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A Level Teacher’s Guide to T. S. Eliot’s Poem The Waste Land

Paul Merrell | Monday April 14, 2014

Categories: Hot Entries, Poetry, Eliot, The Waste Land, EDEXCEL A Level English Literature, 6ET01, AQA A Level English Language & Literature A, ELLA1, AQA A Level English Literature A, AQA A Level English Literature B, LITB1, EDEXCEL A Level English Language & Literature, 6EL03, OCR A Level English Literature, F661, WJEC A Level English Literature, LT1, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level, EDEXCEL A Level, OCR A Level, WJEC A Level

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I love teaching this text; in fact, I see it as one of the most versatile (and important) things that I deliver across all of my KS5 classes – be it A Level, Pre-U or on the IB.

I know Eliot’s poetry appears in various forms across a wide range of specifications and courses, but I more often than not teach this poem as either a comparative coursework text or, more generally, as key AO4 information for any Modernist writer. I don’t know how, for example, you could prepare a class on Waugh’s A Handful of Dust without a sound grasp of what Eliot was up to at the time!

The aim of this guide is not to replicate any of the excellent online websites dedicated to a discussion of this most complex of poems – indeed, one of the first things I do in teaching this text is to direct pupils to eliotswasteland.tripod.com which is far more detailed on the many allusions in the text than I could ever hope to be either here or in my classroom teaching.

Likewise, for those with an Ipad, there are few better apps than ‘The Waste Land app’, which has an extraordinarily good reading by Fiona Shaw and various other super resources. It does cost £10.00 – but I’d still highly recommend it, just for Shaw’s performance alone (I’m not on any commission, honest!).

However, what I hope I can do here in this Englishedu guide is to offer a couple of different readings you might not have come across in your own research, and to show a few teaching techniques and possible ways of delivering this poem that might make it more accessible to your students. It really is a poem that can bring out the best in them.

The approach that I tend to take is that this text can be viewed as both social and spiritual criticism. I enjoy introducing pupils to the notion of ‘competing readings’ – all aboard the AO3 train! – that do not ‘disprove’ each other. I’m sure we’ve all encountered the problem with pupils who...


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