7 Poems That Build Proficiency

Every so often I work poetry into my instruction. Since poems are meant to be read aloud, they lend themselves to listening and pronunciation practice. They can help students grow accustomed to reduced sounds in the flow of speech, and they can help students improve linking and rhythm. Although we don’t speak like poets in everyday exchanges, poems can also expose students to new words, useful collocations, and common structures. Personally, I love how poems can prompt thought, so they are jumping off points for oral or written expression, which is what we want to stimulate in language learning.

The initial challenge of bringing authentic poems into the classroom (virtual or traditional) is finding appropriate works to share with students. Browsing sites with poems in the public domain requires us to scan titles and lines in order to find poems that are appropriate in terms of language level, style (is it modern English?), length, and content. This is can be time-consuming.

Over the past several months, I’ve shared a number of poems within small social media groups and in private lessons. Hopefully, the short list below will save you some time. Here are seven recommendations:

“A Time to Talk” by Robert Frost – This poem prompts discussion about lifestyles and the work-life balance we still struggle with in this new century.

“Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost – This short poem is packed with meaning. Students will enjoy interpreting the lines and reacting to the idea. Because it’s short, students can work on their oral reading and submit their best recording for evaluation.

“Four Ducks on a Pond” by William Allingham – Not all poems are complex in meaning. This simple verse is beautiful and sentimental. I used this poem to encourage smooth connected speech. We talked about thought groups and linking sounds, especially consonant to vowel.

“Peace” by Sara Teasdale – This poem illustrates similes and metaphors. Have your students identify examples in the poem. Encourage them to create their own comparisons.

“A Light Exists in Spring” by Emily Dickinson – These verses can stimulate reflection on the relationship between nature and science. I highlighted a half dozen vocabulary words and guided students to read with strong rhythm and linking.

“If” by Rudyard Kipling – I recently read this longer poem with an advanced student. It was a meaningful extension on a review of conditionals.

“Alone” by Maya Angelou – This poem has worked well with both intermediate and advanced students. Students enjoy the task of explaining the meaning as well as reading the poem. There are a number of readings on YouTube, so listening practice is also available. NOTE: The poem is not in the public domain, but it’s is reprinted on Poets.org with permission from the publisher.

Got a favorite poem for the ESL classroom? Please share! I also have ideas for using student-generated poems. Check out some older posts:

Photo credit: Hanwriting, Old, Writing, Instrument by noeliebodin. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/handwriting-old-writing-instrument-1939130/.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Morin Dolev says:

    Thank you so much, dear Jennifer. As usual, your material and ideas are so fresh and useful and so genuinely graceful!

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog. Regards!

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