TeachingEnglish
      Teaching poetry using DARTs

      Directed activities related to texts (DARTs) are activities which get students to interact with texts. Their aim is to improve students' reading comprehension and to make them critical readers.

      Here are some examples of DARTs that are based on the poem "When I heard the learned astronomer" by Walt Whitman.

       

      When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
      When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
      When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
      When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
      How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
      Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
      In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
      Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

       

      Reconstruction activities

      • Prediction activity
        Here are the first four lines of Walt Whitman's poem,' When I heard the learned astronomer'. Read them and then discuss what you think Walt Whitman did when he heard the astronomer.

        When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
        When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
        When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide and measure them,
        When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
        I …
      • Sequencing activity
        Here are the first two lines of Walt Whitman's poem, 'When I heard the learn'd astronomer.'

        When I heard the learned astronomer,
        When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

        The remaining lines of the poem are below, but they are in the wrong order. Decide what order the lines should be in, and say why.

        a. Till rising and gliding out I wandered off by myself,
        b. Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.
        c. How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
        d. When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
        e. In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,
        f. When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
      • Table completion
        Use the information in the poem to complete the following table.

          line 1- 4 line 5 - 8
        Venue    
        Number of people present    
        Whitman's position    
        What could be heard    
        What could be seen    


      Analysis activities

      • Text segmenting activity
        • This poem seems to divide into two halves. Find the halves. Then give each half a label.
      • Questioning activity
        • Teacher's questions
          • As you read the poem, look for answers to the following questions::

            What word is used to describe the astronomer?
            How did most people react to the astronomer?
            How did Whitman react to the astronomer?
            Why do you think he reacted in this way?
            Why do you think Whitman used the word "gliding" instead of "walking" in line 6?
            What contrasts can you find in the poem? For example, Whitman is with many people at the beginning of the poem but he is on his own at the end of the poem.
            Why do you think Whitman uses these contrasts in the poem?
      • Students' questions
        • Write 3 - 5 questions on this poem. Swap them with a partner.
          Answer your partner's questions.
        • What would you ask an astronomer if you met one?
          If you had had a chance to meet Walt Whitman, what would you have asked him about this poem?

       

      Cheron Verster, teacher trainer and materials writer, South Africa

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