The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

The Highwayman is a fantastic poem which really gets every child in the class thinking!  Last year my class absolutely loved this poem and were fully engaged and focused no matter how many times I read it.  The poem is deeply romantic in style with themes of love and fate being prominent throughout.  It is a very powerful, emotive piece of writing which uses a wide range of vivid and figurative language.  The poem has a repetitive style which not only helps it catch the children’s attention but it helps the poem to build suspense and atmosphere.  Whilst this poem is definitely not for the light hearted and should only be used in Year 5/6, it can be a powerful tool to tackle a range of concepts highlighted in the new curriculum.

A Synopsis of the Highwayman by Alfred Noyes:

Part one of “The Highwayman” begins on a windy, moonlit night. A fashionably dressed highwayman rides up to a locked inn and whistles to the window, summoning Bess, the innkeeper’s daughter, his lover. The highwayman tells her that he plans to carry out a daring robbery that night. Though he plans to return to her in the morning, laden with gold, he may return later if he has trouble with the authorities. Tim, an ostler who is also in love with Bess, hides nearby, listening to the whole conversation.

In part two, the highwayman fails to return during the day, but a troop of British soldiers come to the inn. They tie Bess up with a gun pointing at her breast. Then, they wait. She silently struggles with her bonds until she can reach the trigger of the gun, which she pulls when she knows that the highwayman can hear it. Hearing the gunshot, he turns around and speeds away.  The next morning, he realizes that Bess has died and rides for revenge, but the soldiers kill him.

The end of the poem shows the ghosts of the two lovers meeting on certain windy, moonlit winter nights.

My classes favourite activities which we used alongside the Highwayman:

  • The use of performance poetry to bring the poem to life – the children to look at both tone and pace within small groups to then perform to the rest of the class (this is something that I have found my class absolutely love doing and really helps the less able to fully understand the meaning behind the poem).
  • To produce a poetry using similar features (similes, metaphors, repetition and onomatopoeia) and layout – By using the Highwayman as a model the children could produce their own poems but on a range of topics. e.g. we used this a tool to write our own Space poems linked in to our unit of work on Space.
  • To hot-seat different characters from the book – something I would choose to do later on as you want the children to make their own judgement and ideas based on what they have read. Use an LSA to take on one of the characters from the poem – to help give children a further understanding to the meaning behind the poem. This could also be a tool to stretch the more able by using them as your characters to hot-seat. 
  • The use of Conscience Alley – A line of children each side thinking of a persuasive argument to convince the LSA or Child walking through the alley that they should side with their argument. Possible questions that could be asked – Is the Highwayman good or bad?  Should Tim the Ostler tell the redcoats about the Highwayman? (In this case the person walking through the middle called be Tim).  
  • The use of a circle time discussing some of the key emotions that have been picked up from reading the book. Love, Fear, Bravery, Jealousy, Courage, Grief.

Other Teaching Ideas:

  • To understand the difference between fact and opinion – children to look at the text and pick out both facts and opinions surrounding the Highwayman. To also look at it from the different characters perspectives and how this may change their own opinion of the Highwayman 
  • To use both Inference and deduction skills – children can complete a range of comprehension style reading activities from what they have read. Being able to select lines from the text and explain their meaning.
  • To discuss their own thoughts and feelings towards the Highwayman based on whatthey have read – the children can have the opportunity to debate amongst themselves.  To use persuasive arguments regarding the Highwayman – Is he good or bad? Who is the real bad guy in this poem?
  • Discussion of grammatical features used (tenses and semi-colons) – grammar activities to go alongside some of these more challenging features.
  • To produce a diary entry from Bess – describing how her horrible day unfolded…

I hope you enjoy reading this fantastic poem with your class and that they enjoy it and get as much out of it!

Below is a great video which I have used with my class – great for tone and pace. 

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Dave May

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