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Stories: TESL with Poetry

2014/09/08

Ever taught English with poetry? I guess there are a few limitations, for starters most of the 'tricks' of English, such as the rhymes, puns, and double entendre's would be lost in the translation of the poem. Well, that's what I thought, but I turned that frown upside down! Because as we read our silly limericks, my students started smiling, they didn't quite catch it all, but enjoyed the rhymes and styling. Usually they'll read in a monotone voice without intonation, but poems that bounce with silliness demand imagination!

For my students, I found the slightly slick humor of Shel Silverstein to be a big hit in class. I'd remembered his book Where the Sidewalk Ends from when I was younger and found that it's not so bad for an ESL audience. Many of the poems are about things like body parts (Such as Boa Constrictor, where the writer describes being eaten up from their toes), or more complex vocabulary like modal auxiliary verbs (such as Who, where the author asks "Who can..?" and answers "I did", "I can" etc), or even just foods and fruits (such as Eighteen Flavors), Shel Silverstein's poems are a great place to start for ESL poems, plus they have a humorous or shocking edge to them.

Of course there are many many classic English nursery rhymes and other poems that are so deeply engrained in our culture it is easy to over-look them such as "Star-Bright" or "Rain Rain Go Away". But because I am teaching Japanese students, I thought it would be fun to give them traditional Japanese poems in English, and ask them to translate back into Japanese, and once they're finished they can check their versions against the originals. Haiku are great for this because they are so short and concise.

Of course the real joy would be to help your students write their own poems in English. However, mine are not quite ready for this,... how about yours?

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