With only six weeks of teaching left before the exams, my pupils are beginning to worry about memorising quotations. I started off the year with a somewhat aspirational post on our class website asking them to commit 10 minutes a day to memorising key quotations and suggesting various ways they could do that. We have created class sets of quotations on Quizlet and I have been doing five a day memory starters all year, testing them on quotations from all of our class texts. I have shared various revision strategies over the course of the year and talked quite a bit to them about the various things I have been learning about the science behind learning and memory. In fact, I was beginning to feel a bit smug.
However, I recently realized that despite all of this, not all of my class are yet confident in remembering a wide range of quotations, while for a few panic is beginning to set in. Enter stage left the hero of the hour, Mr Bruff and his Power and Conflict rap. For those who haven’t heard it yet, he has taken one key line from each of the anthology poems and fused them into an annoyingly catchy song which I shared with my class last Friday afternoon. I started the lesson by giving them a handout with the lines on made by the colleague who had originally alerted me to the rap and asking them to name the poems they come from.
I then played the rap, but the class was reluctant to join in, although they very much enjoyed the spectacle of me gyrating like a crazy person at the front of the room trying to drum up some audience response. When I then put them into groups and asked them to create their own memorisable poems using one line from each of the anthology poems, they set to enthusiastically and came up with some clever amalgamations.
This didn’t solve the problem though. How are they going to remember the poems in the panic of the exam hall? As I have explained to them, we can’t afford to spend a lot of class time on this. I decided to revisit the rap yesterday and see how much they could remember. This time I asked them to take their handouts out and spend three minutes memorizing two quotations. I asked them what strategies they were going to use? A surprising number couldn’t think of any, even though I think I have given them quite frequent updates on effective memorisation techniques. I suggested a strategy – look, cover, write, check. When the three minutes was up, I initiated an I say – You say – call and response session, where I called out the name of the poem and the class had to respond with the line. Once I had run through all 15 lines they were keen to try it along with the video and this time I wasn’t rapping on my own!
I followed this up by having them take out their anthologies and with the help of Mr Bruff’s accompanying 15 minute analysis video they speed annotated half the lines (I’m saving the other half for next Friday) with his ideas. Then I asked them to choose two of the lines and create an exam style question linking them together using a theme map. They finished by planning an answer to the question before going into a silent 10-minute write to produce a detailed analytical paragraph comparing the two quotations.
Next week we will repeat a similar exercise with the rest of the quotations. In the interim, I plan to use I say – You say as I take the register each lesson to make sure they really know the lines.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that learning one line from each poem is going to be sufficient to see my pupils through the poetry section of the exam. They clearly need to memorise a range of key quotations, and most of them have quite a few at their fingertips. But we all know that panic breeds amnesia and in the stressful situation of a large exam hall, I am hoping that Mr Bruff’s catchy beat will ensure that at the very least all of my pupils have one quotation from every poem at their disposal – and even more crucially that they have practiced creating an analytical paragraph around it.