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Snapshot 1: Ngā hau e wha

This snapshot describes how a school used close reading of Māori and Pasifika poetry to address the diverse needs and interests of its students.


Our school is a special character, integrated school affiliated to Te Haahi o Weteriana (the Methodist Church of New Zealand). Teachers get to know their students in a range of contexts including chapel, cultural groups, hostel, and sport – as well as in the classroom. Over 90 percent of our ākonga/students identify as Māori or Pasifika.

Māori learners come from as far north as Kaikohe and Hokianga, from the various sub-tribes of Nga Puhi; and from as far south as Kawerau and Whakatane, from Tuhoe. The college is located in Tainui territory and has strong connections with the Kingitanga movement. Pasifika learners come from the wider Pacific and from cultural strongholds in Auckland, with the Tongan and Samoan cultures predominating. Inevitably, ākonga come with an extremely diverse range of linguistic abilities and experiences: some are fluent in multiple languages while others have only limited ability in a single tongue.

This unit came about through a collaborative process across the English department. The trigger was the desire of students to hear their own voices in the poetry of Aotearoa, and the need for teachers to develop multi-modal learning competencies.

Poets were chosen because their themes resonated with the experiences of the students and, in some cases, because of whanaungatanga between poets and teachers. It was believed that the students would identify with these poets and their works.

Pasifika poets

Reverend Mua Strickson-Pua, Konai Helu Thaman, Karlo Mila, Tusiata Avia, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Darren Kamali.

Māori poets

Apirana Taylor, Robert Sullivan, Hone Tuwhare, Witi Ihimaera, Hirini Melbourne.

Curriculum focus

Level 6 reading, speaking, writing, presenting

Processes and strategies

Students will integrate sources of information, processes, and strategies purposefully and confidently to identify, form, and express increasingly sophisticated ideas.

[Indicators: Uses an increasing understanding of the connections between oral, written and visual language when creating texts … thinks critically about texts with understanding and confidence.]

Purposes and audiences

Students will show a developed understanding of how texts are shaped for different purposes and audiences.


Students will select, develop, and communicate connected ideas on a range of topics.

[Indicator: Ideas show an understanding and awareness of a range of dimensions or viewpoints.]

Language features

Students will show a developed understanding of how language features are used for effect within and across texts.

[Indicators: Identifies a range of oral, written, and visual language features and understands their effects … Uses a wide range of oral, written and visual language features fluently and with control to create meaning and effect and to sustain interest.]


Students will organise texts using a range of appropriate, effective structures.

Teacher action

The following four activities are from this poetry unit. We chose this sequence because we know our students experience success in rote oral language activities in the church.

Four voices

In groups of four, students choose a poem (from a selection) to present. Collaboratively, they divide the poem into parts. These parts may be phrases, single words, repetition markers, stanzas, parts of speech, parts defined by punctuation or inflection, etc. The choosing process is itself part of the deeper understanding. Students experiment with reading the poem in different ways, and finally present the result to the class in four voices.

Play dough “keyholes”

Students work individually or in pairs (pairs are advised if students require scaffolding or if you are trying this activity for the first time). Using play dough, they create an image, scene, or representation of a poem they have chosen from the selection.

If they think of the poem as a “keyhole”, their task is to look through that keyhole and depict what they see. They then present their poems and discuss their representations.

Critical reading square

Students work in groups of four. Each member has a designated role. Student A summarises the poem in no more than eight words, student B identifies one or more important event in the poem, student C comes up with two questions for the poet or a character in the poem, and student D identifies key vocabulary or language features in the poem.

This activity is different each time.

Play to your strengths

Students interpret the poem in a manner and medium of their choosing; for example, through the use of static images, dance, mime, dramatisation, rap, painting, song, journal response, model, etc.

What happened?


  • added entries to their anthologies of short written texts, and to their reading logs;
  • presented their chosen poems and discussed ideas, intended effects, and language;
  • further developed the key competencies thinking (through creative and performance-based study), relating to others (through listening and sharing ideas and viewpoints), and participating and contributing (in discussions and group work).

The students were able to access poems and themes kinesthetically, orally and visually. They were able to interpret the texts in ways that made sense to them and, in doing so, deepened their understanding and engagement.

They were enthusiastic about this experience of poetry. In their feedback at the end of the unit, they asked for more poetry, and to be able to branch out into and explore a wider variety of texts and themes.

Last updated July 18, 2012