Levels: pre-intermediate to low upper-intermediate.
Ages: older kids; teens; young adults.
Type: writing poems; revising grammar structures.
Skills: writing; listening; speaking; pronunciation (conveying emotion through emphasis and pausing).
Language focus: grammar revision; vocab – adjectives to make a description more detailed and colourful.
Note: This idea comes from Writing Simple Poems (Cambridge: University Press, 2001).
Before the lesson, think of a kind of poem you could write with the grammar structure you’ve been teaching, and note down the structure of a poem, but leave out the personalisable content – e.g.:
In London, I feel [emotion]
Back home, people are [verb + ing]
They are [verb + ing], [verb + ing] and [verb + ing].
Lovers are [verb + ing],
[a kind of animal] are [verb + ing].
In London, I feel [repeat first line].
Method One – straight up
Pre-teach any punctuation marks in your poem structure, as well as “gap” where you want them to leave a space. Ask students to imagine you are a dictating machine. Tell Ss they can work you by saying “start”, “stop”, or “rewind” and begin dictating your structure.
After, students check in pairs to make sure they’ve got the same structure. Board the structure. Draw a line for each gap, and under the gap write “emotion,” “verb + ing”, etc.
Give the students three to five minutes to complete their poems with words in the gap.
Method Two – mad-libs
Before you start, make sure you’ve numbered the occurrences of the content gaps in the poem for yourself. In the example above, there are 9 in total.
In London, I feel [emotion]1
Back home, people are [verb + ing]2
They are [verb + ing]3, [verb + ing]4 and [verb + ing]5…
Ask your students to get out paper and pen. First of all, ask them to write the numbers 1 to 9 (or however many content gaps there are in your poem) in a line down their sheet of paper, and demo this on the board. E.g.:
Tell them you will dictate some grammar structures, and they should write the first English word they think of that has that structure. Ask them to write one word next to each number on their sheet of paper.
Do the first as an example with the class. You say “emotion” and elicit some different emotions from the class. They write down whatever emotion came to them first. Do the second with the whole class as well – e.g., you say “verb + ing”, then elicit some English verbs in this form (running, waiting, etc.) – and again, ask your students to write down the first verb + ing they thought of next to number 2.
Dictate the rest of the content gaps (“3 – another verb + ing,” etc.) and make sure students are writing down different ones, and that these are ones they think of quickly.
Once you’ve dictated all the gaps, you can move in to the main dictation phase. This should be quite fun for the students, as they’re going to add their words to your structure, and some of them might be quite bizarre. Pre-teach any punctuation marks in your poem structure, as well as “gap” where you want them to leave a space. Ask students to imagine you are a dictating machine. Tell Ss they can work you by saying “start”, “stop”, or “rewind” and ask them to write their word when you say a number. For example, “I feel very 1” would be “I feel very [elicit different emotions that students wrote]”. Begin dictating your structure.
When you are finished, students might well want to read their poems out to each other. Let them do this, at least in pairs. Any really stupid or funny ones can be read out to the class, if the enthusiasm is there.
An example completed poem
This one’s by me, and was mad-libbed (method two above), so I’m not going to apologise for the emotion I chose!
In London, I feel angry
Back home, people are playing
They are eating, sleeping and running.
Lovers are smiling,
cats are gnashing teeth.
In London, I feel angry.
After students have finished writing their poems
Once they have completed their poems, these can be used in a variety of ways: for intonation practice; for silent reading; for running dictations; to turn into a group story or a role-play; etc.