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I love Benjamin Zephaniah, or rather his poetry =)

There is a great web page that the BBC have with lots of poets performing their own poetry. On the page there are links to pop ups of each poem’s words and a video or audio file of the poet reading [note - you need Real Player to watch or listen to them].

You can find the web page at this address:

For a seasonal lesson resource, take a look at Talking Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah.

There are a number of things I like about this poem:

  • It isn’t written or performed in Standard British English
  • The rhyming structure is quite simple and generally stays the same throughout the poem
  • There is an alternative message to the traditional ‘eat, drink, be merry’ kind of vibe that you often find cropping up when you’re basing your lessons around a holiday like Christmas

So what could you do with this poem (and the audio or video to go with it)?

  • Print off the poem and cut it up so that your rhyming couplets are on different slips of paper. You should have 2 lines on each slip of paper (there will be one slip with three lines on it). Give each student a different slip. They say their lines to each other, and try to put the poem back into the correct order.
  • Hand out a copy of the poem to each student. Ask them to mutter it to themselves (out loud, but not too high volume). Then play the poem as read by Ben Zephaniah, while the students read along at the same time. Then ask your students to mutter it to themselves again. Then listen and read again, and finally perform on their own.
    • Thanks to Jeremy Harmer for those two ideas, which he demonstrated at the Language Show
  • Ask your students to identify words which have similar sounds. Demonstrate a few of these (fun, mum in the poem, or others – sun, run, play, say…). Then hand out a good monolingual dictionary and ask your students to identify the phonemic symbols which represent the individual sounds in the word. Ask your students to identify the sounds which are repeated most often in the poem.
  • Do the listening and the reading together, using this nice kinetic text video:

Note – the YouTube video above is not related to the BBC webpage in any way, and it is not my creation (my YouTube channel is migjharrison). I cannot comment in any way relating to the images in the video and whether copyright was or was not obtained. Use the video at your own discretion.


UPDATE – 20/12/2010

I have realised that there isn’t actually any seasonal content in the ideas above for your lessons. Oops! I’m sure you already thought of some good ways to use this poem around the topic of Christmas and holidays, but if not, here are a couple of mine:

  • Use the poem to introduce the ideas of a traditional meal eaten for a special occasion (the Christmas turkey dinner). If your students celebrate Christmas, do they eat turkey too? Do they eat something else?
  • What is the message of this poem? Is it ‘Eating turkeys is cool’ ? Do you think Benjamin Zephaniah eats turkey? What is a vegetarian?
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7 Responses to Talking Turkeys – lesson idea

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sue Lyon-Jones and Anna Musielak, Mike Harrison. Mike Harrison said: Be nice to yu turkeys dis Christmas – lesson ideas from Talking Turkeys #poem #poetry #benjaminzephaniah #elt #esol [...]

  2. Sabridv says:

    Hi Mike! I’m a big fan of Benjamin Zephaniah too. I have already prepared a lesson plan based on one of his poems: White comedy. You can find it here I’d love to know your opinion about it. Thanks for sharing. Kisses

  3. [...] reading: If you really liked Zephaniah and you want more, @harrisonmike has got a wonderful lesson plan on another poem by him: “Talking Turkeys” (great to use during Christmas [...]

  4. David Warr says:

    Hi Mike, a great choice for a poem, and the video is very helpful too, am sure your students will enjoy it very much. Let us know.

  5. admin says:

    Thanks David and Sabrina for your comments.

    Thanks also, Sabrina, for the link to your Ben Zephaniah lesson – I will check it out and may very well use it for a lesson or two after the holidays.

    David, the lesson went pretty well. I started with a grammar drawing activity, which you can actually see Jamie Keddie doing here: Then we talked rubbish Christmas cracker jokes and then on to the poem. They really liked it! A couple in the class are from African countries, so could identify with the Jamaican rhythms in Ben’s poem. Ace stuff.

    Also, sorry I didn’t reply to it earlier – we do have projectors in most of the classrooms here. Is there something language plant-related you have to share to do with projectors??

    Mike =)

  6. [...] for (var i=0; i HomeAboutContactLinks – teaching blogs and resourcesSeries Talking Turkeys – lesson idea [...]

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