Developing creative- linguistic abilities through classroom poetry

 Dinesh Kumar Thapa, Lalitpur


“Poetry and hums aren’t things which you get; they’re things which get you.  And all you can do is go where they can find you.”-Winnie.

Classroom poems are funny and full of variety. They make a class really lively and motivating. Poetry can be oral or written, or both. They can be read aloud for developing oral- pronunciation ability, or they can be written to develop creative- linguistic abilities in English. Poems demand a lot of expressive ability on the part of the learners, so they engage the learners for the creation of meaning. Besides, using poetry in the class allows the children to express in the ‘little English’ they have developed in the beginning years of learning. It develops confidence in the learners for producing English and motivates them to learn more English. Poems are interesting for all, and even more interesting for the little kids.

For the purpose of this article, I have used the term poetry to encompass all English teaching activities which involve musical quality, which are aesthetic and expressive, and which do not demand rigid grammar rules to carry them out. Activities such as rhymes, songs, riddles, musical compositions, jingles, etc. have been included under classroom poetry here. The teacher here does not need to worry about such concepts as the theme, form, metaphor or the criticism of poetry, as they are not such academic poems for critical study. Rather, for us, poems are simply a tool of developing English in the learners! The activities suggested here are appropriate for junior/ primary level students, yet they can equally be employed in the higher levels with modifications.

1.     Naming poems: This technique involves creation of a poem out of the names of the students with some additional details for the name.

Laxaman is always late and Geeta is great,
Hari becomes hungry, but Rabin becomes red.

The list goes on for each student. Here, the initial sound of the first name has been matched with the corresponding initial sound of the adjective that tells something about the person.

2.     Event- making poems: Here, learners create a poem based on the theme of an event, e.g. making a party, celebrating the school day, organizing a cultural show, etc. Each line in the poem will be telling who will be involved in the event in what way.)

Making a Party
This is Bina with a big banana,
This is Suman with some soup,
This is Rabina with red raspberry,
And this is Kanchhi with a clean cup.

Each upcoming line here includes the necessary preparation to be done for the event including each student’s roles. Here, the initial sound of the name has been repeated with the corresponding initial sound of the adjective and the noun that tell about the event.

3.     Attribute poem: It is a technique which involves creation of a poem using common adjectives and nouns in a pattern of rhyme.

My Family
My mummy is thirty- nine
But she is very fine.
My dad is good,
But he has a sad mood.
My puppy is nice,
But it eats much rice.

The lines continue until all/ most family members are included through with appropriate attribute words. Here, common nouns and adjectives have been used in patterns, both in structure and rhyme; the use of conjunction, ‘but’ shows a contradiction in meaning.

4.     Chain poem: It is a technique to create a poem expressing as much as possible on a single topic, possibly adding something on each upcoming line.

Wai Wai Noodles
Wai Wai,
Wai Wai is delicious,
Wai Wai is delicious, marvelous,
Wai Wai is delicious, marvelous, satisfying,
Wai Wai is delicious, marvelous, satisfying, so tasty,
Sweet Wai Wai for all.

Here, more and more words have been added to tell different feelings about the topic.

5.     Narrative poem: In this technique, a poem is created for telling a story, a past experience, a journey or an event.

Lagankhel Trip
I was going to Lagankhel,
And I was carrying my favourite bag,
My little, brown beautiful bag,
My father had recently bought for school,
And it was the rainy time,
I was looking my head downs and ups,
Into the tall houses and big shops,
And I slipped on the banana cover,
Very painful, I felt so bored,
Because me and my new bag got splashed in the muddy road.

The lines go on until the complete story is narrated. Here, more and more past experiences and feelings are added to the initial beat.

7. Instructional Poems: for creating a poem using instructional lines, students here think of diverse ethical/ moral codes of conduct and write either positive or negative statements with expression of results intermittently. 

Mind Your Manners
Don’t drum on the table,
Don’t play with your food;
Don’t talk while you’re chewing;
Because it’s terribly rude!

Don’t litter the room,
And don’t slam the screen door.
Don’t throw dirty laundry;
Because it’s making mom angry more!
Don’t fight with your young sister,
And don’t pull the cat’s tail;
Don’t pelt stones on the street,
It might be more dangerous than a nail!

8.     Metaphorical poems: in this technique, the teacher and the learners work together to brain- storm ideas and create a poem using poetic devices like metaphor and simile.

[Theme: My Country; associated adjectives: small, famous, peaceful, amazing, historic, etc. Other nouns associated to the descriptive words, as for the adjective ‘small’- doll, fingers in the hand, etc.; for ‘famous’-  our president, Meri Bassai Serial, Pele, etc.]

My country is small
Like the doll in the bag and the fingers on my palm;
My country is peaceful,
More silent than the market and school.
My country is amazing,
With so varied cultures, languages and mountains.
My country is so beautiful,
I must feel proud and grateful.

Here words (especially noun words) related about a theme are collected first; then adjective words are associated to each initial noun words, and further extensions are made until students’ vocabulary permits. Then the associated words are stated in sentences attempting a higher order of imagination.

9.     Bio- poem: Employing this technique involves creating a poem using biographical information of persons/ places using WH- question probes, real or metaphorical.

[Topic:  Nepal; Some words that describe the place: beautiful, peaceful and romantic

What it has? Who loves? Who gives? Who feels? Who wants? Who fears? Etc.].

Beautiful, peaceful and romantic;
Has a lot of mountains, lakes and rivers;
Who loves the varied races, cultures and people;
Who gives education, peace, security and progress;
Who wants us all to grow and to learn the best to live happily;
Who fears war, insecurity and national challenge;
My motherland Nepal.

 Here the teacher arranges for a brainstorm using different WH- bio probes in order to include most salient pieces of information as they are needed for a biographical understanding of a place/ person or thing. After having adequate information, lines are composed in line with the probes.

10.  Other techniques

We can also use jingles, rhymes, mimes and other expressive techniques. We can also ask the students to tune the poems with the local rhythm, like folk song- tune, pop- tune, etc. and to perform to the whole class individually or in groups.

Some thoughts about teaching English in Nepal

The English language is the most important international language in this century. These days, English is not only the language of Britons and Americans; rather it has become a world language. It is now the language of international trade, business and diplomacy, language of higher education, wider cultural understanding and more job opportunities. Recognizing the very importance, the public and the Government have also given due consideration in the promotion of English in Nepal. Expenditure on teaching English is also huge for developing courses, materials, assessment and so on. Besides these, every workplaces and classrooms are also ripe with the talks of learning English. Today’s parents also demand at least communicational literacy in English for the children. Also, many Nepali medium community schools have started teaching through the medium of English at different levels. Besides, the charm of English medium school is quite obvious for us. But, despite all these assets, the result of our children is not so encouraging. The exam results and different assessment studies show that the proficiency of learners’ English in Nepal is not on par with the expectation; be it in the primary or tertiary grades.

The low level of student achievement, however, is the result of multiple factors. The teacher alone is not and cannot be made responsible for such. It is true that our children come from difficult backgrounds; parental level of conscious is low. We also may not have audio- visual support in the classroom. Besides, we are also not well trained in teaching English. These are our realities. However, we cannot get free from our responsibility; neither can we skip from the problems. So it is wiser to search for the bright side of the dark cloud. At least our parents have believed in us and have sent their children to us; at least we have the physical presence of the child, so we become teacher. If there would be no children, whom would we be teaching to? So, it is upon us, specifically the English teachers, and all teachers in general, to realize the aspiration of the parents and the students. Our sincere efforts and dedication are the only solution for the time being, as we cannot expect a drastic change overnight. Our small initiatives will definitely result into the improvement of English teaching scenario. The future of the innocent ones is in our hands, is not it English language teachers!

[I was inspired for writing this piece by the Asian English Teachers Creative Writing Group Seminar held in Nepal in 2009, especially from the presentation by Mr. Lekhanath Pathak and Ms. Maya Rai.]

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