Winters in Texas often resemble spring in other parts of the country. These beautiful winter days offer great opportunities to take learning outside. Every year I wait for the temperature to reach a comfortable range and out we go to experience the natural world the Romantic poets extol in their poetry. The following lesson is easily replicated with a different poem, but I turn to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To a Skylark.”
This lesson requires students to explore and analyze Percy Shelley’s poem “To a Skylark.” Students work in groups of 3-4 and at least one student must have access to a camera on their phone or an actual camera. After reading and considering the poem, students go outside and film themselves reading and discussing the poem. Once the filming is complete and necessary editing is complete, the finished product is uploaded to YouTube. The uploaded version forms the foundation for a culminating whole class discussion. The filming and editing takes a total of 2 classes. The culminating discussion takes about 40 minutes.
Step 1: We read the poem together in class. I read the poem aloud, and then I have the class reread the poem aloud with each student reading an individual stanza. I don’t offer any help at this point other than encouraging students to investigate unfamiliar diction.
Step 2: Group students in teams of 3-4. Their first task is to find a spot on campus that “feels” like a spot Shelley would approve. We have a large campus with many trees and grassy areas. I remind them that while trees make for wonderful backgrounds, they must remain earthbound. Once a perfect spot is located, students must take turns reading the poem aloud while being filmed. Their reading will be free of mistakes or mispronunciation. Each student will be filmed reading. Film editing skills are a valuable skill for this project.
Step 3: After filming an amazing reading of the poem, students must film themselves having a5-minutee minimum “intellectual conversation.” This conversation is also conducted in the beauty of nature. The conversation is focused on Shelly’s poem and their interpretation of the poem’s meaning(s). Every student must participate in the conversation. Most students prop their iPhones up in a spot where all students are visible, but others take turns behind the camera.
Step 4: After the initial filming is complete, students edit their films. Many used Movie-Maker or iMovie for this task. Most added appropriate music and other fancy additions to enhance their Oscar-worthy productions.
Step 5: The final step is to upload the finished masterpiece to YouTube.
Step 6: We only review the best reading of the poem, but the intellectual conversations are the foundation of our class discussion.
Kids like this project because it allows them to learn outside the classroom, and it allows them to explore a challenging poem in a new way. The added feature of filming and YouTube heightens the stakes of their discussion. Seeing and hearing themselves is a bit scary, but kids always rise to the occasion. They look at each other’s work as well as their own in a fresh way. I believe Shelley would be please with a bunch of Texas teenagers sitting outside exploring the meaning of his beloved Skylark.