Planning to teach a poetry cluster: Christina Rossetti

When we’ve been teaching Rossetti this year, we’ve been preparing for the AS-level. We’re not doing that next year (switching to linear now every other spec has caught up and reformed!) but I think it’ll probably take a similar approach:

  • Identify the poems that work well together in comparison and teach them alongside one another (in the new Y12, teaching them at key moments in their comparison text)
  • Each ‘mini-unit’ of poems ends with a written assessment in timed conditions, in the class room.
  • In a single lesson, I use a question/answer format, which usually guides students through a discussion exploring the poems and they make notes on it. i’l;l model the annotations in the first lesson but we do this an awful lot at GCSE so find it unnecessary at A-Level – it’s mainly to get them back into things after nearly three months off (!) and to model the detail I expect.
    This year, I also showed them my teaching notes – which turned into my revision guide when I realised I didn’t have enough space on the page to write everything!

Some of my question prompts are on a shared Dropbox folder – I tend to use these as the starting point, and then go from there depending where the discussion takes us.

Goblin Market

This is a different proposition, to my mind, partly because of length and partly because it’s so very complex! We did a couple of mini-units/groups of poems, and then spent three weeks on Goblin Market – but could have spent a lot longer!

We discussed it in a very similar way, including guiding them towards a more subtextual understanding, but by this point they were pretty good at reading into Rossetti.Then I gave each pair a presentation topic – also in the shared folder – and they had a lesson and homework to prepare. Topics included, among others:

  • Interpretation as a discussion of addiction and mental health, with reference to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal (AO1: interpretation; AO2: FSL; AO3: CR’s own context)
  • Presentation and interpretation of character: Lizzie (AO1: interpretation; AO2: FSL)
  • Interpretation as a comment on economics and female position in society (AO1: interpretation; AO3: Victorian context)
  • Effects of rhyme, rhythm and narrative form (AO2: FSL)
  • The importance of sisterhood and female relationships with one another (AO1: interpretation; AO2: FSL)
  • Where does it sit in relation to other Victorian fantasy, and children’s fantasy? (AO1: interpretation; AO3: Literary context)

Once you’ve done Goblin Market, it’s a great opportunity to review and bring it into the other comparisons, because it really does fit with everything.

Poems I’d put together: 

Presentation of women

  • No Thank You John
  • From the Antique
  • Maude Clare
  • Winter: My Secret

Religious doubt / faith

  • A Birthday
  • Good Friday
  • Shut Out
  • Twice
  • Uphill

Death, loss and grief

  • In the Round Tower
  • Remember
  • Song When I am Dead
  • Echo

Desire and sex

  • Soeur Louise de la Misericorde
  • Goblin Market

I’d also single out some particularly important (for me) images or forms e.g. the door and other liminal imagery; nature, particularly birds, the monologues.

Other resouces, including assessments are here on Dropbox

See my complete Rossetti study guide here

What do you think?