Using Broadcast Material to Teach War Poetry

Kim Harrison, from Andover College, writes…

Clips from BBC Learning Zone and iPlayer and Channel 4OD have proved effective and stimulating resources for the unit I teach, (A2 Edexcel English Language and Literature, unit 4, the Impact of War on the Individual), primarily to prompt discussion, provide historical context, and generate coursework ideas.

Pupils in classroom watch as teacher presents something on the interactive whiteboard.

Play it loud!

It’s important to consider the differing learning styles of our students and, with that in mind, using clips of battle is how I introduce the war poetry unit – I play them as loud as I can get away with, in the dark, with students under the tables, to try and draw out an emotional response to the sound of gunfire and bombs – they mindmap any vocabulary they can think of to convey their feelings and then compare it with what they subsequently find in the poems they study. It’s a brief but effective way of engaging them in the language, letting the language inform them of experience before considering historical context.

After considering genre features of memoir writing using extracts from Vera Brittain’s diaries and memoirs, watching the BBC’s Testament of Youth gave an added dimension to their knowledge and studies by encouraging thoughtful debate on the role of women. They were able to link this with study of FWW poetry from both men and women and further consider voice when writing their own literary piece.

War as entertainment?

The Gove and Blackadder controversy was a timely one for my students now beginning their non fiction pieces – they were most vociferous after watching Channel 4’s reporting of the issue, stating that they enjoyed and appreciated being able to watch and listen to such programmes and clips, that they deemed them as useful a resource as any written texts. This became apparent when they watched a Channel 4 news piece on Hetty Bower – they were moved to tears – and it helped them develop their discussion question on “when is it acceptable to write about war for entertainment?” BBC Learning Zone clips of interviews with Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, and clips from news items interviewing different generations at war graves helped them develop and support their own views. Some of the clips are very brief, but enough to generate coursework ideas and help them to consider a wider variety of views in preparing to write about the impact of war on the individual. Alongside this discussion they are compiling a centenary timeline of important publication dates of both fiction and non fiction pieces.

I was lucky enough to have copies of the BBC’s Blackadder and Testament of Youth, but sadly, I was not able to show The Wipers Times because I was too late to catch it on BBC iPlayer. Short availability dates are a common problem so I hope, with the number of FWW programmes due to be aired, they will be made available for longer – I am in no doubt they are an invaluable resource for teachers and students.