“The Quitter” is a poem by Robert Service that is very close to my heart. When I was a teenager, I kept a laminated copy of this poem in my pocket to remind me that no matter how hard things got, I would have to figure out a way to carry on. This poem is accessible to older children and teenagers because it is written in language that they can understand and uses imagery that is within their grasp. Even so, I learned a thing or two during our exploration of this poem. For example, I had no idea what “According to Hoyle” meant. When we researched this on the internet, it sparked a long discussion about the historical importance of card games and why that phrase may have become popular to describe other things.
I think we often forget that the reader of a poem is an active participant, interpreting the words of the poem based on the reader’s own life experience. So, if we expose students to poetry that we might think is beautiful, but that they have no frame of reference for, it is like handing a college biology text to a fifth grader. Not only do they not get it, but they really don’t care. By exposing them to something that they are just not ready for, we might also create anxiety around poetry that makes it harder for them to engage as they get older. The below project would work with any poem, and poetry could be selected based on a student’s interests or struggles.
In this project, we took an in-depth look at this Robert Service poem, learned a bit about Robert Service and the environment where he lived, and then the kids created their own interpretation of The Quitter through stop motion photography.
Here’s what we did:
1. We practiced reading the poem individually, then to each other. This took a little while to get through. When the kids did not understand a word or phrase, they looked it up on Google. We talked about the components of a poem and why poetry matters.
2. We read a few other poems by Robert Service. There are some great ones out there – try “The Cremation of Sam McGee”
3. We discussed the meaning of “The Quitter” and what it meant in their own lives. The kids came up with some examples of times when they had faced adversity and had persevered.
4. I let them loose to interpret and present the poem in their own way, with a stop motion movie. From start to finish, we spent about 8 hours on this project.
We use stop motion fairly often for projects. It is a great alternative to a written paper because: it allows students to express themselves creatively, they can show it off to friends and family on YouTube, and it lasts forever. Also, I think that information that is written in essay format is often quickly forgotten. When students are asked to interpret and create, they are more likely to have a lasting memory of the material that they have studied.
Here is an example of our final project: a stop motion movie of “The Quitter”: