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The Poetry Place

Part B Unit 8: Pattern, Rhythm and Rhyme in ‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me'

Maya Angelou’s poem has an easily recognisable rhythm and rhyme but it’s a free and easy structure too.  As it says on page 153 there is a pattern established in the first two verses which is then varied through the rest of the poem.

 

Read the poem aloud and then arrange a class reading with different individual students and groups taking lines.  You could do this quite quickly as an impromptu activity (sometimes the best way) or plan more carefully.  To do this, print out copies and annotate them to show pauses (/), dynamics (bold or font size) and speakers – or do this collaboratively using the whiteboard.   For example:

 

Voice 1:      Shadows on the wall

Voice 2:      Noises down the hall

All:             Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Voice 1:      Bad dogs  / barking loud

Voice 2:      Big ghosts / in a cloud

All:             Life doesn’t frighten me at all

 

This is an effective way of getting students to look closely at the text for a real purpose (other than answering questions or sitting a test).  Having performed it a few times, discuss the pattern of the poem and pick out where it varies from the initial structure.  Why does Angelou do this?  (Makes a less repetitive poem / build excitement (for example in the third verse) / work towards a climax – these might be some of the suggestions. Obviously we don’t know a poet’s intentions, though we often seem to think we do.)

 

As suggested in Activity 4, students can try writing their own versions. One verse per student might work well and they can then be put together to make a class poem.  Less able students might appreciate a template for a word processor to make the structure clear along these lines:

 

(frightening idea 1)     ……………………………………………….. (rhyme 1)

 

(frightening idea 2)     ……………………………………………….. (rhyme 2)

 

Life doesn’t frighten me at all

 

(frightening idea 3)     ……………………………………………….. (rhyme 3)

 

(frightening idea 4)     ……………………………………………….. (rhyme 4)

 

Life doesn’t frighten me at all

 

 

More able writers could think about variations, e.g.:

 

Mr Baker in a rage

Lots of sums on every page

School doesn’t bother me at all

 

 

Finally, draw their attention to the way Maya Angelou uses near rhymes – wild / smile, sleeve / breathe.  If they are trying to rhyme, this can be a great help!

 

 

 

 

 

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