Department of English

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University


First Day at School



Roger McGough

(November 9, 1937 – )



Waiting for the bell to go: waiting for the bell to ring; waiting for the school bell (a signal from an actual bell or an electronic recording that marks the beginning and end of the school day and of each class period in many elementary and high schools) to sound

16  lessins, lessin: misspelling of lessons and lesson, representing a childish pronunciation, understanding or imagination of lessons

19  glassrooms: mispelling, imitating the child's pronunciation of classroom

23  wellies: short informal term for wellingtons which is British English for boots





Study Questions

  • What do we know about the speaker from the poem? How? Consider the ways in which diction, grammar, simile, metaphor, imagery, and sentence structure are used to simulate the voice and perspective of a child. Why is a very young point of view—one so fresh as a first timer at school—evocative in speaking about school?

  • Why is it appropriate that wolves and monsters are mentioned as fearful threats in line 12?

  • What do "wolves and monsters" together with the action "carry off and eat children" evoke?
  • Where might the child speaker learn about not taking sweets from strangers?
  • The speaker asks, "What does a lessin look like?" You might also consider, what does a "lessin" sound like? What new connotations emerge with the simple substitution of i for the usual o?
  • Why are the made up and intentionally altered words like "millionbillionwillion," "lessin," "glassrooms," and "tea-cher" funny? Why are they not?
  • Is it surprising that of all the features of school enumerated and described, it is the teacher who is given the most positive portrayal? While school is depicted as far away, friends as large and aggressive, fences as imposing, lessons as loathsome, and classrooms as curiously exposed, the teacher is a reassuring provider of answers and comfort. Why do you think McGough structures the poem this way?

  • What has the speaker learned at school on this first day? How much of what is learned is part of the planned "lessins"?





diction; connotation, denotation
line break


rhyme scheme




free verse


Sample Student Responses to McGough's "First Day at School"

Response 1:






Student Name

2202234 Introduction to the Study of English Literature

Acharn Puckpan Tipayamontri

June 3, 2009

Reading Response 1













Response 2:

Student Name

2202234 Introduction to the Study of English Literature

Acharn Puckpan Tipayamontri

September 6, 2011

Reading Response 2



<Text of reading response>











Roger McGough



McGough, Roger. "First Day at School." All the Best: The Selected Poems of Roger McGough. Illus. Lydia Monks. London: Puffin, 2004.


Further Reading

McGough, Roger. Defying Gravity. London: Penguin, 1993. Print. (Arts PR6063.A219 M146D)

McGough, Roger. Melting into the Foreground. London: Penguin, 1987. Print. (Arts PR6063.A219 M146M)

McGough, Roger. You at the Back: Selected Poems, 1967–87. London: Puffin, 1992. Print. (Arts Stack PR6063.A276 M146Y)


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Last updated September 28, 2016