A Red Wheel Barrow: Using Google Images to Teach Poetry

29 Sep

At the heart of poetry lies the image, that highly condensed, often deeply metaphorical carrier of the meaning of the poem.

so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


William Carlos Williams

One of the chief difficulties faced by any English teacher when trying to help a class learn how to read the imagery of any poem, in conjunction with the formal aspects of the poet’s craft, such as the use of enjambment by William Carlos Williams in the iconic imagist poem above, is that students struggle to lift the image off the page. It is presented to them as words on a page, and at one level they need to keep that in mind, but they also need to learn how to deconstruct an image and explore the associations and references in relation to the formal structure of the poem. Experienced readers are able to superimpose a template of one layer upon another and unlock nuggets of understanding. But most students are either too literal in their reading of the poem, or are not able to extract an image from the words on paper.

Lines of a drawing and lines of a poem.

Using pictorial representations of the imagery is one way a teacher can try to make the words come alive, and help the student make concrete what often appears as a senseless string of words. Before I had access to an Interactive White Board, I used to draw the images from a poem on the board, or ask students to draw what they saw in the lines. Google images, however, allows you to search, or get a class to search for images of what is mentioned in a poem, to discuss as a class which images best matches what the poet is presenting to us, and to build a collage of images which can be used to unlock the poem.

When students argue about which image best represents what the poet had in mind it makes a powerful statement about the nature of the inter-relationship between the poet’s voice and an individual reading of a poem. But more than that it allows a teacher to explore how images are deconstructed by devices such as enjambment. In the poem above, the way the lines are broken up presents a reader with new ways of reading the image.

The third line, for example, presents us with “a red wheel”, which changes our perceptions of the colour of the wheel from the image as a whole “a red wheel barrow”. One interpretation is superimposed upon another, and new possible readings of the poem are uncovered.

So much depends on how we read the poem.

Interactive White Boards offer ways of quickly finding and displaying images in visible forms for a class discussion. I like to select a student who is responsible for finding images of what is being discussed and displaying them for the class to see. Students will shout out advice and get far more involved in unpacking the imagery of a poem, than if only the dry words were used.

A great activity is to get students to create presentations linking the words with images they have searched. I often get students to create collages of poems they have chosen, and present them to the class with a discussion of the poem. I think it also helps students see tools such as PowerPoint or Prezi as visual adjuncts to their commentary rather than simply slides which they read out.


One response to “A Red Wheel Barrow: Using Google Images to Teach Poetry

  1. Lindsey van Heerden

    September 30, 2015 at 5:43 am

    The ‘live’ Poet’s Society. What a nice way to learn.



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