Poetry By Heart Blog

Learning a sonnet? It’s (like) a piece of cake

7th March 2017

Alison Powell explains the similarities between cake eating and sonnet memorization to students.

You’ve probably heard your teachers going on about how wonderful the bard is. ‘William Shakespeare was a genius,’ they might say. ‘Look. He wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. Isn’t he amazing?’

And you might be thinking, ‘Big deal. Ed Sheeran has written at least 38 songs we know about, plus a heap he’s written for other people and he probably has a few more up his sleeve. What’s all the fuss?’

The trouble with this type of thinking is that it assumes a deep knowledge of something without proper experience of it. It’s a bit like saying you know what this cake tastes like, just by looking at the picture:


Cake: Looks chocolate-y and good, but you can’t know how delicious it really is without taking a bite.

Perhaps you’re now thinking, ‘Yes, but I have read Shakespeare, actually. We did Romeo and Juliet/Macbeth/Othello in school last term.’

That’s great. But although reading a play in the classroom does give you a bit more of a flavour, it can be more like looking at a recipe and saying you’ve eaten the cake.

Amazing Chocolate Cake

  • 4 eggs
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 175 g butter …

Again, you’re getting an idea of the cake, but you’re not getting the full experience of tasting it. You can think of a play as a recipe for actors. Until it’s brought to life on stage, it’s a bit flavourless and two-dimensional. You’ve come closer to understanding Shakespeare, but still haven’t had a proper bite.

There is, of course, only way to truly know how lovely the cake actually is. I can talk to you about it for hours. I can describe the fluffy light sponge that melts on your tongue and the gorgeously not-too-sweet cream that oozes from its centre. Until you’ve had a proper mouthful of it, though, you’re never going to appreciate the full-taste experience.

So how do you eat the works of Shakespeare?

The most effective way, I’d argue, is to perform a play or a poem by learning the words by heart. Shakespeare’s sonnets are just fourteen lines in length, so they’re a great place to start.

To learn a sonnet, you’ll have to spend some time with it, pinning it up on the walls of your interior world so that when you speak it aloud you have the chance to taste the words without looking at them on paper.

In the process of memorizing the lines you’ll come to understand how they roll together, to know the rhythm and the underlying metre. You’ll get to know the words and start to notice their layers of meaning. You’ll begin to feel the way the poem turns around line eight and appreciate the satisfaction of the final rhyming couplet.

The words might even start to feel like they’re your own.

This is a totally different experience to reading the words on the page. And, like eating cake, it’s not something anyone else can do for you. You have to try it yourself.


Why is it worth it?

Without having a good mouthful of the actual cake, you’ll never know about the secret ingredients the chef has added to surprise you. Without learning a sonnet by heart and speaking it aloud, you’ll never get to know its truth.

So come and find out what the fuss is all about. Take a big bite of Shakespeare.

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The NEW Learning Zone is Live!

2nd March 2017

20170302_Blog_learning-zoneWe are so excited to tell you all about our brand new Learning Zone, designed for teachers, students and curious visitors alike.

Each section of the Learning Zone is packed with useful materials – ranging from video performances to helpful guides on how to memorise a poem, and sign posting to blog posts that might be of interest and more.

We’ll be adding more materials to it over time, so check in regularly to see what’s new, plus we’re always looking for feedback on what you think about the Learning Zone and what you’d like to see in there. So feel free to drop us a line via info@poetrybyheart.org.uk – we’d love to hear what you think!

Visit The Learning Zone

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Tell Us Your Competition Date and Download Julie Blake’s Reflections on Memorising and Reciting Poetry!

20170302_Blog_icon-calendarWhile we were putting together our Learning Zone, we came across some GREAT materials that we thought teachers would LOVE to get their hands on.

In return for your competition date, we’re giving away this Julie Blake articl, which reflects on how memorising and reciting poems can transform the way we engage with, feel about, and understand poetry.

All you have to do is enter in the date of your Poetry By Heart competition, or your easy-peasy Shakespeare Sonnets competition, and you can download the link straight after!


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20170302_Blog_icon-giftYour Pack Is On Its Way!

If you’re a registered school waiting for your poster pack, you’ll be pleased to know it’s on its way on their way! The packs include gorgeous posters about the competition for you to put up and a free copy of Forward Arts 100 Prized Poems, and more!

If you’d like a pack to help promote your Poetry By Heart competition, be sure you’re registered first or drop us an email via info@poetrybyheart.org.uk

Dividing LineThere’s Still Time To Hold A Competition – Why Not Have a Go?

20170302_Blog_icon-stage-micYou still have until the 31st of March to hold your very own Poetry By Heart competition with just three students, reciting two poems each. In just one lunch time, you could hold your competition and pick a winner.

Or why not try the Shakespeare Sonnet competition with just one student or member of staff by memorising and reciting a sonnet from our Shakespeare Sonnets showcase? You can download a cheatsheet by filling in this form.

With the return of closed-book questions returning to GCSE exams this year, poetry recitation is a valuable skill and the Shakespeare Sonnets competition, as well as our annual Poetry By Heart competition, are great opportunities for students to focus on practising their memory and recitation skills.


Dividing LineHeld Your Competition? Video Your Winner(s)

20170302_Blog_icon-video-screenIf you’ve already held your competition over a lunch time, lesson or assembly, then be sure to let us know who the winner is, plus, now is a good time to refer to Step 10 of the handbook for guidelines for videoing your winners’.

All registered schools have the competition handbook to refer to, but if you have misplaced yours simply drop us an email via info@poetrybyheart.org.uk

Uploader Coming Soon

We’re doing final tests on the video upload tool and the instructions for it. We will be ready for you to start uploading your videos soon – watch this space for more updates!

In the meantime, why not check out our NEW Performance Gallery, featuring performances from previous years’ contestants?


Dividing LineTell Us Your Poetry By Heart Stories!

20170302_Blog_icon-storiesWhy not ask your competition winner(s) or any of the students who took part in Poetry By Heart to write to us telling us about competing in Poetry By Heart or about the experience of choosing, learning and reciting a poem.

Every year we are absolutely blown away by the stories teachers and students alike tell us about their experiences with Poetry By Heart. Why not get your students to share theirs?

We’ve a pile of special poetry prizes for the best stories – so we look forward to reading your story soon!


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20170302_Blog_icon-supportNeed Support?

Our team of competition advisors are here to help – simply drop us an email via info@poetrybyheart.org.uk and we will give you a call whenever is best for you to take you through your questions and also help you set up your competition!


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