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USING POETRY IN THE EFL CLASSROOM

APPI SEMINAR Coimbra, Portugal, Sunday 29th April 2012

DAVID PETRIE

SLIDE 1 Greeting my names David Petrie and I live here in Coimbra, where I work for International House. I also blog at www.teflgeek.net. SLIDE 2 This session is going to look at the why and the how of using poetry in the language classroom, but first of all, lets think about our own experiences of poetry: Whats your favourite poem? If you could put yourselves together in groups of three or four share your favourite poem and what it means to you. Content feedback does anyone want to share? SLIDE 3 This is my current favourite poem it does tend to change a bit, but this is usually the poem I come back to: Ozymandias by Shelley. Close your eyes for a moment and listen to the description: who does it make you think of? I dont know why, but it makes me think of Jose Mourinho. (SLIDE 4) SLIDE 5 The quotes why we should use poetry at all? The first quote from the book Poem into Poem by Alan Maley and Sandra Moulding for me, neatly expresses why poetry should be on the curriculum of every school throughout the world particularly in the ELT classroom. Poetry allows us a freedom with language, the freedom to manipulate language without fear of the consequences. We can play with forms and ideas, layer meanings on top of one another, be silly or serious or both. The second quote just reminds us that poetry is a personal thing and not everyone is inclined to the creative impulse and that this is ok. So now were going to look at three different poems and Id like you to have a quick chat in your same groups about the three poems that you see before you. (a) which one do you like best? (b) Would you use them with your classes? If so, how? SLIDE 6
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Content feedback: which is your favourite? How would you exploit them? For me these poems represent the three main ways of approaching literature and texts in the classroom, not just poetry. SLIDE 7 These are TAVI, TALO & TASP and well look at each of these in turn and look at some activities that you can use with your classes. SLIDE 8 So first of all TAVI. SLIDE 9 TAVI: Text as a vehicle for information. If you're taking a TAVI approach to a text, then what's in the text is more important than the language used within the text. The purpose of using a TAVI text might therefore be to develop the learners' ability to access the content, by using predictive tasks, gist tasks, detail tasks - or by developing other reading sub-skills. Using poetry that you've selected specifically to appeal to the learners, or to provide an alternative viewpoint on a topic, can sometimes be more engaging and motivating than relying on coursebook reading texts. SLIDE 10 though maybe not in this case I suppose it depends on your opinion of John Donne. The point is that the language Donne uses in the poem is archaic and outmoded, not so much in terms of vocabulary as most of it is still current, but more in terms of the word order and the structures that he employs. I think this is a poem worthy of learners attention, but not of learners emulation. So lets try an example task. SLIDE 11 This was created by entering the text of a poem into Tagxedo, one of many word cloud generators you can find online. Take a moment to look at the graphic and with the person sitting next to you, discuss what you think the topic of the poem is. Content feedback ideas from the crowd. Heres the poem SLIDE 12 Its the Liverpool poet Adrian Henris Tonight at noon. So were you right? Did you get the topic right? What do you think the topic of the poem is now? (An impossible affair / relationship) There are two things I can think of to do with this poem: Firstly Its a poem of contradictions and juxtaposition can we put it back to normal? So for example, the first line should read: Today at noon.
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Secondly, the poem is very much an artifact of its time and place in the world 1960s Liverpool, England. A much more interesting challenge for learners might be to update it for the present era and their own location they could keep as many of the ideas from the original as they wanted, but change others. Tonight at noon, petrol companies will lower the price of fuel. I would also limit them to about ten lines, otherwise it would take far too long and be more of an imposition and less of a challenge. Moving on SLIDE 13 Heres TALO - TALO is Text as a linguistic object SLIDE 14 Where TAVI is all about meaning, TALO is all about form. When you use a text with TALO in mind, it will probably be because the text is loaded with examples of a particular language point. A classic example is the Suzanne Vega song "Tom's Diner", which is loaded with examples of the present continuous (and present simple). A typical TALO approach to a text might initially focus on the content, and then move on to identify aspects of language, so in a text on a football match, learners might identify all the verbs in the text relating to actions in the game (pass, shoot, save etc) With poetry, reliance on a particular language form can often seem quite poetical and if you work with a model, learners can produce some nice poems themselves. SLIDE 15 This is from the book Teaching Grammar Creatively relating teaching simple descriptive similes to elementary learners. Heres another activity also taken from Teaching Grammar Creatively youll need a bit of paper and a pen for this. Can you divide the paper into five columns, headed like this: SLIDE 16 OK? Now with the person sitting next to you, how many words can you think of for each category in two minutes? Ready? Go! Feedback with learners at this point, Id stop and get some feedback, get them to come up and write their words into each category on the board, add to the categories. The purpose of this is to make sure they have the vocabulary resources they need for the next stage.

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May 2012

Now Im going to describe someone using these categories and Id like you to guess who he is: Dirty white / the roar of the crowd / the residual smell of bad aftershave in a nightclub at the end of the night / a peacock / tapas. Feedback guesses from the room SLIDE 17 thats right its Cristiano Ronaldo. If we put that into sentence forms we get some nice second conditional forms: If he was a . hed be .. Going back to the words you wrote down SLIDE 18 Take a moment to think of someone you know - family, friends, or famous and try writing your own poem. In groups of three or four, share the poems and see if you can guess who the people are or what their relationship to the writer is. (Feedback from the room?) So weve practiced a language point and the outcome has been a poem. It can be nice to correct the work and ask the learners to type it up and add a picture to it, so they can be displayed in the classroom or the school. A variation on this can be to work exclusively with celebrities, (to avoid family photos being defaced or damaged) and to create Who am I birthday cards, so the question Who am I? or Who is he / she? is the title, the poem underneath and then you open the card to see the picture of the person on the inside. These also would make a nice display. One other thing that can be nice to try is translation. Language teaching isnt about imposing culture, its about expressing culture. So heres an excerpt from a Portuguese poet Im going to attempt this in Portuguese, so I apologise in advance for my mangled pronunciation: Com grandes golpes bato porta e brado: Eu sou o Vagabundo, o Deserdado. . . Abri-vos, portas douro, ante meus ais! Abrem-se as portas douro, com fragor. . . Mas dentro encontro s, cheio de dor, Silncio e escurido e nada mais! Does anyone recognise the poet or poem? Its from The Palace of Fortune by Antero de Quental. Ill be honest, I chose De Quental because my school, International House Coimbra, lives at 135 Rua Antero de Quental. OK so is anyone willing to try a translation of it?
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Feedback This is the one I have. SLIDE 19. Its a bit like teaching isnt it? Silence and darkness within? Translating poetry is reputedly an incredibly tricky business its said that you cant translate poetry merely write another poem on the same subject in a different language so I wouldnt expect perfection, indeed I would welcome error, as this then leads into a really interesting justification of WHY the learners chose the words or phrasing that they did. OK so moving on to TASP SLIDE 19 TASP is text as a springboard for production / or text as a stimulus for production. SLIDE 20 Here, we're using texts as a jumping off point, a source of inspiration for later learner produced language. We might be looking to promote discussion, continue a story, spark an argument. It is in some respects similar to TAVI in that the language content of the text doesnt really matter, though obviously it needs to be accessible to the class. It differs though in that we arent really interested in developing learners reading skills either. Its all about the content, which ideally should be provocative and controversial. SLIDE 21 For the record I quite like Portuguese beer, but Im still not a fan of cod! This poem is Kit Wrights Magic Box SLIDE 22 (recite poem) The language in it is possibly a little high level but it does have the advantage of being part of the UK primary curriculum, so quite apart from my ideas on how to use it, if you just do a google search on the poem, youll find huge amounts of resources dedicated to exploiting it. My idea is relatively simple a pyramid discussion. Ask the learners to think of three things that they want to include in a magic box. Rather than make this overly personal, and run the risk of learners not wanting to share aspects of their lives in this way, encourage the learners to think of things that are worth preserving from the wider world, but from their personal perspective. So for me, my three things would be (1) the miles my wife and I drove on our honeymoon (2) the atmosphere at Highbury football stadium the last time I saw Arsenal win a game there (3) the flavour of wasabi and soy sauce from my favourite Japanese restaurant.

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May 2012

Very briefly, have a chat with the person next to you about the things youd like to preserve in the magic box. The next stage of the pyramid discussion is for learners to agree in pairs on five things between them to go in the box, then in groups of four to agree on seven things to go in the magic box and then two larger groups to agree on nine things to go in the magic box. The magic box can then be illustrated and a poem written to describe it by the different pairs. The trick is always to choose an odd number for each stage. Another poem likely to provoke a reaction amongst teenage classes is the brilliant Roger McGoughs The Lesson SLIDE 23 (Time to read) This could be part of a wider lesson on behavior and whether the learners think they torment their teachers or not, how they could be better behaved. The learners could even write their own version of the poem but mostly its here because I thought you might enjoy it. SLIDE 24 (Intro Slide) There is inevitably in all of these distinctions between TAVI, TALO and TASP, some crossover. You cant access a text for linguistic purposes unless you read it first, which means that you must be using your reading skills. Likewise, linguistic comprehension of a text is necessary to respond to a texts content and reacting to content is a natural and automatic process. So there is always some interplay between these models I think the reason why its worth making the distinction between these models is because USE does not equal DEVELOPMENT. If you think about what you hope the learners are going to do better by the end of the lesson and then go back and think about how thats going to happen then I think these ideas can be useful. OK so thats about it for me. Does anybody have any questions? Q&A SLIDE 25 So for references sake, this is the bibliography for the workshop. A reminder that if you want to take another look at this session, a reduced you tube version of the presentation and references and links are available to view on my blog: www.teflgeek.net just search for a short talk on using poetry. Thank you all very much.

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May 2012