Pondering: Poetry for ESL


July 5, 2013 by k. liz

I don’t have a clear stance on this yet, but I am starting to experiment with using poetry in order to help develop fluency and pronunciation with my speaking students. As I was looking around for some poems to use with my students, a couple of warnings popped up:

  • be careful for very confusing poems, or poems that aren’t easily interpreted
  • be careful for poems with obscure grammar

What about when you are looking for a poem, what should you look for?

  • look for one with some good, concrete nouns so that the student will be able to conjure up images to help give meaning to the poem
  • look for poems that the students will be able to expand a little, or that at least pose a question or problem for them to talk about: the more that they talk about it, the more it will solidify in their minds
  • try to find a poem that has a correlating youtube video as the student will then be able to hear the poem multiple times, as well as recite it along with the speaker

It’s up to you as the teacher whether or not you are going to encourage your students to memorize the poem. Of course students will most likely balk at this, so perhaps you should break it into attainable chunks. However, I do think that there will be lasting benefits to memorizing a poem in the target language as it improves fluency and pronunciation, and it will aid in chunking language which will hopefully reduce their need to translate word by word when they are speaking.

So . . . that’s all great, right? Well, I have two great poems for lessons for you: one for an adult, and one for a young learner.

You Want a Social Life . . . for adults

I was discussing with my adult speaking student the topic of art. We talked about different forms of art, her favorite kind of art, why it was important, etc. I decided to address the issue of poetry as art. She doesn’t like poetry, but we worked through this poem: You Want a Social Life together, and she understood the topic easily. We started with the vocabulary at the bottom of this handout, and then we read the poem together, interpreting as we went. After we finished reading, we talked about the ideas, and I asked her if she agreed or disagreed. Then, I asked her which two things she would choose for her own life. We only spent about 10-15 minutes on this poem, and I finished it with watching this youtube video:

If the student is interested in poetry, and you regularly assign homework. I would suggest having them listen to the poem and try to read along (shadow reading) once a day. I think that this will lead to memorization and will improve their speed and pronunciation.

Eight Balloons . . . for YLs

I LOVE Shel Silverstein! I came across his website the other day looking for good poems to use with my YLs. Silverstein’s poems are amazing, but a lot of them are quite difficult for my student. Then, I found the Eight Balloons handout and activity. This is a beautiful little drawing activity book with a cute and simple poem that children like. The story is about 8 balloons that got free one day and where they all went to POP! Before we started, I gave my student a little quiz. I gave him the words: sun, highway, cactus, child, bacon frying, porcupine, crocodile, and chair. I had him draw a picture of each word as I said it. If he didn’t know, we did a little internet exploration to find the meaning. Then, I read the poem to him first. He read the poem to me second. We watched it on youtube, he started to illustrate the booklet, we read it together. His homework was to read it out loud once a day for the next week. I found two great videos for this. One is the actual book that Shel Silverstein wrote and narrated. The second is an animation that makes the story very interactive.

Do you like to use poetry in your classroom? What are your favorite poems for ESL lessons?


3 thoughts on “Pondering: Poetry for ESL

  1. I love the eight balloons lesson idea! Thanks for sharing! I will definitely use the videos and activity with my little ones in the new term.
    Here are some of my lesson ideas if they are useful? http://directorschair.es

  2. watch online says:

    I love the eight balloons lesson idea! Thanks for sharing!

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