I love to start off the school year with a poem. A poem is usually shorter than a story and can give the students a sense that we are going to have some fun this year as we explore English Literature and Higher Order Thinking Skills. One of my favorite poems to begin with is, Edgar Allan Poe’s, “The Bells”. Now I tell my students, unbeknownst to Poe, he was the first “Rapper” in history! I pass out “The Bells” and I tell my students to give me the rap beat and rhythms that they all know so well. I feel like a kid trying to jump into the whirling rope just in time so I can catch the beat and not get all tangled up or trip on the twirling cord- and we are off!
” Here the sledges with the bells-
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that over-sprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With the crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells!
This is only the first of four stanzas. I’m happy to send you the rest of the poem with my lesson which includes; vocabulary, LOTS (lower order thinking questions), literary terms, HOTS ( higher order thinking analysis questions), biographical information on Poe, a bridging text and context activity and a post-reading activity idea.
One of the challenges we have as English teachers is to incorporate higher order thinking skills into our lessons. Throughout this site I will write about ideas that I have and those of my colleagues so that we may share our creative visions with one another.
The higher order thinking skill of identifying parts and whole is one that lends itself nicely to the study of a poem. Especially a poem like, “The Bells” in which each of the stanzas represents a part of the cycle of life, a la Poe, who tends to see the lugubrious side of life, at least in the last two stanzas. Identifying parts and whole is a skill which involves explaining how the parts function together within the whole text (in literature). In a poem, the literary term of rhyme scheme can also enhance one’s understanding of the parts connecting with the whole.
Another challenge for us as language teachers is to relate what we are teachings to other aspects of our students’ lives or other parts of the curriculum which they study in school. I always try to transfer the higher order thinking skill which we are learning in literature to something outside of the text. One of the activities I do with the HOTS of identifying parts and whole is to give my students two simple sheets on fractions with pictures of pie charts. I ask them to do the problems on the sheets (third grade math problems) and answer the following questions- some of which we turn into a class discussion.
1) In math, the sum of the parts always equals the whole. Is this true in other areas in life? Give an example.
2) Do we need to understand each part of something before we can understand the whole? Explain.
3) How does understanding the parts, both in math and in our poem’s rhyme scheme, help us to have a better concept of the whole? Explain.
We, as teachers and perpetual students, have a great opportunity to ignite the fire of the joy of learning, the awesomeness of connecting something old, like “The Bells” to something new, like “rapping” to show our students that learning is a lifetime pursuit. It is about discerning the parts, seeing the whole picture and realizing that there is nothing more enlightening than to realize that you understand something and it has become a part of who you are as a whole human being.
Remember, the reward for learning is not grades, it is understanding!