Primary Primary Literacy

The Centenary of the Birth of Dylan Thomas

This October sees the centenary of the birth of one of the 20th century’s greatest authors and poets, Dylan Thomas. There are few writers who fill their work with such vivid imagery and the anniversary gives us the excuse to delve into some of his most famous works and use them to practise and develop our skills in description.


 Suitable for: Year 3 to Year 6

Learning Focus: 

  • Identify clues in scripts for effective presentation
  • Recognise metaphors and personification in texts and identify their effect for the reader

Activity 1: The Performance of Under Milk Wood

Under Milk Wood is accredited with being one of the finest plays written for radio and whilst there are several versions of it, standing head and shoulders above the others is the one narrated by Richard Burton. Not only is it a great performance but it’s also the perfect exercise in how to perform.

In this activity you will simply need to play to the children the opening of Under Milk Wood found here:

Play it up to the end of the second paragraph which ends ‘on the one cloud of the roofs’

Now ask the children what they thought of the performance; what was good about it, what didn’t they like.

Ask them if they can tell what kind of story it might be from the sound of the narrator’s voice.

How does the narrator add to the atmosphere of the play through the pace of his delivery and the pitch of his voice?

Activity 2

Having listened to the performance of Under Milk Wood, give the pupils the extracts that accompany this activity and ask them to work in pairs to decide how they should be presented. Allow each pair a quiet area to practise their performance which they can split one between them or perform one each.

As an extension activity, you could ask them to read on and choose their own extract to practise and perform or, if the time is appropriate, they could choose an extract from Thomas’ other great work; A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

As with the Richard Burton extract, you could ask the class to offer two good comments on the performances and one suggestion on how it could be improved.

Download Activity 2 sheet

Activity 3

Dylan Thomas’ work is renowned for its imagery and the way he makes up descriptive words. Metaphor is an important part of his writing along with personification.

For this reason, Under Milk Wood is a treasure-trove of description and if you are focusing on description, it’s well worth having a treasure hunt for metaphors and personification from an extract.

First, you’ll need to remind the pupils what metaphors and personification are. For metaphors, I always use the example from The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes where he describes the moon in a cloudy sky as a ‘ghostly galleon, tossed upon stormy seas’ and then explain to the pupils that it is where one object is described by replacing it with another.

Personification is a lot easier and you simply need to explain to the pupils that it’s where an inanimate object is given the qualities of a living thing, e.g, the car’s engine coughed into life’.

Use the extract that accompanies this activity and ask the pupils to highlight all the metaphors they can find in one colour and the personification in another. There are at least six of each in the extract, depending on how far you want to stretch the imagination.

You can extend the activity by asking the pupils to draw a montage of the characters and setting as described in the extract. Whether it’s the webfoot cocklewomen or the fishingboatbobbing sea, the extract will allow the pupils to let their understanding and imagination loose whilst producing fantastic illustrations for their other work on Dylan Thomas.

Download Activity 3 sheet


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