I firmly believe that an element of poetry would be useful in all general English language courses. Young learners should be exposed to poetry from the start as they can easily relate to rhyme and rhythm in a holistic, kinaesthetic way. Of course we need not wait for publishers to take over this rewarding task for us. Any course book will have lesson topics we can exploit and match up with a poem or use as a basis for writing poems.
Many teachers would agree with this but ask themselves how it can be done?
Poetry need not be obscure, ambiguous or verbose. There are so many lovely rhymes for children. For example books by Dr. Seuss “The cat in the hat” would be fantastic for young learners to read, listen to, pronounce, feel, talk about, and use for their own creations.
For example I would take many rhyming words like cat, hat, mat, bat etc., scramble them up and ask my young learners to make up their own poems with these words. The aim would not be grammatical accuracy, but creativity, expression, developing an intuitive feel for the language, brain training and fun.
The challenge lies in finding suitable poems for all levels and topics.
Sometimes young learners can make their own suggestions and create their own poetry lesson plans too.Then they can draw their poems, present them to the class – read the poems aloud and display art on the walls.
Poetry as content
Poetry as a text to be explored can fit into any unit of lessons. There are endless ways to exploit poems in ELT. We are mostly familiar with the left-brained analytical approach of just reading and working out meanings. Whilst that may be good if it suits the learners, there could be a danger of dry over-analysis, or killing a potential love of poetry. It could also put off less academically minded learners.
For me, poetry is more kinaesthetic than intellectual. I can feel it’s moods and rhythms. Words are chameleon-like shapes that we can play with and re-invent whilst giving birth to ever-changing visions of light, colour and meaning.
We must let our students play with words, sounds and feelings. The safest way to start would be to match a poem with a conventional lesson plan and use that to elicit expression from students; asking for opinions, favourite words, word association games from the poem that could eventually become a new poem….
But just as a speaking topic, listening activity, dictation, writing, even grammar – the right poem with the right class can be magical.
Poetry as a collaborative process via social media.
It’s important that we give students space to write autonomously. We should take a back seat in the creative process and allow students to get into the zone and find their own magic.
The link above is an electronic poster of a collaborative poem written on facebook via open chat. It is an example of ‘stream of consciousness’ at it’s best. The only objective was spontaneous fun and the outcome amazed all concerned. It was a lovely experiment in cementing linguistic bonds in a global community of English lovers.
We can engage in open-ended collaborative poetry writing in class, private one-to -one lessons, or even in a blended learning context using skype in the classroom to collaborate with schools all over the world, or fully online as I descibe in my Edupunk page.
It would also be nice for different schools in the same city to collaborate like that. Even better, it could be used as a way to promote peace. For example in Ireland, we’ve had cross-border exchange programmes for years where children from the republic went to the North of Ireland and vice versa to share ideas across the political divide and break down social barriers.
Now it could be done online with collaborative poetry, as well as many other interactive project work.