First of all, the use of poetry in an EFL classroom can be a great motivator. After all, they are authentic texts. Moreover, poems are rich in cultural references, and they present a wide range of learning opportunities. However, I am no expert in literature – let alone English Literature – thus my aim was not to teach poetry itself, but English through poetry.
The big day had come and I was very anxious to see how the lesson would go since most of Brazilian students tend to regard poetry as something tedious and irrelevant. So, I tried to do something a little different from what the lesson plans I had at home, something that would turn dullness into excitement. Thus I decided not to present any poems in advance and not to mention the words poetry/poem before the correct moment.
The attempts were made with two distinct groups: a Basic compound by teenagers ranging from 11 to 13y.o and a Pre-intermediate compound by teenagers ranging from 11 to 12yo. I started by playing some classical music for them to set the mood.
While the Basic students were listening to Bolero by Maurice Ravel - a very dramatic piece of music - I asked them to close their eyes and think of a landscape, a color, a felling and emotions that they would associate with it. After that they should look at the two paintings I had previously put on the IWB. They were Narcissus and Medusa by the Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio. So I asked: “What do you feel when you look at these pictures? Apprehension? Fear? Solitude? Anger? Love? Happiness? I told them to focus on the music and on the pictures as well.
In small groups students were subsequently supposed to create a mind-map with feelings, emotions, colors, objects, names etc that would link with the music and the pictures. After doing that, they were asked to select one of these items and write about. At this time I first mentioned the word “poem”. This way I feel I could water down their anxiety and provide a propitious environment for writing. And oh boy, they wrote like crazy! Especially because they were told to work collaboratively. Each member of the group would be in charge of a verse. Here are the results:
As for the Pre-intermediate group, I wanted to turn their emotions and perceptions into something a little calmer. So, I played As Bachianas Nº5 by Villa Lobos and the pictures were Woman with a Parasol and Cliff Walk at Pourville by the French impressionist painter Claude Monet. The results followed the idea of calmness, quietude and inner-peace as you can see:
In another opportunity I will have them recite the poems, record and upload it onto Youtube and finally create a Glogster.
My conclusion is that poetry can serve as a great stimulus for EFL students since it can provide great opportunities for personalization and creation. This means that communication is genuine because they are talking and writing about their own perceptions and feelings. They are engaged and motivated which helps making the lesson, the language and poems memorable. As teachers we should not neglect the benefits literature offers. During this simple activity I was able to introduce them to a new world. Some of them had never heard of Villa Lobos. Some thought he was Portuguese. And I dare say that never had they paid attention to classical music and to paintings as they did.
For me, there is no greater reward.
P.S I’ve posted the students’ original piece of writing so as not to hinder the outcome of this project. Later on I corrected them and gave feedback.