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Writing Poetry With English Language Learners

By: Kristina Robertson

Writing poetry is a great exercise for English language learners. It gives them a chance to experiment with language and vocabulary, and to freely share their ideas without the confinement of perfect grammar or firm structures. Many ELLs have also had rich life experiences that range from memories of their home culture to saying good-bye to loved ones and adjusting to a new life in the U.S. They may very well welcome this opportunity to create heartfelt poems to share with their classmates and family. Here are some suggestions for getting started:

  • Read a variety of poems first.

    I would recommend a couple of different kinds of poems before assigning any writing activities. For more ideas on how to start a unit on poetry, be sure to take a look at Introducing and Reading Poetry with English Language Learners. While the introduction doesn’t have to be too in-depth, giving students time to read and think about poems will help them feel more comfortable when it’s time to write.

  • Introduce different poetry forms as models.

    Read some poems that fit the structure or format, discuss unique rhyming or line patterns, and then have students try writing on their own, using the poems read in class as a model. Focus on each form before moving on to the next one so that students have a chance to master it.

  • Use poetry throughout the curriculum.

    You may also wish to use poetry writing as an activity in other content-area lessons, or trying having students write some of these poems as riddles that their classmates have to figure out.

My own knowledge of poetry forms was pretty limited before I began teaching poetry, but here are some poetry forms that work effectively with students, as well as some ideas of how to help students try their hand at writing! I recommend beginning with simple poetry styles such as the ones that follow, as these forms offer a lot of structure and students of all English levels will find them easier to work with.