“In Flanders Fields” – Using Multiple Approaches to Explore a Poem

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

[Poppies, Fredericksburg, Texas], 2014

[Poppies, Fredericksburg, Texas], 2014
//www.loc.gov/item/2014633195/

One way to engage students with poetry is to provide multiple ways to experience a poem and show how it can have a far-reaching influence.

Written by John McCrae on May 3, 1915, after the death of a friend at the second Battle of Ypres, the poem “In Flanders Fields” can be shared with students in a number of ways:

Engage

  1. Read the poem aloud to students without giving them a copy. In this way, they simply listen without the distraction of following along. Encourage them to jot thoughts after listening.
  2. Read the poem aloud again after distributing a copy to each student. This time students should follow along and interact with the poem by underlining, circling, or making notes about mood, tone, word choice, or any other element of the poem that catches their attention.

Read

  1. Ask students to read the poem silently one or more times, continuing to interact with it.
  2. Ask students to share thoughts about the poem with a partner. Encourage them to consider the poem’s context.

Listen

  1. Next, listen to this version of the poem set to music.

Additional options: The Library’s collections have 42 examples of sheet music with the poem set to music. Encourage a musical student to perform one of the pieces for the class or team with the music teacher for a performance by the school’s band or orchestra.

  1. After listening once or twice, ask students to share reflections about how listening to the words set to music changed the experience.

View

Expand connections to the poem with related photographs from the collections of the Library of Congress.

Ask students how seeing images of what the poet describes enhances or detracts from the experience of the poem. Consider sharing this illustrated version of the poem available through the Internet Archive to continue the conversation about how visuals change the experience of reading the poem.

No Man's Land - once a forest in "Flander's Fields," c.1919

No Man’s Land – once a forest in “Flander’s Fields,” c.1919 //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2006677392/

France. Flanders field,  1918

France. Flanders field, 1918
//www.loc.gov/item/npc2008013708/

Investigate

Possibly someone in the class will have previous knowledge about the significance of poppies in World War I remembrance ceremonies. If not, this is an opportunity to encourage students to dig deeper into the context of the poem and perhaps discover something about the poet and the relevance of poppies. Ask students to share what they discover with the class.

Bring the experience to a close by asking:

  1. Why do you think the poem, and poppies in particular, became a symbol of the sacrifices of those who fought in World War I?
  2. How is our study enhanced when we explore poems in different ways?

What are other poems with which these strategies would work well?

One Comment

  1. Shirl McPhillips
    May 21, 2015 at 11:46 am

    These are authentic ways of showing students how poems are not just isolated “academic” pieces. All of life informs our reading, enjoying and holding onto poems…the art, the music, experiences out of which the poem comes. Our own life experiences. I enjoyed reading this piece.

    Only one other comment. I would delete the last part “Bring the experience to a close.” I think it might give an impression that experiencing a poem can come “to a close.” That reading poems thoughtfully begin and end. Rather than “strategies” or a “study,” what you suggest here with the students are what folks who love and have poems in their lives do. That’s what I’d want to the students to understand.

    Thanks for this.

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