Language learners can often find writing poetry to be an intimidating task, but with some structure and examples, poetry can be easy and fun to write for language learners of any level. Incorporating poetry into your English lessons is a great way to promote creativity and self-expression.
These are some poetry activities geared toward younger learners. You can do a stand-alone poetry lesson, or you can integrate poetry into a unit on another topic. The last two are designed to be easily integrated into content lessons, so I’ve written some examples for you on science topics.
1. Class Poetry: What If?
For a class poem, each student writes one or more lines of the poem following a certain structure. I love using the poem “Whatif” by Shel Silverstein as inspiration for a class poem. This poem is all about the worries in a person’s head as they are falling asleep. First, read the poem as a class and discuss the worries that the person in the poem thinks about. Then ask each student to write one line that begins with the words, “what if…?” After the students each provide one sentence, you can compile the sentences to create a class poem.
I did this with my students about 2 years ago when we were just starting with COVID and online learning. I used an online form and asked students to anonymously submit their line(s) of poetry. I started the poem by reading the first stanza of Silverstein’s poem but filled the middle “whatif” section with lines from my class. When the poem came together, the class bonded by seeing that many of them had similar worries about the pandemic and online learning.
2. More Class Poetry
Another simple way to create a class poem is to create a single sentence frame and title. For example, if you would like to write a class poem on the ocean, you can scaffold the process for young learners by asking them to describe the ocean. As the class shares descriptors, write them on the board until you have a nice, varied list (e.g., deep, blue, mysterious). After this, write the title of the poem and your sentence frame on the board.
The ocean is as ____(adjective)______ as ________________.
Then, write a practice sentence as a class, using one of the words from your class list of adjectives and elicit the rest of the sentence from the students (e.g., the ocean is as mysterious as the moon). Finally, in pairs or individually, ask your students to write more sentences about the ocean using this frame. At the end, compile the sentences into one poem and read it aloud as a group.
Another fun, unintimidating way to write poetry is by using highly structured poetry such as cinquains. A cinquain is a style of poetry with five lines of iambic pentameter. Students can use a simplified version of cinquains that will stretch their descriptive writing skills. Integrated in content classes, students can use this type of poetry to show their understanding of content from subjects like science and social studies.
Here is a general structure that can be used:
Line 1: Noun
Line 2: –ing verb phrase related to noun
Line 3: Adjectives describing the noun
Line 4: –ing verb phrase related to noun
Line 5: Noun again or a related noun/synonym
Swimming in the sea
Gentle, big, and gray
Eating sea plants
Turning sun into sugar
Bright and green
4. I Am Poems
“I Am” poems can be adapted to allow students to creatively express their understanding of a concept. Students can decide which order to write their lines, can skip lines that don’t fit, and can add lines to make the poem more personal. This is a great creative twist to add to the end of a research project or topic-based unit.
I am ________
I see __________
I hear __________
I am ___(three adjectives)___
I feel _________
I live _____________
I taste ____________
I belong __________
I am __________
I am a cactus
I live in the desert
I hear the wind blowing across the sand
I feel the hot sun and the cold nights
I am tough, spiky, and green
I belong in dry climates
I see little animals that want to eat me
I protect myself with sharp spines
I am a cactus
I hope you enjoyed these ideas for poetry in the ESL classroom. The TESOL book New Ways in Creative Writing also features several fun and creative poetry ideas. Do you have more poetry ideas that can be used in the ESL classroom? Please share in the comments below.