- Keywords: Poetry writing, pronunciation, syllables
- Learner English level: Intermediate and above
- Learner maturity: High school and above
- Preparation time: 20 minutes
- Activity time: 90-120 minutes
- Materials: Slides or handouts of example poems
This poetry-writing activity enables students to showcase their creative writing skills by composing a short poem, the form of which has been designed to restrict the usefulness of translation software and online poetry generators, such as those readily available to produce English haiku. The poems have a three-line, 8-11-8 syllable structure, which is too long for haiku generators, yet short enough to limit the use of prose sentences that can be translated online. The structure is easy to understand, and not unduly difficult to write. It provides students with a stimulating outlet for creative expression, and an appealing way to improve not just their pronunciation, but also the stress, rhythm and intonation of their speech.
Make slides or handouts of two example poems (see appendix for examples on the theme of student life). Do not include the syllable counts.
Step 1: Show the students the example poems. Have them check their understanding with each other, and then discuss their opinions of the situations described. Do they sympathize with the poet?
Step 2: Read the poems to the class in dramatic fashion, then have students practice reciting them, chorally and in pairs.
Step 3: Ask students how many syllables there are in each line. If necessary, demonstrate how to count syllables. For example: Place the hand, palm down, a short distance under the chin. Then say each line aloud, enunciating carefully, opening the mouth wide. Each time the chin touches the back of the hand counts as one syllable. Emphasize this method only works with correct pronunciation. Encourage students to check their pronunciation in dictionaries.
Step 4: Tell students that they are going to write their own poems, and ask them to brainstorm other aspects of their lives – positive and negative – that would make good topics.
Step 5: Explain that there is only one other rule: Each line of the poem must be wholly and easily comprehensible when considered in isolation from the rest of the poem. For instance, the following revised version of Example 1 would be invalid:
I wake up scared as my alarm 8 syllables
roars like a lion! It cannot possibly 11 syllables
be six o’clock in the morning 8 syllables
In contrast, the correct version of Example 1 comprises three distinct lines:
I wake up, scared – my alarm roars!
Six o’clock already? Impossible! No!
Let me sleep ten more minutes … please …
Step 6: Allow 40-50 minutes for students to write their poems. Monitor and assist as necessary.
Step 7: When the allotted time is up, tell students to share their poems with a partner, give each other feedback on the form and content, and make any necessary alterations.
Step 8: Have students mingle, reading their poems aloud as expressively as possible to each other, changing partners frequently. If time allows, encourage some to read their work to the whole class.
Students enjoy the challenge of using their own experiences and ideas in completing this unconventional writing exercise. They have fun trying out the suggested syllable counting method and practicing their pronunciation, and enthusing themselves and each other with the diversity of the inventive, moving, inspired and offbeat poems they compose.
The appendix is available below.