10-second review: The student question approach with a poem, Karl Shapiro’s “Auto Wreck.” Taken from Teaching English, How To… Raymond Stopper, Xlibris, 2004.
With Karl Shapiro’s “Auto Wreck” as an example, I will explain how I taught and organized a discussion of a literary work.
Introducing the Poem.
The Poem, “Auto Wreck,” re-creates the aftermath of a terrible automobile accident.
As the teacher, I first needed to decide my reason for asking the students to read the poem. This poem, “Auto Wreck,” was the first poem in an introductory unit on poetry. I decided that my main reason for having the students read it was its “unpoetic” subject matter. This poem was not about love and hearts and flowers, but about the ugly experience of an auto accident. I wanted the students to understand that poems can be written about almost any human experience and that the poet uses the experience to raise questions about life. A second reason for reading the poem was to have the students explore how poetry differs from other types of writing—specifically, newspaper reports of automobile accidents.
I began by asking students to tell how they felt about poetry, whether they had any favorite poems and whether they enjoyed reading poetry. A good many of the students said, “I never can understand poems. The language is confusing. The meaning is not plain. And when teachers tell us what it means, I don’t see it. So, I don’t read poetry on my own.” I ask students to tell about poems they have liked. Students usually remember some poems, especially those they read in elementary school and a few from middle school or junior high.
I introduced “Auto Wreck” by telling the students of my personal experience with an auto accident, in which I fell asleep at the wheel, barely avoided a head-on collision with a brick building and severed a telephone pole—at a time when cars did not have seat belts. I especially remembered my trip to the hospital in the ambulance that seemed to float along (an experience suggested in Shapiro’s poem). Had any students been in accidents? Those students who had been in accidents and those who knew people who had been in accidents reflected on what the accidents had meant to them in their lives.
I gave the students a copy of a newspaper report of an automobile accident. We analyzed the style and the tone of the report and agreed that it was straight reporting of the facts of the accident, together with the comments by the investigating officers and witnesses as to how the accident happened. Now I introduced the poem “Auto Wreck” by Karl Shapiro.