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Teaching Poetry to ESL Students in Taiwan

2005/12/26作者/Erin King
Introducing poetry to children
 
  I have been teaching children English in Taiwan for about six years now. I arrived from Canada with an idea of teaching children different styles of written art, mainly poetry. Upon arrival, I noticed that most cram schools and grade schools didn't really offer much poetry within their curriculums. In many ways, this was a good opportunity for me to experiment with broadening school curriculums, by trying to integrate poetry into my lessons. What I found was amazing. I began by introducing simple poetry patterns such as:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
The moon is bright
And so are you


  Students took to it immediately! I chose this particular poetry pattern because many ESL students seem to be familiar with it from nursery rhymes, and most importantly, from its musical rhythm that has been emulated again and again in children's literature.

First lessons
 
  To begin, it is always good to provide several examples of this kind of poem before allowing students to create one by themselves. Have your students follow you in the reading so that they get a sense of the similar rhythm in each poem. Next, I would write the "Roses are Red" poem on the whiteboard and erase the nouns, adjectives and colors from the poem. Then I would ask the students to fill in the blanks with their own rhyming words. For example, one student began with:

Taxis are yellow
Trucks are blue…etc.

  Another poem structure I found to be very useful and easy to convey was the classical Limerick poem. For example,

There once was a man named Sue (7)
Who hated his name like the flu (8)
When he told his old Dad (6)
That he surely was mad (6)
For giving a boy the name Sue (8)

*( ) The numbers in the brackets correspond to the number of syllables in each line.

  Basically, a limerick is a 5-lined poem with one couplet and one triplet. A couplet is a 2-lined poem and a triplet is a 3-lined poem. The rhyming pattern is AABBA with lines 1, 2, and 5 containing 3 beats and rhyming, and lines 3 and 4 having 2 beats and rhyming. Limericks are supposed to be funny.

  Now, perhaps you are thinking that this particular poem would be quite hard for young students to understand, but that's not at all what I found. The limerick, as well as the 'roses are red' structure, can be found again and again in Children's Literature, and in familiar songs. Chances are, they have already heard these rhythms several times.

  Anyways, to teach a limerick it is important to have students recognize the rhythm and syllabic structure of the poem. Have your students start with clapping out the 'beat' of a limerick poem, so that they can get used to the rhythm. Next, get your students to think of some funny names and places. Then you can follow the lesson above, asking students to fill in the blanks with their own names and places.

  Soon, my students were craving to learn different, even more complex patterns of poetry. Did I mention that this was a class of ten year olds? Many of these students had only been studying English for two or three years, but as I said before most of these common rhythms can be found in any language. These rhythms have been commonly used for many years.
 
Poetry as way to review past lessons

  A lot of teachers play games with their classes to review material. This is a good tool; however, some students come to expect each lesson to end with a game, and that can limit the range of activities taught within a class. Using the same method I have just described, try to get the students to create poems using recently learned vocabulary. Not only are your students going to remember more of the material you have taught them, but by creating poetry they are using this new material in their everyday lives. Another useful method for review is to quiz students on past lessons with some tricky rhyming questions. For example, after teaching a class about various jungle animals I asked my students,

"I've got spots like a leopard,
but I'm skinny and tall.
I am the fastest cat of all.
What am I?"

 
  Most of my students got the answer easily, and we had more fun making the review creative and almost musical.
 
Keeping your students interested 

  What I have always felt about teaching is that students learn best when they are tricked into learning something. Most students are automatically turned off by anything called "work". Most teachers who are helping students with their writing skills surely know this. I have always found that any subject can be fun, so long as it is introduced in a fun and non-threatening way. ESL students in Taiwan are often forced to do a lot of memorization, yet many teachers fail to give students a chance to form their own opinions about different things. This is why teaching poetry can be a very useful tool in class. Students learn, have more fun, and often remember a lot more from the lesson, than from simply reading and repeating, over and over again.
 
Writing poetry is a good writing exercise 

  Poetry is a written art form based on individual expression. There is no right or wrong way to write poetry, which happens to be the main point of this article. Young students need activities that will encourage freethinking, while teaching them important grammar and writing skills, at the same time. Students are often discouraged when their writing assignments come back covered in red ink. In a poetry lesson students are made to feel safe within their own imaginations. They learn new ways to express their ideas, and more often that not, they will challenge themselves to explore deeper into their themes. This skill is paramount for any writer trying to be thorough, thoughtful, and creative.

  There are many different kinds of poems, some simple and some very complicated. There are short riddles, songs, story poems, food recipes, magic spells, and there are also complex structures as can be seen in the works of William Shakespeare. In introducing poetry to students, I recommend that the teacher choose only the simplest structures available. Even when I taught some adult classes about poetry, I used only children's poems, as I did not want to confuse or intimidate my students. Keep it fun!
 
Putting ideas together 

  Teaching poetry to children can also be a form of 'brainstorming' ideas. Brainstorming is a writer's exercise used to stimulate ideas and link themes. It could be considered the skeleton of any written work, be it a novel or an essay. Since most of these simple poems are only a few lines long, each line could be considered a different theme, in itself.

  It can be as simple as asking students how they feel about something. For example, I asked one student, a Taiwanese girl of ten, how she felt about ice cream. I asked her to use a "five senses" poem, and this is what she came up with.

Ice cream tastes like clouds
Ice cream looks like a pillow
Ice cream smells like summer
Ice cream sounds like a cool breeze
Ice cream feels great

 
  Not only was her poem creative, but it also would help her in the future to write more detailed short stories.

  As I have already mentioned, poetry is not taught very much in the school systems here in Taiwan. That does not mean that the teacher should try to make it a major subject, such as science or math. However, when using English textbooks in class, such as Let's Go, a teacher can use poetry as a teaching tool and as a supplement to lessons.
 
Lesson plans 

  Here is an example of a teaching plan I used for a class of ten eight year olds in their third year of English study:

● 5 minutes---discuss the idea of rhyming words with your students. 
 Introduce the word "poem". Show students photos, drawings,
 flashcards, whatever you have available to stimulate
 their imaginations

● 10-15 minutes---read some poems that you prepared out loud to
 the class. Have the students clap out the rhythms. Read the poem    
 again, this time have students repeat each line after you. Have the
 students clap out the poem again. Finally, let them read it out
 loud, without your help. Make sure to have at least three poems
 written in the structure you are teaching that day.

● 10 minutes---write a poem on the whiteboard with some of the nouns,
 verbs or adjectives missing. Ask students brainstorm new
 themes, funny places and names. Then ask the students to fill in the
 blanks with new words. Make it a team effort. Keep it fun!

● 10-20 minutes---finally, give students a blank sheet of paper and let
 them try to make a poem of their own.

In conclusion
 
  If you are a teacher, and you are seriously looking for new ways to get your students interested in writing, then I strongly suggest that you consider trying poetry. A good lesson can be as fun and easy as finding one good poem to teach them. You will be so surprised at how much students can learn by creating their own poems.
 
Appendix
 
Here are some references available on the market:
 

Introducing poetry to children
 
  I have been teaching children English in Taiwan for about six years now. I arrived from Canada with an idea of teaching children different styles of written art, mainly poetry. Upon arrival, I noticed that most cram schools and grade schools didn't really offer much poetry within their curriculums. In many ways, this was a good opportunity for me to experiment with broadening school curriculums, by trying to integrate poetry into my lessons. What I found was amazing. I began by introducing simple poetry patterns such as:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
The moon is bright
And so are you


  Students took to it immediately! I chose this particular poetry pattern because many ESL students seem to be familiar with it from nursery rhymes, and most importantly, from its musical rhythm that has been emulated again and again in children's literature.

First lessons
 
  To begin, it is always good to provide several examples of this kind of poem before allowing students to create one by themselves. Have your students follow you in the reading so that they get a sense of the similar rhythm in each poem. Next, I would write the "Roses are Red" poem on the whiteboard and erase the nouns, adjectives and colors from the poem. Then I would ask the students to fill in the blanks with their own rhyming words. For example, one student began with:

Taxis are yellow
Trucks are blue…etc.

  Another poem structure I found to be very useful and easy to convey was the classical Limerick poem. For example,

There once was a man named Sue (7)
Who hated his name like the flu (8)
When he told his old Dad (6)
That he surely was mad (6)
For giving a boy the name Sue (8)

*( ) The numbers in the brackets correspond to the number of syllables in each line.

  Basically, a limerick is a 5-lined poem with one couplet and one triplet. A couplet is a 2-lined poem and a triplet is a 3-lined poem. The rhyming pattern is AABBA with lines 1, 2, and 5 containing 3 beats and rhyming, and lines 3 and 4 having 2 beats and rhyming. Limericks are supposed to be funny.

  Now, perhaps you are thinking that this particular poem would be quite hard for young students to understand, but that's not at all what I found. The limerick, as well as the 'roses are red' structure, can be found again and again in Children's Literature, and in familiar songs. Chances are, they have already heard these rhythms several times.

  Anyways, to teach a limerick it is important to have students recognize the rhythm and syllabic structure of the poem. Have your students start with clapping out the 'beat' of a limerick poem, so that they can get used to the rhythm. Next, get your students to think of some funny names and places. Then you can follow the lesson above, asking students to fill in the blanks with their own names and places.

  Soon, my students were craving to learn different, even more complex patterns of poetry. Did I mention that this was a class of ten year olds? Many of these students had only been studying English for two or three years, but as I said before most of these common rhythms can be found in any language. These rhythms have been commonly used for many years.
 
Poetry as way to review past lessons

  A lot of teachers play games with their classes to review material. This is a good tool; however, some students come to expect each lesson to end with a game, and that can limit the range of activities taught within a class. Using the same method I have just described, try to get the students to create poems using recently learned vocabulary. Not only are your students going to remember more of the material you have taught them, but by creating poetry they are using this new material in their everyday lives. Another useful method for review is to quiz students on past lessons with some tricky rhyming questions. For example, after teaching a class about various jungle animals I asked my students,

"I've got spots like a leopard,
but I'm skinny and tall.
I am the fastest cat of all.
What am I?"

 
  Most of my students got the answer easily, and we had more fun making the review creative and almost musical.
 
Keeping your students interested 

  What I have always felt about teaching is that students learn best when they are tricked into learning something. Most students are automatically turned off by anything called "work". Most teachers who are helping students with their writing skills surely know this. I have always found that any subject can be fun, so long as it is introduced in a fun and non-threatening way. ESL students in Taiwan are often forced to do a lot of memorization, yet many teachers fail to give students a chance to form their own opinions about different things. This is why teaching poetry can be a very useful tool in class. Students learn, have more fun, and often remember a lot more from the lesson, than from simply reading and repeating, over and over again.
 
Writing poetry is a good writing exercise 

  Poetry is a written art form based on individual expression. There is no right or wrong way to write poetry, which happens to be the main point of this article. Young students need activities that will encourage freethinking, while teaching them important grammar and writing skills, at the same time. Students are often discouraged when their writing assignments come back covered in red ink. In a poetry lesson students are made to feel safe within their own imaginations. They learn new ways to express their ideas, and more often that not, they will challenge themselves to explore deeper into their themes. This skill is paramount for any writer trying to be thorough, thoughtful, and creative.

  There are many different kinds of poems, some simple and some very complicated. There are short riddles, songs, story poems, food recipes, magic spells, and there are also complex structures as can be seen in the works of William Shakespeare. In introducing poetry to students, I recommend that the teacher choose only the simplest structures available. Even when I taught some adult classes about poetry, I used only children's poems, as I did not want to confuse or intimidate my students. Keep it fun!
 
Putting ideas together 

  Teaching poetry to children can also be a form of 'brainstorming' ideas. Brainstorming is a writer's exercise used to stimulate ideas and link themes. It could be considered the skeleton of any written work, be it a novel or an essay. Since most of these simple poems are only a few lines long, each line could be considered a different theme, in itself.

  It can be as simple as asking students how they feel about something. For example, I asked one student, a Taiwanese girl of ten, how she felt about ice cream. I asked her to use a "five senses" poem, and this is what she came up with.

Ice cream tastes like clouds
Ice cream looks like a pillow
Ice cream smells like summer
Ice cream sounds like a cool breeze
Ice cream feels great

 
  Not only was her poem creative, but it also would help her in the future to write more detailed short stories.

  As I have already mentioned, poetry is not taught very much in the school systems here in Taiwan. That does not mean that the teacher should try to make it a major subject, such as science or math. However, when using English textbooks in class, such as Let's Go, a teacher can use poetry as a teaching tool and as a supplement to lessons.
 
Lesson plans 

  Here is an example of a teaching plan I used for a class of ten eight year olds in their third year of English study:

● 5 minutes---discuss the idea of rhyming words with your students. 
 Introduce the word "poem". Show students photos, drawings,
 flashcards, whatever you have available to stimulate
 their imaginations

● 10-15 minutes---read some poems that you prepared out loud to
 the class. Have the students clap out the rhythms. Read the poem    
 again, this time have students repeat each line after you. Have the
 students clap out the poem again. Finally, let them read it out
 loud, without your help. Make sure to have at least three poems
 written in the structure you are teaching that day.

● 10 minutes---write a poem on the whiteboard with some of the nouns,
 verbs or adjectives missing. Ask students brainstorm new
 themes, funny places and names. Then ask the students to fill in the
 blanks with new words. Make it a team effort. Keep it fun!

● 10-20 minutes---finally, give students a blank sheet of paper and let
 them try to make a poem of their own.

In conclusion
 
  If you are a teacher, and you are seriously looking for new ways to get your students interested in writing, then I strongly suggest that you consider trying poetry. A good lesson can be as fun and easy as finding one good poem to teach them. You will be so surprised at how much students can learn by creating their own poems.
 
Appendix
 
Here are some references available on the market:
 

作者簡介

Erin King
  • Erin King is a Canadian writer/ illustrator who has been teaching childrenin Taiwan for several years. He is currently working on an anthology of children's poetry, filled with games and activities to help students become better writers.