Por- Monica Lluch Lotfi
¿Qué es poesía?, dices, mientras clavas
en mi pupila tu pupila azul,
¡Qué es poesía! ¿Y tú me lo preguntas?
Poesía… eres tú. (Rima XXI Gustavo Adolfo Becquer)
“Poesía eres tú.” One of my favorite lines of poetry. In those simple words, you can open a world of imagination, creativity, and inspiration. Poetry is a literary form that can provide challenges in the classroom, particularly in the lower grades.
Throw in the double meanings, the rhyme schemes, and vocabulary and you may lose the students altogether! On the other hand, a language classroom is a place to explore and discover language, to play with it, and enjoy its rhythms and sounds.
Poetry is the perfect vehicle–to borrow a phrase from Shrek, it is like an onion! The outer layer is the poem itself: imagery, sound, flow, and vocabulary. Underneath are the added layers of context, structures, creativity, and use of language to create a vivid image or representations of the intangible.
Consider Rima XXI by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. These few lines are simple to understand and visualize. Examine deeper and see the layers of those lines. What discussions can be provoked by the line “mientras clavas en mi pupila tu pupila azul” ? What emotions does it stir? What images does it conjure? The direction is up to you, as is how deep you want to dive into its layers!
In the classroom, it is important to choose the right type of poetry for the age of the student. This means it must have some hook or connection for the students. For younger students, this is particularly important to engender curiosity about what is being said. Even a longer poem or one used in a picture book can be divided into smaller sections and used over time. Here are some ideas:
Introduce students to a variety of poems by using them as a Brain Break activity: use the whole or part of the poem:
- To help with breathing exercises.
- Read it at different speeds, using different tone of voice and/or emotions, and encourage students to move in a way that represents the vocabulary or message in the poem, or clap to the rhythm of the words.
Using poetry as a brain break activity removes the need to explore grammar structure, literary forms, definitions, and vocabulary, yet students get the benefit of hearing the flow and rhythms of the language and engage with the emotions of the poem.
Another option is to connect poetry to the content in other subject areas. There is a poetry component in the Language Arts curriculum. Talk with other teachers and ask what types of poems they will be covering with students. Use these types of poems in your own classroom—a cinquain, haiku, or shape poem are a few types of poetry that elementary students can create in the World Language classroom.
An example would be an acrostic poem. This is a fun and simple way for students to use the vocabulary they are learning and write their own poems in the target language. It can be as guided as you wish.
Below is an example from a unit on food and food groups. Students were free to choose their own words based on a food group. In addition to food words, there are also adjectives and table-setting words that fit in with the foods selected.
An acrostic poem uses a single word that provides a letter to each line of the poem, in this case, food groups. Students can complete the poem by adding the names of foods using a letter from the food group (see attached). An extension could be to share these with older grades and have them insert additional words to create an original poem. Next to the acrostic is an idea of what the poem would look like:
Pollo rosado y queso
Están en el plato.
Tenedor y cuchillo
Para la carne caliente
Other content area topics can be used to encourage students to use the language they are learning. Number poems, poems about animals, nature, feelings, history are a few ideas.
Poems can be used as a form of greeting as students come into the classroom. You have seen the fun handshakes or dances some teachers use to greet students entering the class, why not use poetry? Find a poem that has enough lines/words for each student in the class and then say that line each time the student enters the classroom.
Use gestures and tone of voice to encourage students to repeat their lines. Over time, students will learn the line. Once this happens have the students organize the lines into a poem. Compare it to the original and discuss the reasoning behind their choices. This is also a great activity to do with the Language Arts teacher.
There are poems by well-known authors you might not think about for younger grades, but don’t discount them! One of my favorites is “Las Moscas” by Antonio Machado, for an insect unit with upper elementary students. Another is “La Canción del Pirata” by Jose Espronceda which would be nice to do with younger students using images and actions because who does not nat to be a pirate!.. The refrain can be used to introduce wants and needs: With these, choose a stanza or two. Send the poem home to include and encourage deeper discussions with parents.
There are also good anthologies from which to select poems for young learners. These are:
“Todo es Cancion” by Alma Flor Ada with poems arranged by topic. Another is “Poesía Eres Tú” by F Isabel Campoy.
We end where we started- “Poesía eres tú” because poems are within each of us.
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