English Teacher Line Marshall, Columbia High School, Maplewood, NJ- Iambic Pentameter

Line Marshall: Well the class activity I think a natural fit would be perhaps the day after you’ve introduced students to the idea of iambic pentameter because of course there are certain technical aspects that you need to know the whole thing about tensile bows per line, one stressed and unstressed syllables alternating and the whole idea of iambic pentameter and blind force. So they would have initial notes but if the students are anything like me in high school, I did not understand what that means. So the next day of course would be an excellent opportunity to illustrate what that means and how accessible it is. So I like the I begin the lesson with the sound of a heartbeat. I’m blessed enough to have a YouTube connection and a smart board but all of this is accessible to download the music and the heartbeat.

So I would start with this idea of the heartbeat because it’s an excellent illustration of iambic pentameter five human heartbeats. The idea of having students perhaps read to the rhythm of the heartbeat and picking up the notion that hey if I can follow five heartbeats, I can also understand iambic pentameter.

Then I would play verses from ‘I believe I can fly’ which also happened to be an iambic pentameter. Students always want to know whether R Kelly knows this, I’m not sure. I’m not sure he does but it just so happens those verses are iambic pentameter and then from there the idea of having the students because they start singing ‘I believe I can fly’ such a tremendously popular song it’s universally known by students and so the idea of starting to sing perhaps the song and then maybe sing the sonnet you know I like to use Sonnet 29 since that’s going to be used later.

Sing Sonnet 29 to the tune of the verses of ‘I believe I can fly’ comes naturally to students and then before they know it they are using iambic pentameter whereas the day before it was just some strange concept. Then from there the music would go into the Duke Ellington piece. I would introduce the Duke Ellington piece by playing the Antoni Cimolino exchange with Christophe

Plumber that excerpt from the interview where he’s telling the well it’s not him talking to Duke Ellington but the story the little antidote he shares. From there we would go into one of the pieces that Ellington calls Sonnets.

The one that I chose was a Sonnet for Caesar. I chose it because it was the most accessible, it was the most distinctive in terms of the here the 14 lines and the 14 lines are I guess sang by Solo saxophone and then there are 14 notes that are supposed to imitate the five heartbeats. So having students listen to that which gives us a chance to also talk about mood because the mood of that sonnet happens to be very dark. It’s a tragedy and this is reflected in the song. So we go from meter you know into mood and then we come back to Sonnet 29 with Rufus Wainwright who does a wonderful job with his musical interpretation of Sonnet 29 in which he starts off as the Sonnet does.

Pretty dejected pretty depressed by the end of Sonnet he’s feeling much better because of the one he loves.

Interviewer: Does the activity support the core standards?

LM: It does. It supports several core standards. There are in literacy and reading and in the idea of using multi media in concert with literature and reading and listening so yes it absolutely does.

I: Great. Just summarize if you would what a teacher will need to do this activity what are the components that he or she?

LM: Okay. I mentioned that I do have access to a smart board and I realize that that can be a luxury for many teachers. So a smart board connection or internet connection can have access to YouTube would be absolutely wonderful. However, just having the music downloaded would be terrific and if one is unable to get the heartbeat sound effect because that was something I found quite surprisingly on YouTube and you know quite happily one can just talk about that or the lesson would work very well by just maybe not even in cooperating the heartbeat just maybe having students because most students had no idea what a heartbeat sounds like. So we could it is something that can be worked out even without an internet connection.

I: Great. What about follow up activities. Are there any kind of activities or projects that you recommend?

LM: I like the idea of using any activity on iambic pentameter in order to inspire students to write an iambic pentameter because it’s they get a kick out of being able to write in a meter that’s associated with someone like Shakespeare. I think it’s part of the process of making Shakespeare accessible and relatable. The idea that, hey all this guy is really doing is manipulating language so that it fits into 10 syllables per line.

LM: You know I don’t make a big deal about this stressed and unstressed syllables but so many students wind up doing it anyway and they’re surprised that what they come up with. Surprisingly I find that students who love math and science do very well with the writing in iambic pentameter because it’s something with rules with you know strict answers and things like that and so they like that. So the ultimate activity I recommend is to have students write Sonnets filoloquis and because there’s so much music in the activity, those students who are musicians could be inspired to really use their musical talents to come up with you know a very unusual innovative interpretation of Shakespeare the way Duke Ellington did

I: So you think of Shakespeare’s language in his musical?

LM: Absolutely. I’m a musical person so I tend to think of many things as musical but Shakespeare’s language definitely lands itself to music.

English Teacher Line Marshall, Columbia High School, Maplewood, NJ- Iambic Pentameter from CultureWorks on Vimeo.