Do you include poetry in your ESL classes? If you do, you know that working with verse is both a challenge and a joy for English language learners. If you do not, you may want to give it a try. These activities are fun based learning that use poetry to further language learning for your ESL classes. Give them a try and your day is sure to end with a smile!
Try These Amusing Poetry Activities in Your ESL Classroom
Many poems follow a specific rhyming pattern. The rhymes most often come at the end of each line, and a poet can achieve different patterns of rhyme by rhyming different sets of lines. For example, a poet might describe a simple rhyming pattern as AA, BB, CC in which A and A are two lines that rhyme one way. B and B are two more lines that rhyme another way, and C and C are two more lines with their own unique rhyme. Other patterns that rhyming follows are ABCB or AABBA. There are seemingly limitless ways to rhyme the lines of a poem. You can start this activity by giving your students some examples of different rhyming patterns in poetry. If you are able to get a copy of Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic, you can find several useful examples. Start with “Stop Thief!” which follows the AABB pattern. “How Many, How Much” follows the ABCB pattern, and the smile worthy “The Dragon of Grindly Grun” is a great example of AABA. Read these poems with your class, reviewing any unfamiliar vocabulary, and point out how each follows a rhyme scheme.
With all of that in mind, give small groups of your students 4 words to rhyme. You can choose any words you like, tying in a current vocabulary word perhaps, or use the following: spy, shack, blue and bill. Now your groups should compile a list of all the words they can think of that rhyme with the given words. Challenge your students to see which group can come up with the largest list for each word; then compare lists and put them all together to make an all-inclusive list. Using one list of words, then, challenge each person to write one sentence using as many words from the list as possible. For example, someone might write, “I dye flies with lye.” Then move on to a new list and a new sentence. Repeat with each of the four lists. For the person able to include the most rhyming words in one sentence, award a rhyming prize, a can of green beans, perhaps.
Rewrite a poem
Part of poetry is creative use or words in a way which gets a message through to the reader. Poets are not limited by grammatical rules as other writers are. For this reason, you should point out to your class when a poet chooses to break grammatical convention for the sake of rhythm, rhyme or impact. Explain to your class that this is called poetic license. Though not something that you would teach your class during a grammar lesson, encourage your students to be creative with the way they arrange words and communicate a message through verse. Do this by challenging your students to rewrite a professional poem.
Start by giving your students a collection of words to use for their poem. To do this, choose a favorite poem from the collection of Shel Silverstein, William Cole or another favorite poet or someone you have read in class and type them in random order into a table in your word processing program. Make sure you do not copy them in the order in which they appear in the poem. Then, make copies of the table for each of your students and have them cut apart the words to make small slips of paper each with one word on it. (These small slips of paper will resemble the pieces from a set of “Magnetic Poetry” (see ‘Celebrate Poetry – 10 Fun Activities You Can Use When Teaching Verse’) if you are familiar with that great word use activity.) Challenge your class members to arrange the words in any order they would like to create their own poem. Your students can use the small slips of paper to shift and rearrange the words until they are happy with the final version. Each person should try to include all of the words and only those words in his poem. Then have your students copy their final versions onto pieces of paper. Have your students compare what they have written with what their classmates have written pointing out that words can be arranged in many different ways. Once your students have had adequate time to share, give each person a copy of the original poem and see how the poet arranged those same words into his or her piece. Encourage your students to talk about how their poems are similar to and different from the original. Which do they prefer? Why?
Some poems work more with the look of the words on the page than with rhymes or rhythm. The term “concrete poem” is used to identify this visual arrangement of words on a page to convey a meaning. If you do an image search in Google of concrete poem, you will see many examples which you can print and show your students. Raindrop is a good example to show your students. The words about raindrops are arranged in the shape of a raindrop. Your students can write concrete poems, too, and it does not have to take a lot of effort. Simply print off a black and white picture for your students of some animals (coloring pages work well for this) and let them choose which one they would like to write about. Then each person should use Raindrop as an example and write his or her poem within the outline of the animal. If you like, you can have your students cut out their poem (minus the original outline of the animal) and see what their concrete poem would look like as a standalone piece. You should display these pieces on a bulletin board with a title like “Picture This” at the top. Encourage your students to read their classmates’ poems and give feedback.
Poetry is a useful element in the ESL classroom, and the more fun your activities the more likely your students are to develop a love for verse.
The next rainy day you are looking for something creative to do, try your hand at some poetry and watch your students’ imaginations flourish!
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