Writing Poetry with English Language Learners 

Poetry is a wonderful form of literature that has the power to capture the essence of life experiences and express them in a way that touches the heart and soul. Writing poetry can also be a great way for English language learners to develop their language skills by playing with words, syntax, and sound. In this article, we will explore some tips on how to encourage and guide English language learners to write poetry.

Build Vocabulary

The first step in writing poetry is to build vocabulary. Encourage learners to keep a notebook of new words and phrases they come across as they read and listen to English-language music, movies or podcasts. Then, ask them to investigate the meanings and connotations of these words and how they might be used in a poetic context. Some examples of words to explore might be ‘serene,’ ‘luminous,’ ‘caress,’ or ‘ethereal.’ This vocabulary-building exercise will provide a foundation for their poetic writing.

Write Free Verse

Free verse is a style of poetry that has no specific rhyme or meter. It allows the writer to experiment more freely with language and sounds while also removing the burden of rigid formality. It can be a great way to start for beginners. Encourage ELLs to experiment with free verse by writing about one topic or theme that is meaningful to them. Start with a free-write about the topic or memory, and then work it into a poem by breaking up the text into short lines.

Use Figurative Language

Figurative language is another aspect of poetry that gives words deeper meanings and layers of emotion. You’ll be surprised how much of this they know from their native language. Explaining similes, metaphors, personification and another figurative language to ELLs can help them connect with their emotions and apply them to their own writing. Encourage them to use sensory details in descriptions and comparisons. This exercise enhances both their writing and understanding of English as a language, and also provides insight into their own perspectives.

Read Poetry Together

Reading poetry together is one of the best ways to inspire ELL learners to write poetry. Reading rhymed poetry aloud, whether it’s a classic or contemporary piece, showcases the sounds, images, and emotions of the poems. Ask questions about wh-words such as, “What is the mood? What words stood out to you? What do you think the poem is about?” Use poems that are quick to read or perform, such as haikus, to keep students engaged and enthused. As they read and dissect the poem, encourage learners to think about the poetic devices the writer utilizes, and think about how they might use them in their own writing.

Edit, Edit, Edit

The best poems are often the result of rigorous self-editing and multiple revisions. Encourage ELLs to read their own poems aloud, maybe even in pairs, and consider any awkward or hard-to-understand phrasing. Encourage them to tweak word choice to find exactly the right words that effectively convey their thoughts and feelings. Remind them that more often than not, a first draft is just a starting point, and that it takes practice to hone one’s writing skills.

Writing poetry with English language learners is a great way to build language skills, stretch the imagination, and express emotions. With a little guidance and inspiration, ELLs can discover a true talent and love for poetic writing.

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