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Lesson 9: Hyperion by John Keats (suggested by a student)

07 Apr

Admittedly, I don’t exploit poetry enough in class. So maybe it was a good thing that the second text Student A chose to bring in last lesson was…a poem. John Keats’ Hyperion to be precise.

I’ve never studied this particular poem, which created conditions for authentic discovery and reflection. The teacher didn’t have the “right” interpretation of the work. I put the students in groups of 4-5 and asked how they wanted to approach the poem. They suggested:

  1. Reading it again silently (good way to start—gives them some thinking time)
  2. Working on new vocabulary (it’s a 19th century poem, so there is a bit of fluffy vocab)
  3. Discussing their ideas in L1 to make sure everything is ok (Thanks, Ken Wilson for the reassurance that this is not ELT heresy)

Activity 2 was particularly useful on two levels—first it introduced students to a bit of culture générale as they say here in France. They found out that Hyperion was not just a Dan Simmons character but also figure of Greek mythology and I learned that it’s also the name of one of the moons of Saturn. Same goes for Saturn—not just a planet, but a mythological figure.

It also led to a class discussion on how to handle unknown words. They suggested using context  or the gist of the text to help (good) and looking for familiar roots (impressive!). When I picked up a student’s smartphone from her desk, though, her first reaction was “Sorry. I’ll put it away immediately.” Funny that for 1st-year university students, no one had thought to use mobile technology as a learning tool.

After dealing with necessary vocabulary, they discussed their ideas in groups and each came to a consensus. Interestingly, some of the groups had very different interpretations.

To inspire them and create continuity from our lesson on color symbolism, I had created Wordles with the poem with various color schemes that could be associated with the interpretations—black, gray and red for a darker interpretation; pinks and lavenders for romance; sky blue, sea green, light gray for tranquility. You get the picture.

Each group chose the color-scheme Wordle that best matched their ideas about the poem and amazingly, each group chose a different one. I asked each group to then create a Hyperion-inspired story, script it, and come to class next time ready to act out their story and explain the link with the Wordle they chose.

In feedback, many students said they enjoyed working with the poem but that it was very challenging. I could feel that as they worked to find meaning in the obscure language and the unfamiliar references to Greek mythology. It wasn’t the most comfortable class we’ve done, but one that got me thinking about quite a few things.

Thank you, Mr. Keats.

Lesson 8

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2 responses to “Lesson 9: Hyperion by John Keats (suggested by a student)

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