By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience
When introducing a poem, I believe it is important that you set clear outcomes for each stage – similar to task based learning. You do not want it to turn into a poetry workshop, and the student goes away thinking “Oh that was different/interesting but what exactly did I learn?” That would be a missed opportunity, and the point is to encourage a feeling that poetry is worthwhile reading in the classroom.
Space to digest the poem
Students need to be given space to digest a poem, whether they are of a low or higher level, so give them a good ten minutes to read and re-read a poem and make notes on unknown words. Make sure they know that they are all expected to contribute to a discussion with one other student after the ten minutes, and encourage them to take notes. A clear outcome for the reading helps them to focus, as does giving them questions to think about.
Exploiting the poem at higher levels
Once they have digested the poem and spent time in pairs discussing their thoughts and opinions, depending on how long the poem is, write it on the board, and highlight features of connected speech and pronunciation. This shows that reading a poem is not only for pleasure, but can also have a practical aspect to it. Making the students memorise the poem really gets them “inside” the poem, not only mentally because they have to think about meaning, but physically because they have to keep repeating it to themselves and getting their mouths around the words. Let them memorise it in a way they feel most comfortable; mumbling to themselves, doing it in their heads, or even outside of the room. Higher levels can be given the task of writing their reflections on the poem, either in the class or for homework.
Exploiting the poem at lower levels
At lower levels, poems with strong visual imagery and very direct language are the best, as they allow you to show students images from the poem and use realia. William Carlos Williams’ famous poem This Is Just To Say is a good example. Cut up the words of the poem and in pairs see what they create with the words. This task will help them focus on meaning and form. You will also have built up anticipation for the actual poem before revealing it. Pronunciation and memorisation of poems is also beneficial at lower levels. As you are just introducing a poem to your class for the first time they do not have to be expected to produce a poem at the end of the lesson, the introduction will hopefully whet their appetites for future work.
Read Yolande’s first post in this two part poetry series.