"This article discusses the use of poetry in the ESL classroom. It describes actual teaching situations and refers to poems which are suitable for use in such situations. It considers how poetry can support language learning in various ways. All the examples are taken from the author’s own ESL classroom in Norway, but she has used similar techniques in her German teaching and
Topic/Subject area: Text types
Author: Hæge Hestnes, Associate Professor, Programme for Teacher Education, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim
Poetry has been part of the school curricula for a long time, both in modern languages and mother tongue teaching. Poetry was in fact considered to be a central part of the teaching of literature and was used to exemplify the various literary epochs. The teaching tended to focus on structure and poetic devices. Counting the iambic feet and looking for the rhyme scheme became paramount, while understanding and appreciation often would be pushed to one side. Where content was focused it was frequently expected that reading the poem once should be sufficient to grasp the main themes and enable the student to give a worthwhile commentary. Consequently, poetry had an appalling reputation in schools. Teachers found teaching poetry a thankless drudge and students considered the entire exercise a total waste of time. Even students who actually liked poetry found the teaching destructive. Although much has changed in recent years, the approach described here is still dominant in many schools. To offer my contribution to poetry in the classroom I have, for a number of years, worked actively to develop methods where the meeting between students and poetry can be both joyous and interesting.
I have included poetry in my language classes for several reasons. The language is often of a very high quality and can serve as model language for the students. In poetry, simple language may express very complex ideas, so although the text may be relatively easy to read the ideas conveyed can be challenging. This is a combination which suits older students. They may struggle with the strange language, but at the same time they need challenging ideas to find reading the texts worthwhile. Poetry presents the essence of human experiences common to peoples of widely varied backgrounds, crossing the boundaries of languages and cultures. Focusing on such common experiences can help to develop a cross-cultural awareness and deepen the understanding between students of different creeds and cultures. It may also provide the language students with the tools they need to verbalise their own complex ideas and thus increase both oral and written language production. In addition, poetic texts are excellent for reading aloud and provide good opportunities for pronunciation exercises, both for individual words and sentence melody. They are also perfect for learning by heart, and learning sentence structures and vocabulary items are central in all language learning.
There is a central point I see as basic to all poetry teaching and which therefore must be emphasised from the start: Poems must be read many times. The students must be given the opportunity to absorb both language and content before they are expected to make any statements about the poem. The most negative experiences I have had with poetry is the class where a poem is read aloud once by the teacher and the reading is followed immediately by the question: "What is the poem about?" I have vivid memories from my own school days of my panic in such situations, and I have observed today's students fraught with the same panic. As teachers we must remember that even if we have read the poem dozens of times, might indeed have known it since our own school days, the students most likely have never seen it before. Nobody can be expected to grasp the content of a poem after one reading, and even less to make a sensible statement about it. It is therefore vital that we give the students a chance to become thoroughly familiar with the poem before we demand any serious comments from them. To ask for a quick response after the first reading may be both rewarding and interesting, but a proper discussion on theme and content must wait. This may seem obvious, but observations from classrooms show that this is an area where we teachers sin frequently.
William Blake: Auguries of Innocence (introduction)
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand,
And Eternity in an Hour.
This short text is the introduction to ode Auguries of Innocence. I would normally present such a short poem by writing it on the blackboard. The act of writing itself may work as a focusing and calming activity for the start of the class. I then read the poem aloud and provide short explanations for words I assume they will have problems with. While reading aloud I also emphasise the pronunciation of new and difficult words.
The students are now going to "take possession" of the poem. Whether I make them copy it down by hand or give them a photocopy varies, but with such a short poem as Auguries I will most likely get them to write it. The act of writing is also part of the possession-taking. It gives them spelling practice and brings them into close contact with the text. Next, the students will read the poem. I prefer to have them standing up and gathered in a "reading-choir" (more about reading choirs below). The reading itself can be done in a number of ways, depending both on the length of the poem and the number of students. They may read it aloud all together or in small groups. Two or three students may read it one after the other or they may read one line each and continue till everyone has read at least once. The important point is repetition. At this first reading I choose my readers carefully, especially if one student will be reading the whole poem alone. The shy one, the one who stutters or the nervous one should not be made to read at this early stage. If individuals are to read alone at this stage it should be voluntary. Choir-reading is an excellent alternative because everyone gets the opportunity to pronounce the new words without the embarrassment of making glaring mistakes in public. The teacher should repeat the text at least once more to help with pronunciation problems, focusing on words which cause problems. Let the class repeat difficult words in unison. This way you avoid focusing on the students who have problems, but still provide them with the opportunity to learn. This method for oral and textual work may be used with the majority of shorter poems. Longer poems will be introduced in a different way. (See The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes below.)
After this initial introduction I let the poem decide where it will take us. With Auguries, which is packed with images, I might decide to focus on these images. On unlined paper I will invite the students to draw either an image from the poem or some association it has created in their mind. The students often protest wildly at this, claiming they cannot draw, but the suggestion of drawing stick figures normally solve the problem. Extreme protesters are allowed to write instead. Very rarely do they actually fail to give visual expression to their experiences. After the drawing sequence I invite the students to "show and talk" about their drawings to the class, often in small groups. From a linguistic point of view this sequence is always interesting, because they frequently use words from the poem when describing what they have drawn, thus beginning to include the new words in their active vocabulary. While explaining they may also unconsciously touch on content and theme. These aspects, often considered so difficult to grasp, are thus partially explored without the students even thinking about them as difficult.
Most likely we would change topic completely here. To work concentrated with poetry for a whole lesson demands mature students, and most have had enough after ten-fifteen minutes. A change of topic at this stage will also provide necessary variety for the lesson.
I often give poems as homework, but only after we have worked on them in class. The homework would normally involve reading aloud or, with short poems, learning by heart. Reading the poem aloud is vital. I tell them to read it to the cat or the budgie or in the bath, "but read it aloud". With this particular poem, which is quite short, they will be told to read it at least three times. Most will have the poem pat by the time they meet for the next lesson. As you get to know the class, you discover who the keen poetry readers are and can give them a chance to recite, with or without the text in hand.
After one or two declamations the time has come to discuss content and theme in detail. There are a number of methods to choose from, here are just some of them:
Group discussions based on guiding questions
Group discussions with no guiding questions
Different questions to different groups leading to an exchange of answers between the groups
Short written responses either before or after the discussions
If you are working on a poem with several stanzas the groups could deal with one stanza each and then pool their findings. Further work can include writing their own poems. The students' response to this varies a lot, but some may produce poems which almost equal the original in beauty and depth. The following poem based on Auguries was written by a student in 2002.
To see my Life in a Drop of Dew,
And my Heart mirrored in Your Eyes.
To meet each Day standing next to You,
Under the changing Skies.
If I choose poetry writing I would include a session where we look at the structure of the poem. If rhyme and feet are to be dealt with at all, now is the time. The students need an understanding of such features if they are going to write a similar poem, or indeed any poem. Give them the task of finding the rhyming words to make them aware of where in the poem they must place their own. To illustrate feet I might read the poem with heavy emphasis on the rhythm. Exaggeration is a good tool to help the students understand what you mean. I teach them the names of the feet as they appear in a poem by saying and writing and illustrating them. Similarly, I would use this "learn as you go" method to teach the vocabulary necessary to talk about poetry. This is an area surrounded by myths about insurmountable difficulties. I try to demystify it by referring to the fact that any craftsman needs a specialized vocabulary to deal with the tools of his trade, be it a carpenter, a hairdresser, or a car mechanic. This need also applies to a poet, thus anapaest and end-rhyme join ranks with coil, coiffure and fretsaw, and learning this vocabulary loses some of its fear. I never teach this type of material in isolation, only when dealing with poems where the phenomena appear and the students have an urgent need of the words. Experience shows the learning comes easier this way.
If you feel that the students ought to have some information about the poet's life and further production, provide this after the work on the poem is well advanced. To begin poetry reading with a long list of facts about the poet on the blackboard is not the best way to engage the interest of your students. To provide information about the poet where that is relevant to the text is another matter. I mention examples where such an approach works very well. (See Wordsworth Upon Westminster Bridge below.)
Reading choir and pronunciation practise
Reading choir and pronunciation practise
Reading aloud and learning by heart, intonation and pronunciation practice are all important aims in the foreign language classroom. These can all be achieved through reading poetry. There is yet another aspect of learning a foreign language which also can be covered through working with poems. Learning to speak another language may involve learning to use a number of facial muscles which are not used regularly in the mother tongue. Chronic pronunciation problems for students may be caused by sounds they themselves never use in their own language. To produce "foreign sounds" can be difficult enough, but often the problems are exacerbated by shyness about producing "strange" sounds. For Norwegian students the sound /au/ as in now, how, cow is a typical problem area. They do not really have problems pronouncing them, but to say them correctly makes them feel strange and uncomfortable, as if they had been caught breaking wind at a formal dinner. The students need extra help to overcome such pronunciation problems, since the problem in fact is rooted in modesty and bashfulness, not physiology or phonetics. The reading choir has been my rescue here.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Cat
The poem Cat by J.R.R. Tolkien is excellent in this context. It contains many of the sounds which are central to a good English pronunciation. To work with pronunciation and intonation I find that it is of great help if the students are standing up. It is impossible to get the muscles in your diaphragm moving properly while crouching over a desk. This means the teacher has a potential problem to deal with: How do you get a class to stand up and read a poem?
Here are some ideas which might help.
- Get the students to stand up on the very first day you teach them. They are still uncertain of you and of their fellow students, and the chances of protests are smaller.
- Get them to move away from the desks, up to the blackboard or to the back of the classroom, otherwise they have a tendency to sink down on the chairs if your back is turned. Standing in class is embarrassing, even when they all do it.
- Get them to move into small groups around the room. They will get a chance to get to know each other a little better and you kill two birds with one stone, a social one as well as a linguistic one.
- You can divide them into several groups and help each group form a tight knot. Tell them to form a circle facing inwards and then make them move forward until everyone's shoulders are touching. Reading choirs sometimes work better if there is physical contact between the students.
- Try out different methods for going through the poem. The first reading and vocabulary check is often best dealt with while they are still sitting at their desks, since they may want to take notes. But you might also get them up and into groups before they are given the poem, they can always take notes afterwards.
- Make sure each student has a copy of the poem.
- Read it aloud in unison a few times. Divide them into groups of three to four students and let each group read a few lines, or let the students read one line each. Tell them to concentrate so that the lines flow nicely and with good rhythm.
- Let them whisper parts of the poem and shout other parts, or let them begin on a whisper and increase the volume as they go, ending with a shout.
- Teach them rhythm-reading: Clap or beat the rhythm with two or four beats to the line.
Here is an excerpt of the rhythm-version I use with Cat, the words in fat type are stressed:
The fat cat on the mat/ may seem to dream/
of nice mice that suffice/for him or cream/
but he free may-be/ walks in thought /
un-bowed proud where loud/ roared and fought/
his kin lean and slim/or deep in den/
in the east feasted on beast/and tender men/
the giant lion with iron/ claw in paw/
and huge ruthless tooth/ in gory jaw/ etc.
If there is an interest in Rap in the class, utilize this in the poetry reading. Ask if anyone in class knows how to rap. Occasionally a brave soul will admit to having some practise. I have seen students produce rap versions of poetry as varied as Shakespeare's Shall I compare thee to a summer's day and Hillaire Belloc's Tarantella. This has been very educational, not least for me. Choir reading should be practiced frequently, so that it becomes a natural part of their language lessons and getting up from their desks to read is not experienced as something unusual or frightening.
The poem's secret
Many poems are linguistically quite simple but contain a complex message. Such poems are very popular with the language learners, because they need not wear themselves out on complex language, yet are still able to grapple with interesting ideas. To approach the content of the poem should be done with patience and humility. We teachers have the "correct answers" to so many things. In poetry it is important to let the students discover their own answers.
Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken is a good example of a poem which really touches the students. The language is not too complicated, yet the poem deals with ideas which are far from simple. Even when I primarily present a poem because of the content I will approach it through reading aloud and choir reading. I may well leave it at that at the first meeting and then give the poem as homework to be read aloud as I mentioned earlier, for the cat or the canary. Next lesson we will start by reading the poem a few times. This reading sequence is very important to help "fetch out" the poem from the recesses of their minds and to remind them what it is all about. Next we will start looking at the content.
Give the students a few minutes to jot down what they think the poem is about. Let them know that their ideas are important, that there are no "right" or "wrong" interpretations, but that some of the interpretations may be more valid than others. This is important, since it has long been the tradition that the teacher has the "correct understanding" of poetry. The students must trust you when you tell them that their own opinions are important, otherwise, why would they bother to form an opinion at all? But they must also learn that their interpretations should be based on the actual words in the poem with all their connotations and denotations, symbols and images. Teach them to relate directly to the text and not make up things which are not there.
The class then works with the short texts the students have produced. Those who wish may read their text aloud or simply say what they have written, and the students can discuss the various points which emerge. This work is often best done in small groups, the group size depends on the class and how it functions as a working unit. I have found that it is often a good idea to start off in groups of three or four and then merge into a large group after a while. With The Road Not Taken, it might be of help to the students if their attention is drawn to the following lines:
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same"
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Having said all that, how can Frost later claim: "I took the one less traveled by"? The students' responses are often quite surprising.
It is perfectly acceptable to leave the poem after such an oral discussion. It is not necessary to write essays about everything. But, if writing is desirable, then discussing a poem can be a good place to start. Here are some suggestions for written assignments with The Road Not Taken which may follow such a discussion:
- I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhen ages and ages hence". Make up the story that "I" shall be telling. Use first-person point-of-view.
- Do you know of anyone who has made a choice which turned out to be vital in his or her life? Describe the choice and discuss the result.
- Why does Robert Frost present the road he chose as equal to the other yet also as very special? What might he want to say to his readers through such seeming contradictions?
- Write your own poem about a choice or decision you have had to make.
To begin beyond the poem
A number of poems are far from easy in spite of being short. On the contrary, they are so complex that they would bowl the students over completely. Two such examples are William Wordsworth On Westminster Bridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley Ozymandias. However, there are methods which will help make such poems available to students even if they are not poetry buffs. One method I use is to make up a story around the poem and start by telling the students the story. The students know nothing about the poem or the poet at this stage.
Percy Bysshe Shelley: Ozymandias
With the poem Ozymandias I normally start with something like the following story. This is done orally and will vary from time to time depending on the class and mood I am in:
"The other day I met a really strange guy. He'd been travelling a lot all around the world, and on his last journey he'd been somewhere in the Middle East. While he was there he had a really strange experience, and I shall try to explain to you what he told me. He'd been out in the desert all alone. He was driving a type of jeep, and just for fun he had left the marked road and driven out into the unmarked sand. After driving for quite a while he became aware of some strange shapes in the sand, and when he got closer he saw what appeared to be a broken statue, a pedestal with two stumps of broken legs. Some distance away he noticed part of what must have been the head. A "shattered visage" are the words he used. He managed to remove enough sand to see the face itself. He said it was the most horrible face he had ever seen. It had wrinkled lips and a sneering, cold, commanding expression. When he examined the pedestal he found to his surprise that around the base an ancient inscription was still visible. He didn't know the meaning of the words, but he photographed the whole lot and when he returned to Cairo he got someone in a museum to look at it. The inscription is ancient and it says: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair." Only the shattered head and the pedestal with the broken legs remained. Apart from that, there was nothing but sand; boundless, bare and lonely sand, endlessly."
Having told them this story I will let them discuss for a few minutes who this Ozymandias might have been. Next I will hand out the text and read it together with them. They generally get so engaged in Ozymandias that they produce the questions themselves. Who was he? What kind of king was he? Was he evil, as the poem suggests, or was he simply hard and just. Who was the stonemason, who through his work showed that he understood Ozymandias? "... its sculptor well those passions read/ which yet survive..." At about this point I'll break off and turn to one of the more imaginative students in the class and talk directly to him/her: "You could tell us, couldn't you, because you are the sculptor aren't you? Tell us, what did you think when you made this statue? How did you perceive Ozymandias?" From there on things normally go at their own volition. When the sculptor has said what he has to say I invite others to represent various people associated with Ozymandias: the general of his armies, his sons, his daughters, his wife/wives, lovers, barber, tailor, cook, foot soldiers, ordinary citizens etc. Imagination and time are the only limitations. An introduction to Ramesez the Great and the historical facts around this poem will also engage the interest of some students. Some might even think to check on internet and find the following from Wikipedia:
Ozymandias was another name for Ramesses the Great, Pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt. Ozymandias represents a transliteration into Greek of a part of Ramesses' throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re. The sonnet paraphrases the inscription on the base of the statue, given by Diodorus Siculus as "King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works. (Ozymandias, Wikipedia 18.06.2009)
William Wordsworth: Upon Westminster Bridge
When I introduce Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth, I normally start with the poet. Normally I would recommend not to do this, since I want the students to meet the text and hopefully develop a relationship to the poem and an interest in the poet before we look at the "life and times of...". But with this poem I break that rule to give the students a chance to glean something of the atmosphere and the background. The full title of the poem is Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3rd. 1802. The poem presents a description of London as seen very early one morning from Westminster Bridge. Around these facts I have woven a little story which may or may not be true, but which certainly catches the students' imagination.
I tell them a little of "William" as I call him, to bring him closer to us, about his possible passion for late nights and early mornings, about the wonderful wine he has drunk, a custom I tell them he picked up while living in Paris. I tell them of the very nice party he has been to and how he finally, slightly mellowed by wine and lack of sleep, decides to walk home in the cool, fresh, September dawn. I try to convey the emotions which overwhelm him as he steps onto the bridge and sees London, naked as it were, in the morning air. I tell them of the problems of pollution London experienced already two hundred years ago because of the coal fires, and of the pristine air of such a September morning. I ask if anyone in the class delivers papers in the morning, because those students often have first hand experience from their own home town of the magic of dawn. I recommend that they keep their eyes open next time they come home late, or early, and have to cross a bridge, so that they can share what Wordsworth experienced in September 1802. After this introduction I present the poem in ordinary fashion. We read aloud, hand out the text, go through the vocabulary, re-read, read aloud at home etc. Students have surprised me by learning this poem by heart simply to be able to recite it in the dawn from some local bridge.
Both Ozymandias and Upon Westminster Bridge are complex poems which contain a lot more that the mere descriptions I have focused on so far. If the class is ready for delving into the theme of the poem and the intention of the poet, or for working with more advanced poetic analysis, introductions such as these will make these next steps less difficult. Both poems are sonnets, so this provides an opportunity to do some serious work on the sonnet itself. This could well lead on to writing own sonnets and later to work with a Shakespearean sonnet.
Written work with poetry can also explore different genres and registers. With one class we had worked on journalistic style, and a student produced the following text after our work with Upon Westminster Bridge.
Daily Register September 3rd. 1802
The famous poet William Wordsworth was observed crossing Westminster Bridge early this morning. It was a clear, crisp morning and the local milkman who saw him says that Mr. Wordsworth stopped on the bridge and scribbled away on a piece of paper. Maybe he wrote a new poem. If so, we will try to share it with our readers in tomorrow's edition.
In this short text the student has introduced the subject using an adjective. She has used a passive form and introduced the place and time using details such as weather. She reports what others have seen using a relative sentence and a that-sentence and the past tense. She presents a hypothesis and predicts the future. There is a lot of language practice and learning in the writing of these four lines of text.
Some fairly long poems also can be used in this type of teaching, but again another method of presentation must be used. I have used a number of ballads, both popular and literary ballads and also epic and heroic poems. I look primarily for a good story which will catch the students' imagination, but with some experience they seem to be able to tackle most things. If long poems are to be used, one can simply read the poem to the students. This presupposes a certain dramatic ability on the part of the teacher, and also that the students have the support of the printed word in front of them. If you know that poetry reading is not your forte, then make use of the vast number of poems available on CDs and on internet. For a number of years the BBC has broadcast the programme Poetry Please, and many of these recordings are available on internet. Simply Google "Poetry Please BBC". In addition, You Tube is a good source for "live" poetry readings.
Alfred Noyes: The Highwayman
When using longer poems I always provide the students with the text, often with difficult vocabulary explained in the margin. Sometimes there are central terms or ideas the students must understand to be able to grasp the poem, these I use some time discussing with them before the reading.
The poem The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes is a dramatic and romantic story which to my surprise seems to catch the imagination of today's students. When I use this poem I start by giving them the text and explaining a number of words, for example claret, lace and musket. We also discuss the term highwayman so that they know what a highwayman was and what he did. I then read the poem with as much pathos as I can muster. In the foreign language classroom, the teacher does not often read stories or poems aloud, and the students seem to quite enjoy it. After the initial reading there are several options. The students can read the poem themselves and note words they want help with. Such words should be dealt with either in the full class or individually. The students can work in small groups, reading one or several stanzas each and helping each other with the understanding. After a bit of practise we read the whole poem once more, either all together, or a few stanzas per group, or even individual readings if the students are ready for that. Try to ensure that weak students are not left with the responsibility for a whole stanza alone. That can be painful both for the student who reads and for those who have to listen. I follow this by asking them to produce a written response, either at school or set as homework. Initially, this can be just a short, personal response. To help the students focus I ask them to tell me briefly whether they liked the poem or not, and to follow this with one reason to support their view. Here are some such responses from students.
I like this poem because it tells the story of Bess who will do anything for the boy she loves, even if she has to die, and I can understand that.
I feel very sorry for Bess, but she is brave and has a true heart and that makes the poem worth reading.
I do not like the poem because I think it is irrealistic (sic). To give your life for love is not worth it. But I like the sound of some of the poem now I know what 'torrent' means: "The wind was a torrent of darkness". That is good.
When the students really have grasped the story you again have several options. Sections of the poem can be dramatised, (see more about dramatization below). This poem is also an excellent starting point for work on alliteration. Some of the lines are so magnificent, the students never forget them. To quote from the poem:
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding - riding - riding-
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.
As with Upon Westminster Bridge, this poem also presents an opportunity to teach language register and style. Invite the students to retell the story pretending they are journalists reporting the drama in the local paper the next morning, or have them write the sheriff's formal rapport of the incident, or maybe a letter written by one of the soldiers who saw Bess die. Suggest a number of such "roles", and let them develop their ideas in cooperation with other students. The texts should be shared to illustrate how the different registers are built up. An awareness of how different the various texts may sound should also be emphasized; the dry style of the official rapport could for example be contrasted to the more personal and emotional language of a letter.
A poem which tells a story is excellent for dramatising. Ballads are thus eminently suitable for this. With The Highwayman I get the students to work in groups. Each group works with one "scene" from the poem and they write the dialogue based on the information they have available. I always encourage the students to produce costumes and props, it is surprising what they can create out of the material available in the average classroom.
With long, descriptive poems, the students must write their own dialogues. This requires both time and creativity. Most students seem able to tackle this quite easily. However, I have found that when they are still in the process of learning how to dramatise it is helpful with a poem where the dialogue already is provided. The King's Breakfast by A.A. Milne is such a poem.
A.A.Milne: The King's Breakfast
Many students would be familiar with Winnie-The-Pooh from their early childhood. This certainly applies to the Norwegian ESL students who grew up with a Norwegian version of the bear called Ole Brum. To use a poem by the man who created Winnie-The-Pooh gives you a peg to "hang" the poem on even if The King's Breakfast has nothing to do with Winnie-The-Pooh. The poem is an entertaining story about a king who wants butter for his breakfast toast and who is offered marmalade instead. After a normal presentation with reading and vocabulary explanation I divide the class into groups of five, one for each role; the king, the queen, the dairymaid the cow and the narrator. If the numbers don't pan out I get them to double up. They are given fifteen to twenty minutes to read through the text together, prepare their dramatisation of it and produce the props they need. Then they present their version to the class. The creativity of the students is amazing at times. Royal crowns, dairymaid kerchiefs and buckets, sheepskin jackets turned inside out to serve as cow hide, mittens for udders, everything is produced out of thin air as if by magic. They practise curtsying (a new word for most) and kissing with plenty of giggling and blushing. The king's moaning, the queens pacifying, the dairymaid's polite answers and the cow's mooing tone are polished and the dialogue is quickly learned. In addition to having an enjoyable lesson the students learn long sentences by heart and a number of new expressions. These include the species of cows in the Channel Islands, of which Alderney is one, the etymology of the word marmalade, the various uses of a banister and the custom of curtseying.
The King's Breakfast is ideal for drama in the classroom because the dialogue is already in the poem. Most other poems present a story where the students must write the dialogue themselves. If that is the task you give them, ensure they have time enough in their groups to do a proper job and understand what register they are working in. With The Highwayman they may choose to use an "old-fashioned" language to reflect the setting, or they may re-write it in modern slang. With luck some of them may have seen Brannagh's modern film version of Romeo and Juliet and know exactly how to modernise weapons, transport and setting.
I have tried to demonstrate how poetry can be included in the foreign language classroom, not only as literature but as a part of language teaching generally. The possibilities inherent in poetry has not been properly utilised by many language teachers and there seems to be a need to revise both approaches and methods. It is my hope that this article will go some way towards addressing that need. Poetry will of course always be an important part of literary study, but if more attention is given to the esthetical and creative aspects and to the potential for teaching linguistic skills, the learning outcome from using poetry could be greatly enhanced. It is my hope that poetry will be afforded a new and broader role in the ESL classroom and that the methods outlined here will give the teacher a wider scope and the students greater joy and pleasure in their meeting and working with poetry. If we can help the students to develop a love of poetry which will remain with them for life we will have done more than simply teach them English.
The poems mentioned in this article are generally available in standard anthologies. They are also easily found through a web search. For questions or suggestions about further poems suitable for use in the classroom, please contact me: email@example.com