to 5 interesting things happening in the picture.

Wembley Legends Join Where’s Wally? For 25th Anniversary

Step 4:

This is the good bit. I asked the kids:

What does looking at a Where’s Wally have to do with understanding poetry?

The results were fascinating. Some of the links my classes made include the following:

  • Poetry is confusing (like a Wally picture)
  • Poetry is frustrating (like a Wally picture)
  • Wally is hard to find, like the meaning of a poem
  • You have to explore a poem
  • Poems are busy
  • Poems are full of interesting things
  • Poems are abstract
  • There are connections between details within a poem
  • Finding Wally (the meaning) is satisfying
  • Poems are open to interpretation
  • Poems can appear simple at a glance
  • You need to concentrate to understand poetry

and so on.

I cannot stress enough how important it was to let the kids come up with their own links between Where’s Wally and the analysis of poetry. After that conversation, the ‘Wally Zone’ was a real concept that we could apply to our reading of poetry.

As a class, we  then experimented with the Wally Zone by reading a poem and looking for interesting things. The results were pretty incredible, largely, I think, because the class had an understanding of how to approach poetry. And with that, the Wally Zone was born.

That’s about it really. Until next time…

-Unseen Flirtations


4 thoughts on “Teaching: The ‘Wally Zone’ (Introduction to poetry)

  1. Hey Sir!! So this is the newest thing i’ve been working on. Very different, but i hope it surprises and moves you into action I’d love it if you could share as much as possible as the theme is so important to me. Best wishes keep making those kids you teach into incredible stars

  2. How very clever!! A great way into poetry with the children – so much so I’m going to use it tomorrow! I’m off to find a Where’s Wally image right away!

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