10 Ways To Use Poetry for English Language Teaching Online

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This is in celebration of National Poetry Month and springtime. My daffodil image is in honour of one of the first poems I learnt as a child called ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud‘. We are, perhaps, less lonely here in our cyber-cloud online, which just serves to enhance our ability to appreciate poetry in the modern age.

Today I will share some experiences, resources, and ideas about teaching with poetry. I see poetry in everything, but this is not just a fanciful mindset. My main aim is to show that poetry is a practical tool for language learners and not just literature students. You will also see how online environments can enhance the learner experience, mainly through socializing naturally and collaborating in a focused way.

1. Social Networks and Poetry Groups

When I first decided to teach online in 2010, I made facebook a place to build up my online presence. It also became my place to interact with global students, collaborate with other teachers, and experiment with creative possibilities. One such community we built was called Global English Forum, where a number of teachers interacted with active students on group walls. It was a wonderful experience because there were no rules. Students said and did what they wanted. It was all about natural interaction. What transpired surprised everybody. As a few colleagues and myself shared some ideas or poetry in the group, students became inspired to write their own poetry. We tried all kinds of fun ideas. The most popular one was acrostic poetry. All credit goes to my English speaking colleagues for coming up with great ideas and our English Language Learners who took it all to new heights. The spontaneously ignited acrostic poem frenzy led to hundreds of poems being written on facebook by global students. Many of the poems were archived, some students had huge ‘growth spurts’ linguistically speaking, and set up websites, separate poetry pages, and you tube channels. One such language learner will be featured here today.

We tried acrostic poetry, topic-based free form poetry, and shared ideas on using limericks or Haiku poetry. We also used quotes from famous poets to carry on discussions about life. Teachers from around the world started taking our experiments and ideas into their own classrooms.

This kind of synergy spread like wild fire and literally changed the way our language learners could experience English. It seems that the experiment itself begs a question. How can social networks or other collaborative venues can be exploited to fulfil the focused objectives of standard curricula and exam-based courses?

As this work was all voluntary, it cannot be seen as sustainable in the long-term. I moved my experiments to the WizIQ platform and filled up my online teaching programme. There was less time for facebook, but the ripple effects of student/teacher interaction are still evident. If volunteer teachers can do this online, it seems obvious that classroom teachers should also try to engage their students through social networks, using tools that students love. There is much talk of how distracted students are in class; distracted by their smart phones and the internet in class. More and more educators are saying that we’ve got to tap into the ways of our digital learners.

2. Students Teaching Grammar Through Poetry?
Here is an exceptional example of a language learner’s poem. She was writing from the heart and was obviously not trying to practice grammar( I think). But what language teacher would read this poem and not be blown away by the beautiful expression of ‘deduction’.

(Must have /deduction and use of modal verbs in the past).

Even daring to pick this poem apart in grammatical terms feels wrong to me, but the bigger picture lies in seeing how beautiful it would be to teach English in this natural context. Just discussing this poem would be a very enriching activity for students. They would have to guess what the story is behind the story, using more modal verbs (may,might,could), of course, before trying to write their own poems.

This poem was written by Assia Yahyoui from Tunisia, a former computer programming student who fell in love with English poetry on facebook. Assia was one of the most active students in Global English Forum and learnt to excel in English through her interactions in the group. She continues to be an inspiration to teachers and learners everywhere.

Between Us

I must have hurt you. by my arrogance..
and you must have forgiven me by your patience..
I must have killed you by my silence..
and you must have overcome me by your brilliance..

You must have enjoyed my company at distance..
and I must have annoyed you by my prudence..
You must have showered me with your joyance..
and I must have ignored it with no conscience..

I must have charmed you by my presence..
and you must have fallen into the trap at once..
and you must have thought I am a guidance..
while I am nothing but .a hindrance..

You must have thought of vengence..
and I must have felt a deep grievance
and I must have admitted being a nuisance
while you still insist I am a pleasance..

Although it is important to have focused programmes for our students, they will never feel comfortable with the language unless they can speak freely and tap into their own creative thoughts, feelings and impressions.

While we are on the topic of grammar poetry, here’s a wonderful poetry blog by David ddeubels who says….

My favourite way to use poetry is with grammar poems which are a guided writing activity that produces a powerful language poem.”

3. Live online poetry classes

In collaboration with Edupunk I held weekly public classes on WizIQ . These classes were about learning through fun and creativity. Many of my classes involved collaborative poetry writing. I did this with comic visuals and song lyrics. The result was that whatever was happening on facebook walls could happen with even more excitement in the live online classroom. Firstly, the public classes attracted people from facebook or others from around the world, so it was always a case of global strangers meeting virtually through video/voice and chat. I saw that anyone could write a poem in my classroom, and that everybody enjoyed collaboration. As the classes were driven by student interaction and sharing, there was no room for boredom, but much room for creativity. The students were almost always surprised by their own ability to play with language. Many had never written poems before.

4. Teaching English Through Limerick Poetry
I also began to create e-learning poetry lessons on interactive posters. I embedded videos onto the posters, which could also be uploaded onto you tube. I wrote Limerick poems specifically to demonstrate and explain phrasal verbs. What I had was video, a poem, phrasal verbs and images clarifying vocabulary and other concepts all over the posters. I shared these on facebook, of course, and many teachers were inspired to comment , share or try using limericks in their own classes. Here is an example from students of Maria Alejandra Pinardi, an English teacher from Argentina.

“The school had a project named Live with Happiness and the English Department worked around this project. We gave the name Teaching and Learning with Happiness, and limericks were THE poems to deal with.The name of the teacher who was in charge of the group working with limericks is Elisa Fernandes. I showed her your prezi on limericks and we worked on this project together. I was a big project of the whole English department, which combined your materials together with Jason´s raps. It was really wonderful.”

Maria says:

“Our students were 16 year old students at secondary school. level: intermediate. At a teacher meeting we agreed to make students work with limericks, rap, improvisation. We divided the work. I was in charge of rap and improvisation and used Jason´s RAP material and another teacher used limericks. Students worked on this at their Spanish and literature classes and we dealt with it in English. As regards the work on limericks, students were exposed to various limericks in English and were explained about the metrics, rhyme and humorous style. And in groups, they set on writing. At first they thought it was going to be easy but soon they realised it was not, since they had to pay attention to metrics and rhyme. But they could write them! And they displayed them at the school exhibition.”

5. Exploiting Classic Literature.

It is wonderful to write your own poems, and even better to have students write poems. But that is not all we can do. Creating lessons from the works of the great bards such as Shakepeare is a very inspiring and worthwhile pursuit. Here is an example of a great lesson plan by Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat. This was very popular on the Teaching English/British Council facebook page. Shanthi found ‘archaic’ expressions used by Shakespeare in his poetry and showed how they are still part of our language and how they are used by native speakers. A lesson in practical English, colloquialisms, culture and literature.

6. Special Poetry Website with Lessons
Word powered is my dream poetry website for English Language Teachers. It incorporates everything I’ve already mentioned in some shape or form. This is actually a recent discovery of mine and I can see how the resources here will make it easy for any teachers to get creative and have fun with students in the virtual classroom and/or breakout rooms. I featured BritLit in a previous article and word powered is a sister site. If you are looking for a new tool to teach language, then literature and poetry may be your answer. This site has it all. How about blending film with poetry to increase student engagement? I see these ideas as launching pads for many more ideas with regard to learning language through literature. Teachers and students can become members of wordpowered and submit their own poems and videos.

7. Picture Poems

I copied this picture poem from Andrew Finches document, which I found when researching some links from this article. Think of the picture poems that could be created online by students and teachers. They could be typed in fancy formats or dragged around to make shapes using tools such as Prezi and word cloud tools. The visual element is very special and gets writers thinking more holistically. See Andrew’s pdf. document for more examples and explanations.

8. Acrostic Poetry
We the community
Inspire creativity
Zoom in on technology
Integrate new activities
Question strange normalityy

For me, acrostic poetry has the added attraction of being both simple and complex at the same time. Firstly you don’t need any special resources to do this. Secondly, The structure of the acrostic poem focuses the mind and frees it at the same time. It’s a whole -brain workout.It’s perfect for exploring topics because the body of the poem becomes the topic. So, If I were covering a particular topic such as education with the English Out There courses, I could get students to practice new words or ideas by writing acrostic poems. It’s also kind of like mind-mapping as the root word spawns more and more thoughts from the sub-conscious mind. If you asked a class to write an acrostic poem with the word HAPPY – how different and unique would each poem be? It reminds me of an example from Tony Buzon’s mind-mapping book where each person’s map of this word deviated considerable from those of the others.

9. Pattern Poems

Pattern poems are something that I like to use with my children, though recently I have begun entertaining many ideas for using them in a professional context.

Here’s an example of a poem demonstrating noun patterns.

The WizIQ location
In a Cyber-Space Station
Attracts a global population
To its classroom conversations
They dig the reputation
Of teacher-inspiration
And come in desperation
For the neuron-lift vibration
and now we’ve got the RAP sensation
Of Fluency MC and his ESLebration.

10 Rap Poetry & our Fluency Ambassador

Last, but not least is the poetic justice of having a RAP Poet as our newly-appointed WizIQ ambassador. Jason R.Levine has gone further than anyone else I know in using rhyme and rhythm to help student relax, repeat and remember. His trade mark and method revolve around ‘Collos’, which mean collocations. Although he emphasizes specific learning objectives in his educational RAPS, I sense and feel the poetry in his work, whether it’s lexical or just in the rhyme. I was following Fluency MC’s work on you tube two years before I met him on facebook. I interviewed him in 2011 and a lot has happened since then. His use of rhyme is now legendary and unquestionably both fun and effective. In the context of this kind of leadership now on WizIQ, I believe that my article on poetry in ELT is all the more poignant.

I began this article by saying that I ‘see’ poetry in everything. Musicians are often the greatest poets we can find. I also find rock music with creative lyrics to be wonderful for teaching, which reminds me of my Pink Floyd series on Edupunk. This is something that I also hope to develop more.

Needless to say, I recommend trying Fluency MC’s music for the best in ELT poetry, music, rhyme and rhythm. His activity workbooks also give instructions for having students write their own raps, and his Weekly English Workout is the place to meet him online.

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is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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