Posted tagged ‘poetry’

Poetry Club: Writing Activities

February 13, 2015

122327545_15958001be_mAs we brace for another potential blizzard here in New England, I can only think of one thing: snow. Cold snow. Deep snow. White snow. Snow flurries, snow drifts, and snow-covered roads. Snow. I know that other parts of the world are basking in warm sunshine right now, but it’s hard for me to remember the world without snow.

There’s a reason why weather is often a conversation starter. It’s easy to talk about. It doesn’t immediately require complex thought or personal revelations. For that reason, I think weather can be a good jumping off point in an ESL lesson.

1. Acrostic Warm-up.  Write a single word vertically on the board. The word should reflect the current weather. As a class or in pairs, students can write an acrostic poem. Encourage full participation from everyone. All contributions should be welcome. Model:

Shivering fingers

Noses that get cold

Only white all around

Warm hot chocolate in a mug

2. Poetry Clubs. You can have more fun by putting students into groups and having them write an acrostic poem from a certain point of view. Name each group: Optimist Club, Pessimist Club, Go-Getter Club, Club of Imagination. Dictionaries can be used to prompt ideas. Have them read their poems aloud and see if each group captures the spirit of their club name

  • The Optimist Club might produce:

Blankets of beautiful snow

Light snow falls on my face

Icicles hang like diamonds

Zipper up and stay warm

Zillions of snowflakes

Amazingly high hills of snow

Really fun winter sports

Down the hill we go in our sled

  • The Pessimist Club might compose:

Bothered by the cold

Layers and layers of snow I must shovel

Icicles are dangerous

Zippers don’t keep me warm

Zoom away to a warmer climate

Always sneezing

Really slippery outside

Disgusting slush on the roads

Share the poems – and the laughs – and talk about which poem each student can relate to best. Follow-up questions for discussion:

  1. Do you like the weather we’re having? What kind of weather do you enjoy the most?
  2. Is this the kind of weather you grew up with?
  3. Does the weather affect your lifestyle? Explain.

A helpful resource for acrostic poems is available at Students can play around with the tools in or out of class. Users first select a single word to base their poem on. They click to the next page and then brainstorm a list of related words. The third screen nicely invites users to start building lines based on their list. Additional editing is allowed before printing or sharing by email.


Photo credit:

“Snow Day at Clark Park” by Katie. Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

The Power of Positive Thinking

March 22, 2014

I place importance on motivating and supporting language learners. This is probably connected to the fact that I hear from learners daily online, and talk about a lack of confidence is common. When I participated in the WizIQ MOOC last November, I included some talk about building the confidence of learners. I mentioned that I had designed some materials with inspirational messages. My Good, Better, Best handout was part of a previous post on motivating students and demonstrated how a positive message could be embedded in a grammar exercise.

In my most recent work on YouTube, I opened the oral reading playlist with a few texts that offer inspirational messages about persevering and making the most of one’s time. Since the nature and format of the videos are quite different from the ones in the past, I wanted to set the right atmosphere and help learners’ overcome their wariness of something new. I wanted to make learners believe in their potential and the value of reading aloud with me. The response so far has been wonderful. One viewer said the first text “A New Day” gave her the confidence to write a comment in English online for the first time. Hooray!

If we can inject some positive thoughts or feelings into a lesson, it can help learning take place. Agreed? Recently, a member of my forum shared a poem about what makes his day. The simple but effective structure impressed me. I not only enjoyed the piece of happy thoughts, but I also saw potential in the poem for classroom use. Rizwan Ahmed Memon of Akil, Larkana, Sindh, Pakistan has kindly given me permission to repost his verses here. Rizwan has demonstrated a very positive attitude, embracing the roles of teacher and learner in his daily work. I would encourage you to consider sharing his poem with your own students and inviting them to write their own stanzas about what makes their day. This short creative writing activity could be a good warm-up or a way to lead into a language point, such as collocations with make.

That Makes My Day
Rizwan Ahmed Memon

(Originally posted on EWJ Forum.)

When there are clouds in the sky,
Water in the pond,
Wind from the north,
Your hand in my hand,
That makes my day.

When there is a smile on your face,
Bangles around your wrist,
Earrings in your ears,
A ring on your finger,
That makes my day.

When there are waves in the river,
Your footprints on the bank,
Your books in the boat,
That makes my day.

When there are flowers in the fields,
Due on the grass,
Your fragrance around me,
That makes my day.

When there are leaves on the ground,
Your presence under the tree,
Shadows all around,
That makes my day.

When there are two cups of tea on the table,
Your face to watch,
Your voice to hear,
That makes my day.

For more of Rizwan’s writings, please visit his blog.

The Secrets of Poetry

February 7, 2013

MC900229457poetThis month I’ve chosen to highlight a poetry collection on my YouTube channel. I’ve taken quiet moments here and there for my own pleasure and listened to poetry readings by Tom O’Bedlam of Ireland. The one that I enjoyed most recently is The Secret of the Machines by Rudyard Kipling. The poem in plain text can be found at the Poetry Foundation.

Kipling’s poem lends itself to a number of uses for teaching advanced ELLs. The most obvious choices are the traditional practices of reading and interpreting. But what else can be done with these verses? As a teacher, I love to get the most I can out of materials. I think it’s a good exercise for us to consider all the possibilities, and then we can select the forms of practice that best suit the needs of the students we’re currently teaching.

Would you like to join me in exploring The Secrets of the Machines? Here are my ideas. Feel free to add more.

  • Speaking or Writing about the Theme. Identify how the poet views the relationship between people and machines. Do you agree or disagree with this viewpoint?
  • Speaking or Writing about the Message. Do you think Kipling’s verses offer some kind of teaching to us today in the digital age?
  • Matching Machines to Their Uses. Carefully read the verses and identify as many machines as you can by their purpose. For example, Kipling is referring to the telephone when he writes, “Would you call a friend from half across the world?/ If you’ll let us have his name and town and state.” You can ask students to use specific structures for this exercise, such as infinitives of purpose or relative clauses. (We use phones in order to place calls. / The telephone, which can be used to call someone halfway across the world, is mentioned in these verses.)
  • Interpreting the Attitude of the Machines. Read the first stanza. Underline all the passive verbs and circle all the active verbs. What relationship between the machines and people do these lines express?
  • Creating More Voices of the Machines. Use patterns from the poem and machines that didn’t exist in Kipling’s time and create additional statements of purpose or questions. Model: We can text and search and Skype and use Wi-Fi,/ We can wash and rinse and steam and then blow dry.
  • Doing a Blend of Solo and Choral Reading. Once the verses are familiar and understood, you can assign lines to students. The poem is long enough for each student to be charged with learning a small part of it. Ask them to practice their lines well. In the correct order, students will stand up and deliver their lines. The class will then repeat those lines as a group.
  • Creating a Dialog. In pairs, students can use selected verses and add their own lines to form an imaginary conversation between a machine and a user, a news reporter (or biographer) and a machine, or two machines.  Example: Where did you come from?  – “We were taken from the ore-bed and the mine,/ We were melted in the furnace and the pit—” You can focus on rising and falling intonation in this exercise.
  • Having More Fun with Personification. Create a speech  as a representative of the machines. Your purpose can be to gain appreciation from your human users or to rebel against their mistreatment. Note: students can work alone or in pairs and deliver their speeches to the class.

More Play with Poetry

December 15, 2010

I can’t resist offering another idea that makes use of holiday poetry. There’s a wealth of material online, and as soon as I see a few verses, the wheels in my head start turning. So many poems, especially those written for children, lend themselves to ESL/ EFL instruction. Just look, for example, at the poems shared on Almost every one has instructional potential. I’ll list a few ideas.

  • To engage and lead into a lesson on “used to (be)”:

Hang this on your
Christmas tree,
To remember how
I used to be.
To remind you of me
Now and then,
And bring fond memories
Back again.

Retrieved from

  • To engage and lead into a lesson on phrasal verbs with three parts:

It’s hard to think of anything
But Christmas in December.
There’s so much to look forward to
And so much to remember.

Retrieved from

  • To work on rhythm and develop phonemic awareness/ awareness of spelling patterns:

“Come Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen.
Come Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen.”
Santa said, “My reindeer number eight.
We need to go. We can’t be late!
It’s dark this Christmas Eve night.
We need someone to carry a light.
Rudolph, of course you’ll be fine.
Now my reindeer number nine.”

Retrieved from

Copy the poem on the board and omit Blitzen, late, light, nine.  Scramble the four deleted words and present them one at a time. Ask students to indicate where each word fits best. Once they complete the poem, do a choral reading (listen-repeat). Finally, underline the following phrases and challenge students (in pairs) to supply their own original verses. You can help by brainstorming other rhyming words.

1. Omit: “We can’t be late!” > Find another rhyme for “eight”: wait, gate, ate, fate > Example: “Don’t make me wait!”

2. Omit: “We need someone to carry a light.” > Find another rhyme for “light”: bright, tight, height, sight, site, white > Example: “Let’s find a way to make our path bright.”

3. Omit: “Now my reindeer number nine.” > Find another rhyme for “fine”: line, whine, sign, mine > Example: “If we place you first in line.”

December Celebrations: Learning linking through holiday poetry

December 13, 2010

“December Celebrations” is a children’s poem by Helen H. Moore. I used it once in a pronunciation class, and I recently rediscovered my copy of the simple yet warm verses. Not surprisingly, I’ve found a few U.S. schools that have posted the poem on their sites to share with their communities. Here’s one copy.

You’ll find that the language is  accessible to lower level students. I see less than half a dozen words that would require explanation: gather, feasting, customs, traditions, and nations. You could prepare students for the first reading by posing discussion questions with these words. Suggestions:

  1. Around the December holidays, people travel home to meet in one place and celebrate together. For which holidays does your family gather?
  2. Holidays often mean eating special foods. Families and friends prepare big meals with lots of dishes. Think of one of your favorite holidays with special foods. What kinds of dishes does your family feast on?
  3. On Christmas day, many families and friends give gifts to one another. Giving Christmas gifts is a custom.  We could also call it a tradition. What are some customs or traditions your family has for the holidays?
  4. Can you name all the December holidays you know? In which countries or nations are these holidays celebrated?

The poem naturally lends itself to practice with rhythmic patterns. However, I chose to use it to teach the linking of final consonants to initial vowel sounds. Phrases to highlight:

cold and dark

families around

presents and

feasting and

customs and

old and

in all lands

of all ages

If you’d like, there’s also the opportunity to teach

  •  the linking of two vowel sounds with the phrase “so every year”  (note the use of /w/);
  • the linking of the same consonant sounds with the phrases “all lands” (hold the /l/ in “all” and release into “lands”).

The Potential of Poetry

July 19, 2010

Let them all toil over a line.

Their English will be closer to fine.

The search for words, the search for rhyme

Is a constructive use of time.

Through verse it is possible to touch

On rhythm, diction, grammar and such.

Think! All the possibilities

To increase their abilities.

  • Culture and rhythm can be learned through common rhymes. Do your students know Eeny Meeny Miney Mo?


  • Useful information can be retrieved in the target language with the help of a rhyme. Do your students know Thirty Days Has September?                


  • A review of the parts of speech and grammatical structures is possible through poetry. Consider taking an existing poem and making it a fill-in-the-blank text with key words omitted. First, go through the poem and identify what words are missing, for example, a noun, a plural noun, an adjective, etc. Then have students complete the poem. The results will vary from funny to serious and should be shared. As a final step, you can read the original poem to the class. If you’d like to have students generate larger amounts of language, consider using Instant Poetry Forms. Check out “I Used To” and “If Emotion Were”.


  • Help students recall the spelling and meaning of a new vocabulary word through an acrostic poem. Have students work in pairs and assign each pair a key vocabulary word. Pairs must create a line of poetry for each letter of the key word. I found an interesting site that assists you in composing this type of poem. Click here.  A series of screens takes you through the brainstorming process and even gives some prompts when you place your cursor over one of the key letters. The final screen gives you the option of printing out our work. I had a bit of fun with “major” and “clarify”:

Main and never unimportant

Always at the top of the list

Just think really big

Or so serious

Really it’s unforgettable 

Clear up the misunderstanding

Lay my doubts to rest

Articulate you thoughts to me

Reword if necessary

Inspect your meaning

Feel your way to truth

Yes, I understand the word now

  • Develop students’ sense of rhythm and rhyme by asking them to create a limerick. You can take this activity a step further and target problematic sounds. For example, if you need them to work with vowel + /r/ combinations, have them make limericks in which the first line states a name such as Bert, Curt, Bart, Harry, Mary, Murray, or Cort: “There was a lady named Mary…” Give them the basics on constructing this type of poem. A fun model about a fellow named Jerry is provided on eHow. (A more detailed explanation is given by Dan Rollins on ExpertsExchange.) Composing a limerick with a partner may help some overcome writer’s block. Be sure to make time for the limericks to be read aloud to the class.


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