Poems & Songs before Grendel

"Tell me what it's like to go outside / I've never been"   Michael Stipe (REM)  

Verse as Introduction - Poems Before Grendel: Using poems and songsthat are thematically related to the upcoming novel - to introduce and set the mood for the novel - while at the same time exercising our poetry interpretation muscles.

Lesson Overview (see also poems & songs with notes)  

For more on the WHY see below in the thoughts on this lesson section.  No quiz today and you need to get started right away.  I usually stand at the door and give the handout with the poems (and a copy of their bookmarks)  to the students as they enter (and tell them to start looking at it right away).   Alternatively, I will place each of these on the first two desks so students can pick them up as they come in - this tends to lead to less of a bottleneck into the classroom.

As soon as the bell rings, you want to get them into groups right away.  This is NOT group work - you want to put them into groups based on their geography of sitting (to save time) and put a number of people in the analysis group based on the length and to a lesser extent the difficulty of the poem.  The poems are all numbered on the handout - that makes things a little easier.  They are also about the same the length (and difficulty). There are 8 poems for the students to analyze and songs, quotes, and a few more poems that we will either go over in class or that I feel it is important for the students to have for this novel.  So that means in a typical class of 23-30 students you will put either 3 or 4 students together.  For this first time - you will have to eye it - you want them started on the poem analysis right away (in fact - tell them to start reading it right away - don't wait for everyone to be in a group).

Go over the general directions and what you expect.  Tell them to read the poem aloud without stopping.  Next - go through it line by line and try and figure out what it means.  Remind them - they can look up words or names BUT NOT the poem itself.  I've never had students do that - hurray!  Tell them - and mean it - there are no wrong interpretations.  I tell them I don't care about SYMBOLISM (boo!), themes, etc.  Just try and figure out what is happening in the poem.  What is the story?  What are the cool words - ideas.  If they have time they can look at the poem as a metaphor - for what?  That's up to them.   

Give the students about 6-8 minutes (in a 50 minute period) to look at the poem.  You can't give more than that - because you want to come together as a class to discuss them.

After that time- tell students they need to now listen (and take notes) on what their classmates came up with.  REMIND them to take copious notes - and tell them - if they haven't figured it out - that the ideas in these poems will help them and give depth to the reading of the novel they are about to embark on.  You can also point out at this time that their bookmarks (with their reading schedule) has a reference to the poems and instructions on "how to take notes on a book" .  The teacher has to be very cognisant of time here - spend as much time on each poem as you can - and still get through all of them.  The notes on my version of the handout (see below) form the basis of the questions and ideas that I will present about the poems BUT remember it is always better to hear from the students - if it is a matter of time - let what they have to say be the final word.

Go through each poem (starting with Poem 1), quote, and song and AS YOU DO make sure students are taking notes.  Have the students read the poem aloud - either one of them or taking turns or in a creative way - and remind the class before the poem is read aloud that the rest of the students should at that time TAKE NOTES on what they think the poem means BEFORE the small group gives their interpretation.  After the group is done - time permitting, ask if anyone else has something to say about the poems.  Listen to the songs that come between the poems - and ask students to write down their thoughts as they listen. Gage the time - if you have time talk about the song - but remember, the students interpretations on the poems is the most important thing here.   At the end of class, remind them of what is due - there will be a quiz - and to follow their bookmarks and read ahead (give the bookmarks far enough in advance so that students who need more time will get that time).  See my notes on the poems for more guidance.

The Poems (with notes)

The Poems with my notes  see below for student handout

The Poems with my Notes: PDF   

Once the students are done with their analysis in small groups - we come together and discuss.  90% or more of that discussion will be what the students came up with - the rest is covered in these notes - which are in turn, to a large part, the result of past student contributions.   There are TWO versions of these poems here with different notes.  Sometimes the poems change, sometimes I can't find them - sometimes the ideas change as well.  PLEASE NOTE - These poems may NOT be in the same order as the student handout below - but they do contain all of the poems (the choice of poem evolves over time).  Also you will try to play the songs (have students take notes) and read the small quotes in the boxes.

Handouts  - Poems  & Bookmark  (most recent)

Poems before The History of Love:   

Poems & Songs  Docx  PDF - These are the most recent poems, songs, and quotesgiven out.  I will usually have these on a desk by the door and students will grab or be given one as they enter the room.  These poems are given plenty of room for students to take notes on.

Bookmark with some guidance on the back  Docx  PDF

Audio Visual Content

Here is my best attempt at finding the songs that I play in this lesson.  I am trying to decide whether to publish the YouTube versions or a Spotify playlist.


Remote Enhancements

 This is a Power Point that I used in Remote Learning and in the classroom to help get the students focused on their interpretations.



The students did their end of the year project on this short story one year - when I find it , I will put it here.

Class Recordings (for registered members)



What's Next & Unit Home Page

Grendel - Chapters 1 & 2 - Opening Discussion: We have our first discussion of the actual reading!


  Putt'n on the Beowulf   &   Beowulf - Lost in Translation

Thoughts on the Lesson 

By the time I left my school, every one of my novels - in both classes were introduced by a day of reading and interpreting poems.  What I am presenting here - is the result of an evolution.   It is all well and good to decide that you will begin a unit with poems - but just how will you cover those poems in class.  There are many constraints - the first is that many if not most students are uncomfortable with poetry - one of the major reasons to do this in my mind.   Another has to do with time - the poems are read cold - the students haven't read them before  (unless by chance) - AND I believe that's necessary because you don't want to give them more homework - they have started reading the novel in question.   There is also a lot of educational value in having students do cold readings - especially in a group where they can help each other - everyone "filling out the intellectual roster if you will".  So that has to be done AND you  need to discuss them (and possibly throw in some subtle connections to the novel (but definitely not overt - the poems or excerpts appear on their book marks - allow the students to do the heavy lifting).