Andrew Wright and Julia Dudas

Penny Ur and Andrew Wright, Five Minute Activities (page 74) published by Cambridge University Press.
Andrew Wright, David Betteridge and Michael Buckby, Games for Language Learning (Third Edition) (pages 70-71, 168-170). Cambridge University Press.

What is poetry?

Any rich use of words to express an idea…rhyming is only one way of using language richly.

Why poetry?

The intelligence of some students comes to life when they can enjoy the sound of words. Poetry makes language memorable.

Which proficiency level?

Students can play with words from their first few weeks of learning.

Publish and perform

The students create something…let them publish it or perform it for other students in the class, for the school, for a parents evening, in book form, on a poster, on a website.

Some ways of getting poetry writing going

  • Sts can write the poems themselves
  • Sts can write in pairs cooperating
  • Sts can write in pairs passing a growing poem from one to the other to add a line
  • Sts can pass a poem along a line of sts
  • A poem can be on a poster on the wall and added to by any sts.

1 Food poem

Brainstorm all the words for food you (the sts) know. Which is your favourite? Say it and revel in its sound as you might revel in its taste: fish…chips…soup…
Then select from the words those whose sounds and rhythms go together…repeat…isolate…list…develop a sound poem. Revel in its sounds, rhythms and pace.
Fish and chips
Fish and chips
The savoured sound of a single word is already part of the world of poetry. Putting two words together can be a play of sounds but it can also be a play of meanings. The two words for Mrs Thatcher, ‘iron lady’ are still remembered decades after they were given to her.
Some beginners will enjoy playing with words both in form and in meaning…that is part of the world of poetry.

2 Change a poem

Add, remove, substitute words to change the sense of an existing poem.
Flexible for beginners and advanced.
An ancient technique. As creative as the student wants to make it…or as you determine.

Substitute the words in italic:
One black night
After mum turned off the light
I saw a pink dwarf
But the pink dwarf
Didnt frighten me.
(I am sorry but I cant remember where this example came from. If anybody knows please tell me)

3 Gapped poems

Single words missing….you might give them in a list.
Gets the students thinking about poetry.

4 Jumbled poems

2 or 3 poems jumbled together … sorting them out and sequencing each of them.
Although this is not creating new poems there is an element of creative as well as intellectual involvement and it helps to get the student into a ‘poem writing frame of mind’.

5 Repeating pattern poems

One of the best known techniques in ELT.
It is a very good way of practising grammatical points with creativity.
The repetitive element is one way in which it enters the family of poetry.
If you were a scarlet rose you would be in my room
If you were an orange you would be in my mouth
She is …….x 5 lines
Who is she? She is my ….
(Sorry! I can’t remember where these examples came from. If anybody can tell me then please do.)

6 Frame poems

First and last line…perhaps alternative lines given…perhaps half lines.
This example is from Andreas Lund:
Write a 5 line poem
First line: a noun
Second line: 2 adjectives joined by and to describe the noun
Third line: verb and adverb to describe this noun in action
Fourth: begin with like or as followed by a comparison
Fifth: start with if only followed by a wish
Example of a poem from Sven Gruner:
phoney and false
lying desperately
like a mocking bird
if only I had the key to the bird cage
Another example:
Have you ever seen
Have you ever heard
Have you ever…

7 Format poems
In which the syllables (Haiku) or the visual shape are given.
The format acts as a restriction and a stimulus. On the other hand, any specified technique or format can become more important than trying to get the ideas right…the tail can wag the dog. Rhyming is a good case in point.
Haiku poems are normally written in 3 lines of 5,7 and 5 syllables…but it is sensible to be more relaxed the first time the sts try haiku writing and you can suggest they simply write three short lines with the last line the shortest, based on a very particular experience or observation.

These morning airs
One can see them stirring
Caterpillar hairs.
Buson 18th century

Shadows creep across the wall.
I sit up in bed
too afraid to scream.
Anna aged 8

9 Poems from experience and ideas

Bubble, cluster, flowchart, memories, ideas, feelings related to a past experience of one in the class eg a picture, a story, an article, a stone.
Michael Rosen works in England and tries to help children to use their daily language to make poems. He asks them:
What can you see/hear/feel/smell/taste?
What are people saying/thinking/feeling?
He sets them themes which are from a child’s daily life and do not seem poetic:
Boasting/ parents warnings/ parents arguing/what bullies say
Your mum asks you to tidy your room
You’re being teased.
These themes can be applied to a format poem but I believe it is better not to risk letting the format dominate the meaning.

10 Publishing and performing poetry

Why publish and perform?
Many students like to do so and it is a wonderful way of making their work in the English lesson into something bigger than just improving their language competence and giving you something to mark in the middle of the night.
Furthermore the students are usually desperate to do their best and get it all right!
Furthermore, publishing and performing can be very good for parents’ evenings and endear the school director to your department.
Publish through print in booklets, postcards and posters or publish on web and blog sites.
Perform normally in groups…using one or more voices for different parts of the poem.

Books with more ideas for writing poetry with limited language
Maley and Duff. Inward Ear. CUP
Spiro. Creative Poetry Writing. OUP
Holmes and Moulton. Writing Simple Poems. CUP

For more information
Andrew Wright


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