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In the Museum of Past Centuries

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By Kevin McCann — Writer and Poet

Powerful poem by Kevin McCann creating an image of a museum in which the exhibits show the effects that human beings have had upon the world.

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Background information

This poem by Kevin McCann creates an image of a museum in which the exhibits show the effects that human beings have had upon the world, from the very beginning of their existence. It provides excellent opportunities for drama and debate, as well as for writing and research.

Shared teaching and learning

Shared reading

  • Read the poem and identify unfamiliar words. Explain refugees and discuss meanings of clotted, stagnant and clogged, adding to vocabulary books. Why did the poet choose those words? Identify other adjectives in the poem and list them. What effect do they have?
  • Discuss the line ‘Pyramids of ivory’. Why did the poet use the word pyramids instead of piles or heaps?
  • Ask the children to describe the form and structure of the poem. Have they read other list poems? Draw the framework of the poem on the board to use later as a model for writing.
  • What clues in the poem tell us that this museum is in the future?

Responding to the poem

  • What is the poet’s opinion of the world and what people have done to it? How can we tell?
  • Discuss the last three lines. Who took the bites out of the apple? Explain the story of Adam and Eve. Discuss the poet’s reasons for including this.
  • Ask children to work in pairs on two or three lines of the poem, deciding why the poet included those items. Discuss ideas. (Explain that the ‘voyages of discovery’ often resulted in people who lived in the countries being treated unfairly.)
  • Ask children to role play museum guides, showing a group around the exhibits, explaining why each is there.
  • Is there any item that they would like to add to the poem?

Further reading

Welcome to our museum

Junior Education PLUS Creative Topic May 2009. Tips on how to set up a museum in your school to showcase children’s work – from writing museum guides through to advertising and holding a grand opening. Available for subscribers to download here.

Group and independent activities

  • How could we prevent the world becoming like this? Design posters persuading people to take action to tackle environmental issues.
  • Find out more information on the Aztecs, the voyages of discovery and the World Wars and display this information on the wall around the poster.
  • Write poems in the same style, listing the achievements of human beings. What would they put in the museum to show the positive effects people have on the world – eg, paintings, music, books? What sounds would they include? Use the framework drawn earlier so that the poems have the same structure. What would they choose to put in the glass case at the end? Remind them to use interesting, effective adjectives. Produce neat final copies, including graphics.
  • In groups of four, prepare the poem for performance. Ask the children to decide whether to read the poem in unison or allocate lines to pairs or individuals. Do they need sound effects?
  • Use the activity sheet below as a SAT-style comprehension activity.

Homework activity

Challenge the children to find other list poems. In class, compare the themes and discuss their preferences.

Literacy Framework

See the Using this issue chart to identify the Learning Objectives covered by these activities, to track progression from Year 2 through to Year 5, and to identify links with Year 3 and 4 Literacy Planning Units.

Opportunities for drama

  • Create a television programme exploring the issue ‘Have human beings been good for the World?’, perhaps including a studio debate or historical character interviews. Hot seat children as loggers from the rainforest or explorers.
  • Working in groups of four or five, create an exhibit for the museum with just body shapes. Photograph the tableaux, writing captions to display with them.

Plenary

Watch performances of the poem and discuss different interpretations. Did they enjoy working on this? Ask for volunteers to read their poems out. Compare their ideas with the original poem.

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