Teaching English through Poetry
Fatehi M.A Abdullah
Purpose of teachingpoetry…………………………………………………………………3
How to teachpoetry…………………………………………………………………………….9
Poetry has always been used to shed light on certain social, political or economic
issues that might arise or that are already exist. In most cases poets write poetry to
express their feelings, point views or describe their own emotional, economic or
social statues. Poets differ from normal people due to their sensitivity towards things
and their ability to employ language to show this sensitivity. They have the gift of
expressing their ideas using artistic images and elegant style. Through ages poetry
has been used in several occasions such as wars,sympathy, love, admiration
condemnation and so on.
When governmentsneed to provoke the passion of the public to love and be loyal
to their country , warn people of a certain danger or direct them in a certain
direction they seek the help of intellectuals such as writersand poets because they
realize the influence of poets and writers on people .
Someone might spend hours or even days preaching against the dangers of drugs on
individuals, families and societies using the formal everyday language with a very
limitedinfluence; a poet on the other hand uses a short cut that might be more
affective and that might touch the hearts and souls of readers or listeners in a very
short time .This short cut could be simply a poem. Poems can hardly be forgotten,
thoughthe poet might be, because with the time passing it becomes a song that is
repeated over and over by people.
A good poem that conveys a message can be very effective weapon to provoke
people's emotions and sensations; they read it or hear it with a lot of enthusiasm
and passion. So roughly speaking, if someone needs to spread a certain idea or plant
a certain thought in people's mind he should use poetry since poems are immortal.
Take for example Shakespeare an English poet who lived between 1564 -1616 his
poems are still read, studied and researched until today. Ahmed Shawqi an Egyptian
poet who lived ,between1868-1932, is another living example on the immortality of
poems and their deep impact on people and so many other poets from different
nation whose poem became a way of life for some people and a constitution for
Poetic language, therefor, is the finest, most dignified and most influential use of any
language. It is the corner stone that shows the strength and the beauty within this
language. It is the source that enriches the language and makes digestible.
A poem as I can define it is a set of carefully selected words put together in a musical
frame to serve certain purposes such as delivering a message. It is full of images,
emotions and sensations. It could be a painting drawn with words. A poem is a piece
of writing in which the words are chosen for their beauty and sound and are
carefully arranged, often in short lines which rhyme” (Collins Cobuild, 2001).)
Poetic language, in which poems are processed, is the most significant and stylish
use of a language. The key is that poetry is much more compressed than fiction
(short stories or novels for instance). Since the language is denser in a poem, the
word order is so much more significant. For instance, a poem and a short story may
both attempt to convey the beauty of nature, but the poem will do so in three
stanzas while the short story will do it in three pagesto get the same point .
The poem has to rely on a number of techniques that will evoke emotions in a
reader. These techniques are called poetic devices and may include rhyming,
metaphors, similes, etc. Unlike fiction, poetry or poetic language does not have to
follow grammatical rules, which allows readers to sort of unpack the poem and make
meaning. Through the use of poetic language a poem is often more intense
emotionally and also more open to interpretation.( litelle209 www.enotes.com)
Poetic Language is the totality of the characteristics of language as an instrument of
artistic expression and an object of artistic perception; synonymous with artistic
(literary) language. The term “poetic language” is sometimes applied to verse speech
that is, to literary language that follows the rules of verse. In a narrow sense, “poetic
language” or “poetic speech” refers to the specific language of poetry before
modern times (for example, ancient Icelandic and classical Persian poetry), which
used a vocabulary, phraseology, and syntax that were rarely encountered in other
kinds of speech(encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com)
Purpose of teaching poetry
Poetry is the pure essence of any language, because it reflects the strength and
beauty of that language; it also plays a significant role in correcting and enhancing
people's thoughts and ideas towards many issues that touch their everyday life
through the messages that it broadcasts or sends. What is the purpose of teaching
poetry to our students? What impact does poetry have on learning a language? In his
article entitled Using Poems to Teach English Andrew Finch emphasizes on the
importance of teaching poetry for our students since poetry has a deep impact on
students understanding of the language
Many teachers agree that poetry promotes language acquisition; they will also add
that poetic concepts and cultural assumptions are usually too difficult for learners to
take on. While this might be true of poetry as a reading activity, however, the use of
poetry in the writing classes can provide an effective and collaborative means of
language learning and of personal expression.
Simple forms can give students a framework for expressing ideas that are meaningful
to them, without the constraints of grammatical accuracy. Picture poems, also known
as concrete or graphic poetry, of the 1950's. Eugen Gomringer from Switzerland,
Öyvind Fahlström of Sweden, and Decio Pignatari from Brazil are all considered to be
creators of this modern form of poetry. Picture poems are fun to create! They are
images (pictures) created out of words and punctuation marks-drawings made of
Pattern poems verse in which the typography or lines are arranged in an unusual
configuration, usually to convey or extend the emotional content of the words. Of
ancient (probably Eastern) origin, pattern poems are found in the Greek Anthology,
which includes work composed between the 7th century BC and the early 11th century
AD. A notable later example is the wing-shaped "Easter Wings" of the 16th-century
English Metaphysical poet George Herbert and haiku poems which are short and
unrhymed poems of a Japanese origin, thus offer ways of making English a means of
personal expression, creativity and development, serving to reduce affective barriers in
a nonthreatening learning environment. Popular song scripts can also facilitate
awareness of pronunciation, intonation and sentence flow, in addition to containing
contemporary cultural commentary. This paper therefore suggests that a broader
perspective on the use of poetry in the language classroomcan lead to meaningful and
successful language learning.( Usingpoems to teach English. EnglishLanguage Teaching. 15(2), 29 – 45.
Andrew FinchKyungpookNational University)
Based on the above we can say that teaching poetry for our students from K-12 is
essential for the following reasons. Poetry is fun in so many ways so choosing a
poem that agrees with the students' age that has a comprehendible structure can
change the class atmosphere and can also break the monotony of everyday classes,
moreover poetry helps expand students' imagination due to the extraordinary
images that are imbedded in the poem. Poetry makes students more sensitive to the
language, a well recited poem can help enhance students' pronunciation. It increases
the storage of lexical items because vocabulary used in a poem is carefully chosen to
complete the image. Fluency is another aspect where students can benefit from
poetry because repeating a poem can be a good practice for students to enhance
reading and speaking skills.
A short poem can be more effective than an article or an essay because it is
presented in a musical, interesting and attractive style. Take for example the poem
I'm a Student by FathiNimrawi that includes many characteristics of the good
students and the things that he or she does to be good. It also shows indirectly that
students feel proud simply because they are students. The poet also emphasizes on
the role of teachers in creating a dedicated responsible student who willingly likes to
help others and who has a target that he is eager to fulfill .Although this poem is
relatively short, it sends many strong andbrief messages that an essay or an article
will not be able to do so. In fact the purpose of this poem is to teach manners and
encourage students to appreciate the role of teachers and school in their progress.
Still this poem, like many others, could be a means to teach writing, reading and
speaking if tackled appropriately not to mention the new lexical items that students
learn when dealing with it.
I'm a Student
I'm a student come see me
There is no difference he or she.
Schools were made to educate me
I'm a student come see me.
I come to school happy and free.
I help others teachers teach me.
I'm a student come see me.
I pay attention to every single word
I want to stay on the right road.
I read a lot I write a text,
I interact this is for my best.
I study hard preparing for the test,
If you doubt that please be my guest.
I'm a student please help me,
To fulfill my dreams for eternity
Another major aspect that makes poetry attractive is the music that is represented in
therhyme and the rhythm of the poem. It can be clearly noticed that the lines of
verse one and two end with the sound e whereas the first two lines ofthe third
verse end with the sound D. Lines of verse four end with the T; the poet in the last
verse goes back to the sound of verse one which makes the poem perfect to be a
song. Such poems are simple, relevant and convey a clear and direct message which
makes them a rigid base for so many activities. Another good example that enforces
so many values among students is a poem entitled Proud to be Emirati
Proud to be Emirati
I'm from the UAE
I'm proud to be
The sun the mountains
The sandy beach
are God's gifts to me.
I will always say
I will always pray
May Allah Save
The founder of this country
I'm from the UAE
Emeriti I'll always
Even though this poem is alsoshort, it has the same influence of a whole unit that
It can make a perfectgrade English curriculum.thhas the same name in the 10
supplementary material for the student's book. This poem teaches the love of one's
own country and the sense of pride that accompanies that love. Through this poem
students are expected to learn how to appreciate people who contributed in uniting
this country and worked hard to achieve that goal. A part form teaching values,
manners and ethics, this kind of poetry can be used to teach language as well for the
number of adjectives, adverbs of frequency and nounsthat they contain.
Poetry and linguistics
Linguistics is the science that studies language ; whereas poetry is the art of
employing language in serving certain purposes and creating images using poetic
language therefore linguistic and poetry are inseparable . According to Richard and
Platt (1985, p. 167), linguistics is "the study of language as a systemof human
communication". The history of language study is very old but linguistics flourished
as an independent discipline recently. The field of investigation for linguistics is very
vast. It investigates the sound system of language under sub fields of phonetics and
phonology. It discusses about the arrangement of words into sentences under the
title of syntax and linguistics also discusses the meaning systemof language under
the topics of semantics and pragmatics etc. Anthropological linguistics, psychological
linguistics, sociolinguistics, stylistics, and applied linguistics are newly developed
branches of linguistics.(Analyzing the Language of Poetryfrom a Perspective of Linguistics SardarFayyazul
In the article ,The Four Linguistic Spaces of Poetry, the writer is clearly emphasizing
the strong connection between poetry and linguistics .He says that when composing
a poem, one may need to be concerned with such seemingly extra-linguistic matters
as plot, characterization, setting, theme, topic, and imagery ,all of which are
expressed through language, as well as with such linguistic elements as the
phonological, morphological, syntactical, semantic and other components of a
language , all of which are expressed in the language itself. Nevertheless, it is safe to
say that, more than any other category, poetry requires intensive care in using
linguistic elements .In poetry, the act of verbalization matters most in expressing its
sense or sensibility.( Literature andLinguistics. Taipei:TaiwanNormalUniversity, 1990, No. 16, 113-122.)
So there is a strong bond, if we might say, between poetry and linguistics because
language is the tool that is used to compose a poem or it is the container that poets
choose their vocabulary from. A poet therefore should have a unique sense and
command of the language. A poem is not only a number of words put together ; a
poet should take the linguistic aspects into consideration and the way the elements
of language are used, on structure and pattern both on the level of phrase and of the
overall composition. Poetic writing can be in prose as well as in verse. Fiction has
poetic purposes. Anytime one writes with an emphasis on the way the language is
Members of the poetry community recognize that whether or not it qualifies as
“criticism,” the teaching of poetry at every level of the educational systembenefits
the field. They recognize that whether teachers accomplish it through the use of
anthologies and textbooks, photocopied materials, or online course sites, giving
students’ meaningful access to the texts under discussion is critical to the
educational enterprise (poetryfoundation.org/foundation/best practices)
In fact very few teachers pay attention to the importance of poetry in developing
students' language proficiency this is because they don’t master the necessary tools
that enable them to introduce poetry to their students. Teaching poetry requires
certain skills and talents such as the ability to feel the music and try to pass this
feeling to your students. Some teachers find it difficult to establish a brain storming
session after reading a poem ,which enhances the students; speaking skill, because
they themselves find it difficult to comprehend the images that the poem present.
For them poetry is only a luxury that has nothing to do with language teaching
because they are used to teaching English following the traditional approaches such
as translation and grammar approaches where students have very limited role In the
classroom they are only recipients.
Five reasons why we should teach poetry
1: Poetry helps us know each other and build friendly classroom community that
share something precious interesting and educational at the same time. Poetry can
be used at the start of the year to learn about where students come from and what
they do. It can allow kids to express themselves through painting sketches of their
lives, their families or their surroundings. They can use metaphor, imagery and
symbolic language to describe painful or joyful experiences. Poetry allows kids to put
language to use-to make it serve a deep internal purpose. It gives students a chance
to break rules along the way (grammar, punctuation, capitalization and to find voice,
representation, since the main purpose of poetry is to present the targeted
language in an attractive and entertaining style ,enforce their fluency and make
language familiar to students.
2: When students read poetry aloud, they will be able to feel rhythm , music and
sounds and beats of the poem. Students of all ages may not understand all the
words or meaning, but they'll feel the rhythms, get curious about what the sounds
mean and perhaps want to create their own. Poetry moves us physically and
emotionally students get really excited when they hear or read a poem.
3: poetry improves students' speaking and listening skills, and also widens their
imaginations since poetry contains many images which can be interpreted as short
sentences paragraphs or even essays. Last year I was teaching a poem about school
for the 10th grade entitled Our School.When students came to a verse that says
SO HOW CAN WE REPAY
THOSE WHO ENLIGHTENED OUR LIVES TODAY?
KEEPING THEM IN MIND
AND NEVER FORGET THEM IS THE ONLY WAY.
Based on this verse an initiative was born when one of the students suggested
thanking teachers who taught them in different stages. One can never imagine the
mixed emotions on the faces of teacher when they saw their students surprising
them with a visit some of them cried when students started to speak. This initiative
was really a success and a turning point in students 'lives. This initiative is a perfect
example on how teaching poetry makes a difference; in addition to language this
poem taught very important moral values which are the gratitude and appreciation
for the efforts of people who helped building their characters.
4: Poetry develops a deep sense of language because it challenges the traditional
teaching methodology that focuses mainly on grammar or translation and breaks
their monotony. Traditional techniques present a ridged boring material for students
whereas poetry encourages them to practice the langue in celebratory style full of
images and music. Poems can be easily understood due to their rhythmic style and
5: Poetry can be interpreted in so many different ways which gives each student a
chance to surf the poem and express his thoughts freely. This will help enhance their
self-reliance and develops their character emotionally and socially. Well- tackled
poem can be the key for weak students to change their prospective to language. It
will make them anxious to learn more about it. a poem can help students see the
experience of others in an entirely new way. (ww.edutopia.org/.../five-reasons-poetry-needed-
Poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand
any text. Poetry can also give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions.
Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom
community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often
neglected in high school literature classes.
Students who don’t like writing essays may like poetry, with its shortage of fixed
rules and its kinship with rap. For these students, poetry can become a gateway to
other forms of writing. It can help teach skills that come in handy with other kinds of
writing like precise, economical diction, for example. When Carl Sandburg writes,
“The fog comes on little cat feet,” in just six words, he endows a natural
phenomenon with character, a pace, and a spirit. All forms of writing benefits from
the powerful and concise phrases found in poems.
How to teach poetry?
teaching poetry is One of the major dilemmas that English teachers face ;they try to
avoid or skip poems in the students book because they believe that poetry teaching
is nonsense and it is a waste of time and effort t. Off course this belief is originated
from their disability in dealing with poetry or their lack of desire to learn. They
refuse to go into a vague pathway which they might fail to finish perfectly .in fact
teaching poetry needs creative, dedicated and well-educated teachers who teach
English through culture . Because as it is well known one will never be able to
master a certain language unless he dives deep in the culture that the language
represent for example when you hear a dialogue between two English speaking
people that include the phrase chew on that and the other responds I couldn’t digest
it you will not be able to understand this dialogue unless you are aware of the
culture. the meaning of this dialogue is speaker one asks his friend to think about
something; his friend replies I did but I couldn't understand it or I couldn’t accept it .
Based on my experience as a teacher of English who spent a long time teaching
English through poetry and trying in vain to show other teachers the significance of
doing so I will present some tips that might help other teachers who believe in the
significance of teaching English through poetry, but they don’t know how to start.
1-you have to be convinced of the effectiveness of poetry in teach English ,then you
need to choose poems that fits your students.
2-It's better to choose poems that are connected or close to their environment or
the subject you intend to teach.
3-Practice reciting the poem, feel the music the rhyme and the rhythm before
presenting it to your students a well recited poem will touch the emotions of your
students even if they don’t understand the meaning of certain words. They will be
captured by the beat.
4- Ask your students individually to recite the poem since repetition enables weak
students to comprehend the poem and feel its music.
5- Make your students repeat the poem over and over.At first there will some chaos
so you need to play the role of a maestro because student will not be able to recite
as a group they need time to work on one scale in harmony once they did so you will
enjoy it so much.
6- After you make sure that most if not all you students interacted with the poem,
present the poem on the board and ask your students to underline the words that
they don’t know their meanings.
7- You might rap the poem or even sing it or you can ask some of your students to do
so. This will make the poem more exciting and accessible especially for weak
8- Ask your students about the images that the poem has and whether they can
9- Ask students about their favorite verse or line and why they liked it, and then ask
them to write their pinion of the poem.
10 – Make your students repeat the poem as a group every time you go in to the
classroom until you move to another subject .This will bridge the gap between
students and the language because the tone of the language will be stored in their
memories every time they hear the language ,they will be able to distinguish it.
When you make sure that you students mastered the poem, you can move to
another activity such as teaching comparatives and superlatives, nouns or verbs. He
is the maker; he is the creator
He is the all mighty no one is greater
He is the merciful; the most wonderful
He is the greatest the most powerful
He created darkness; he created light
He gave us intellect just to be bright
He is the light, the brightest light
He never sleeps not even a slight
He watches over us, he loves us
From the forces of darkness
he delivers us
Once we sin he forgives us
The above is a part of a poem, entitled Allah, which was taught to the 11th grade in
Mohammed Bin Hammed secondary school. After I made sure that my students fully
absorbed the poem I asked my students to underline nouns adjectives adverbs and
verbs. After that I asked to put these derivatives in a table ,then students were asked
to find the derivation for each word and fill the table
The next step was using words from the table in simple compound, and complex
sentences; Students are required to vary their choice of words and use the four
derivatives. Although weak students might stick to using on part, its ok encourage
them and try to show them how to use the other parts, make them listen to their
peers sentences and try to imitate them. Make your students read their sentences a
loud if there are any mistakes correct them .As a home work ask your students to
develop their sentences in to paragraphs. The next day ask them to read their
paragraphs before the class and open the floor for discussion .never forget to praise
good students and encourage the weak. Definitely this is a comprehensive
sophisticated and exhausting style for teachers and students, but looking at it from
another angle you will be surprised of the benefits that both teachers and students
gain and you will also notice that there is no boundaries between the four skills ;they
can be taught altogether in one class; you can move from one skill to another
smoothly. Most importantly you will notice the huge impact of poetry while teaching
all these skills.
Ever since I became a teacher I have been searching for the best and easiest ways
that make the process of teaching –learning English more attractive enjoyable and
fruitful . It is true that, like millions of students in the Arab world, I was taught
English according to the traditional approach that was based mostly on translation
and grammar. I became a teacher in 1990; I was expecting some changes on the
teaching methodology and teachers' style. What shocked me the most was that
Students were still taught English in Arabic; teachers were still translating
grammatical rules for their students to memorize them. Teaching any other skills
such as speaking ,listening reading and writing was prohibited so I will not
exaggerate if I say that Arab students know more about the English grammar a lot
more than many of their native peers . Brain storming and critical thinking were
totally ignored. Interactive teaching was not even known; students were only
receivers, they never had the chance to express themselves. I was never convinced
of the efficiency of that approach even though I tried it sometime . I started to look
for untraditional ways and techniques to make my students love the English lessons
and interact more. the best way I tried was teaching English through literature so I
started with short stories I discovered that students enjoy listening to a story and I
found them very attentive tell the last moment after the reading I asked students
about the characters. I taught about the main characters, the minor characters, plot,
summery, setting before we started the discussion, I was amazed of the children's
Although storytelling and story reading are efficient in making students more
involved in the English class, poetry proved to be even more efficient since it enables
students to break all the rules of the traditional English classes; they can hear their
voices reciting, singing or even rapping. Music in poetry makes the weakest students
eager to take part in the lesson even though they don’t understand all the words in
the poem simply because they are attracted to the style which is similar to what
most of them listen to since most of them listen to western songs that are mostly
based on poetry.
Poetry is a good incentive for teachers as well since they notice the enormous
change of their students attitude towards learning the language which encourages
them to increase the dose by inserting other activities that could be taken from the
poem itself such as asking students to make their own poem and recite it before the
class or ask them to find the images in the poem and try to make a painting.
Teachers can also ask their students to choose their best verse and write a short
paragraph aboutit; good students might even write an essay.
rFayyazulHassaAnalyzingthe Language of Poetryfroma Perspective of LinguisticsSarda