Teaching English using poetry.

Using poems in class

Any authentic material exposes students to some ‘real English’ and can be very motivating for your students, provided they are supported throughout the task. The other great thing about poems is for students to have the opportunity to see the language work creatively and freely. Poems can be used in many different ways and the more you use them the more uses you’ll find for them. Source: BBC using poetry. 

Where to find poems to use in class?

PoemHunter is a search engine (and more) for finding poems, lyrics, and quotations. Know only part of a poem or quotation? Type it in the search box to find the entire original source. Choose from hot poems or specific topics on the home page. View and explore the top 500 poets and/or the top 500 poems. Read the Poem of the Day that includes three poems: one classic, one modern, and one viewer submitted. Source: TeahcerFirstReview. 

What activities can I do with a poem?

Introduce a topic

Poems can be a really nice way into a topic. Why not start by choosing from this list:

    1. friend poems,
    2. lonely poems
    3. loss poems
    4. lost poems
    5. love poems
    6. memory poems
    7. money poems
    8. music poems
    9. nature poems
    10. night poems
    11. power poems
    12. rain poems
    13. school poem

 Read a poem at the beginning of each class

Divide the students into groups with the task of finding a poem for the week or day. Look at ideas here:

This idea is from The New York times in this article about how when the National desk gets together to discuss stories, it can be a grim half-hour. We dissect natural disasters. We reconstruct mass shootings. We delve into political scandals and all manner of domestic tumult. Recently, though, we added a new feature to our morning meetings aimed at inspiring us and boosting our creativity before we embark on another long day of editing the news.

See examples of poems they used here:

An eagle and a squirrel. A bull and a sage.
All take two hands, even the sheep
whose mouth is a lever for nothing, neither
grass nor complaint. The black swan’s
mostly one long arm, bent
at the elbow but there’s always feathers
to fool with.

“The magic of poetry,” Morrigan remarked, “is that it jolts your mind into thinking about a subject or theme in an unexpected way. That’s exactly what we want to be doing on the National desk: looking every day for smart and interesting ways to tackle the most important stories in this country.”

 Harlem through Langston Hughes’s poem by that name:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore —
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over —
like a syrupy sweet?

To leaven the mood on a Friday, Julie Bloom, a deputy National editor, read a poem about a runaway bagel (“The Bagel,” by David Ignatow):

Faster and faster it rolled,
with me running after it
bent low, gritting my teeth,
and I found myself doubled over
and rolling down the street
head over heels, one complete somersault
after another like a bagel
and strangely happy with myself.

Famous Poets

Why not choose from a list of famous poets. Let the student find a name they know and explore some of their poems.

When you have chosen a suitable poem for your class, copy it onto a worksheet and cut up the verses. If the poem tells a story and the order is logical, ask students to read the verses and put them into the correct order. If the order isn’t obvious, you can read out the poem and they can listen and put it into order as you read. From here you can go onto to look at the vocabulary, the rhyming words or to talking about the meaning of the poem.

Rhyming words

Obviously, some poems lend themselves well to looking at pronunciation. Whether you want to focus on individual sounds, rhyming pairs, connected speech or intonation patterns, poems can be a great way into it. Getting students to read out chunks of a poem as they copy the way you say it can be excellent practice for their pronunciation.

Learn a verse

Once you have chosen the poem and have worked with it with your class, encourage the students to learn one verse by heart.

Record the students

Getting students to record themselves saying a poem can be a nice way to help them improve their pronunciation. You could put students into pairs or small groups and get each student to read out aloud one of the verses of the poem. Then listen back to it in the class.

Write a new verse

If you are teaching higher levels you could ask the students to create a new verse for the poem or to change one of the existing verses. This would be a challenging activity for most students so make sure you offer ideas and help to support students through the task. Be ready to give an example verse to show them that it’s do-able!


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