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Multimodality and Multiliteracy Approach to Teaching Poetry in English Language Classroom: From Experience to Exploration

Dasarath Rai

We are aware that the unprecedented technological shift has significantly changed the way we teach and learn the English language today. Rajendrama (2020), asserts that “as societies become more globally interconnected through digital technologies, a wider and more complex range of communication modes is needed to disseminate and exchange knowledge” (p.151). From this perspective, it is important to consider that the integration of diverse communication modes in teaching and learning activities is an integral part of today’s classrooms. Furthermore, she adds, 

The communication practices of our learners today are intrinsically multimodal, as they naturally draw on multiple semiotic modes such as text, images, video, and sound to express their ideas, consume information, and create new content on social media, photo- and video-sharing websites, video gaming, podcasts, vlogs, blogs, and so on (p.151).

Multimodality is “a reciprocal connection and interplay between different communicative modes” (Song, 2012). In such an increasingly digital world, what role should the English language teachers play? Have they been able to create space for learning where the learners can equitably perceive and express their ideas through different modes? This write-up shares practical techniques for teaching poetry based on a multimodal approach in today’s increasingly digitalized world which is expected to be helpful for teachers while teaching English in different settings. 

Multimodality and multiliteracies

The application of this approach in the classroom is believed to foster learners’ ability to acquire and perceive information and linguistic elements and enhance students’ interaction, and critical thinking (Reyes-Torres & Raga, 2020). Furthermore, I believe that this approach will contribute to equitable learning opportunities for learners inheriting different learning styles. For this approach to teaching, I have used knowledge processes of multimodal pedagogy proposed by Reyes-Torres and Raga (2020), which comprises a) experiencing, b) conceptualizing c) analyzing d) applying as a means of implementing multiliteracies pedagogy in EFL (English as a foreign language) classrooms.

Historically multiliteracies pedagogy was introduced in 1996 by the New London Group (NLG) as an approach to literacy that would be receptive to the changing cultural, linguistic and communicative realities of increasingly globalized societies (Rajendrama, 2020). If so, what does multiliteracies pedagogy do? To put it simply, it is the knowledge and ability to understand and use different modes of communication. As suggested by the NLG learners can draw five different modes of communication for meaning-making. They are as follows. 

  • linguistic mode (e.g. learners home and school language, dialects, rhetorical structure)
  • visual (e.g. images, colours) 
  • audio (music, sound effects) 
  • gestural (e.g. movement) 
  • spatial (e.g. positioning of objects)

The application of different modes in teaching and learning is termed as pedagogy of multiliteracies. Reyes-Torres and Raga (2020) suggest four process knowledge construction (FPKC) based on the multiliteracies pedagogy as discussed below: 

Experiencing: it is the first step of teaching which engages learners in meaningful ways that incorporate both spontaneous reflection and lived experiences. This allows them to immerse themselves in the text and world. 

Conceptualizing: it draws students’ attention towards specific concepts and explicit instruction on how linguistic, visual, spatial layout, etc. produces meaning. It emphasizes what they should know and understand about the text. They also learn to examine what specific knowledge and skills they need in their process of inquiry and meaning-making.

Analyzing: it engages students in examining and discussing the author’s message from their perspectives.

Applying: it emphasizes the transfer of new knowledge to other situations and the production of new designs. Thus, learners, at this level, become able to apply different strategies for their learning.

Application of the FPKC framework in my context

While teaching poetry in the previous years, I would simply write the title on the board and give a general background of the poet followed by the discussion of a few questions related to the title or the poet. Thereafter, I would deal with some unfamiliar words and get a student to recite the poem. Then, I would explain every line along with rhyming patterns and figurative devices. For me, the interpretation of the text and meaning construction was more important. However, now with the application FPKC framework including multimodality helped me engage students differently in my classes. In the section below I discuss its application in relation to teaching the poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost.

credit: freepik.com

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;   

He will not see me stopping here   

To watch his woods, fill up with snow.



Credit: freepik.com

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.



credit: freepik.com

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.



credit: freepik.com

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.


The visuals alongside the poem presented above can be used to teach students about the poem’s setting. The pictures have been chosen in alignment with the theme of every stanza. Now, let’s discuss the application of the FPKC framework in teaching the poem. 


This stage is similar to the conventional pre-reading stage which allows teachers to reach a closer understanding of students’ perspectives and prior knowledge. At this stage, teachers should develop students’ thoughts and engage them cognitively. As suggested by Reyes-Torres & Raga (2020), it can be done in two ways: a) by fostering an open conversation to initiate a process of inquiry and reflection through which they can use their previous experience and b) by directing their attention toward the text through a visual thinking strategy.

While teaching the poetry mentioned above, I followed the first strategy which is to begin the lesson with an open conversation. The following model questions were used to initiate the conversation.  

  • Have you ever encountered a similar environment or setting depicted in the picture before? If so, describe your experience orally and compare it to the image presented. 
  • Reflecting on the images, what emotion or thoughts do they stir within you? 
  • Take two minutes to write down your immediate thoughts and feelings inspired by the images. 

In the second stage, we can follow the visual thinking strategy which can be carried out as follows. 

  • Revisit the title of the poem and create a drawing that represents the imagery or concept evoked by the title. Share and discuss your visuals with your classmates.
  • Choose the images displayed and describe them in your own words paying attention to its composition, colours, textures, and overall setting. Then describe how these elements contribute to the mood or message conveyed through the text. 

Multimodal entails a combination of several channels to foster the development of students’ cognitive and linguistic abilities. This step of experiencing engages the learner’s critical thinking skills, learning to articulate their thoughts effectively, and gaining a deeper appreciation of the text. More importantly, the observation and interpretation of the pictures helped students do a close reading of other semiotic signs used in real-life situations as well as meaningful engagement with the text in due course of time. This process allowed me to leverage students’ prior knowledge and experiences to facilitate the construction and interpretation of meaning within the text.


To foster students’ ability to think and work with texts in an EFL context, we need to begin by selecting and building blocks of literacy that are important to them (Reyes-Torres & Raga, 2020), which suggests that we need to activate their knowledge and build the foundation for new learning. In this lesson, I picked up a few elements such as vocabulary, phonemic awareness, rhetorical devices, themes including author’s information. I started by presenting the author’s background through the following audio-visual. Listen to the audio carefully:

Building Concept: This audio helped learners to be aware of the way how poetry is to be recited. Furthermore, it provided them exposure to how sounds are segmented, and discriminated with the strong and weak forms of stressed and unstressed syllables. So, at this stage, I focused on the objective of raising phonemic awareness. I paused the audio and gave a brief explanation of the unit of rhythm consisting of a definite pattern. For instance, the first two lines follow the iambic foot in which every two syllables, the first is unstressed and the second is stressed.

Whose woods these are I think I know

His house is in the village though.

So making students aware of the stress, next there is linking ‘r’ which is realized as /a:r/. Why is it so? Why not /a:/ only?

Right here, I instructed students to concentrate on weak and strong forms. 

After playing the audio, the students were asked to interpret the poem in their way through multiple modes such as drawing, writing, recommending songs or composing their poems based on the theme of the poem.

Rhetorical devices and teachers’ intervention: At this point, I was concerned about constructing the meaning of the text by addressing the responses of the students as well as leading them to the implicit linguistic elements used in the poem or the use of the words to express meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words themselves.

Figurative Language

Personification: woods are lovely dark and deep

Symbolism: the woods, the dark evening

Imagery: his house is in the village though

Repetition: and miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep

Irony : but I have promises to keep

Teachers need to take into account the essential aesthetic nature of not only the knowledge of formal properties but also to ignite the students’ intellectual understanding as well as their emotional engagement with the text (Reyes-Torres & Raga, 2020). The discussion on this figurative language raised curiosity in learners about the artistic use of language. Thus, I guided them to compose their poems, make sentences, write songs, and speeches, make charts, sketch drawings, collect pictures etc.


The third knowledge process of multiliteracies pedagogy aims to relate textual and visual meaning with social, cultural, and ideological content and purposes (Reyes-Torres & Raga, 2020). The main goal is to have students interpret the reading from different points of view and learn to understand a particular voice, its position, motivation and concerns. To do so, I encouraged learners to discuss the author’s perspective, the emotions it triggers, implicit and explicit meaning and finally the relevance of different themes. 

Therefore, in this stage, I generated different themes of the text which are relatable to students’ lives. 

Credit: freepik.com

Theme 1. Isolation and solitude: Why do you think the narrator stops in the middle of the forest without a farmhouse nearby? What do you think the remote area represents? What kinds of feelings grow in your mind when you imagine such a place? Share your opinion.

Theme 2. Responsibility and Duty: What does the line, ‘miles to go before I sleep mean’? Present your opinion. Discuss that duties and responsibilities are far more important than our transient desires and pleasure. We may happen to

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think that this very experience is our reality but we have far to go before we finally close our eyes. Present your opinion.

Theme 3. Nature and Tranquility: What is the setting of the poem? Recall some lines of the poem that bring a vivid image to your mind.

In this section, I scaffolded students to break down the poem into different themes to develop their analytical skills and relate that with their lives. For instance, the lines, “miles to go before I sleep” instilled the knowledge of duties and responsibilities of their own. And this is exactly where facilitation is needed. In this way, “teachers relate textual and visual meaning with social, cultural, and ideological content and purposes with the students” (Reyes-Torres & Raga, 2020, p. 113).


Connecting textual content with students’ lives is one of the ways of understanding the aesthetic of reading and constructing meaning and the application of knowledge further strengthens their learning. In doing so, I needed to have well-defined objectives before starting the lesson. It demanded extensive reading, a deeper level of thinking and contemplation on how this information helps students face worldly challenges. I, therefore, needed to develop ways in which students could carry out new practice in the new contexts. In order to facilitate the application of the knowledge in the poem, I discussed the following questions:

  • How does the speaker’s description of the woods in the poem make you feel? Can you relate it to a time you’ve experienced something similar in nature? 
  • If you were in the same situation as the speaker in the poem, what decision would you make? Why? 
  • Imagine you are in the middle of the woods, how would the scene change if it were a different season, like summer or fall? 
  • Can you find another poem where a character faces a similar decision to stay or move on? Compare and contrast the two situations.

These questions challenge them to go beyond recalling information and engage in the poem more critically. They also promote critical thinking and creative expression, allowing them to connect the poem to their own life experiences and perspectives. 

Exploration and insights

The application of the FPKC frame and multiliteracies pedagogy has left some footprints in the course of my professional life which can be discussed as follows. 

  • Set clear level-wise objectives: This approach to teaching helped me to set clear level-wise objectives for the lessons from the experience to the application. The taxonomy of objectives helped me to teach students on how they could achieve higher levels of knowledge such as analysis and application. Furthermore, it made me clear what to facilitate and how to facilitate. For instance, in the conceptualization phase, I played the audio in the class which would add variety. Along with the audio, I was concerned about raising phonemic awareness in the learners focusing on stressed and unstressed syllables.
  • Integration of varied activities: The application of this framework allowed me to employ different activities in my classroom. I have used multiple modes such as questions for discussion, thematic pictures to stimulate learners, audio for building phonemic awareness, allowing students to draw pictures to express their ideas and creating situations where the students apply the acquired knowledge to a new setting. This helped me to guide the students in meaningful engagement with the text. 
  • Create space for expression and perspectives: In all phases of the framework, students were actively engaged within the poem. They expressed their ideas and perspectives either through writing answers to the questions, listening to the audio or drawing pictures related to the topic and expressing their opinions verbally. This technique created an environment where student’s minds, bodies and souls were activated.
  • Foster learner’s autonomy: The multimodal approach to teaching contributed to learner’s autonomy as well. This framework helped me to create opportunities for my students to think and work independently. They also demonstrated confidence in going beyond the lines to interpret the poetic expressions relating with their lives. 


My blog attempted to bridge the theories with classroom practice by demonstrating the application of four process knowledge construction (FPKC) framework based on the multiliteracies pedagogy through a poetry class in high school. It created room to integrate varied activities and modalities of expression (written, oral, visuals, audio-visuals modes), offered space for critical thinking and expressing their perspectives and fostered learner’s autonomy creating equitable learning in a diverse classroom setting. Thus the balanced use of multiliteracies in teaching-learning leverages English language learning, communication skills, critical thinking and aesthetic development. 

Author: Dasarath Rai teaches English at Ideal Model School, Dhobighat, Lalitpur. He has earned Master’s Degree in English Education from Mahendra Ratna, Campus, Tahachal, Kathmandu. He is interested in teacher professional development, multiculturalism, cultural identity, and materials development in language education.


Rajendram, S. (2020). A pedagogy of multiliteracies and its role in English language education. In Contemporary foundations for teaching English as an additional language (pp. 151-187). Routledge.

Reyes-Torres, A. & Raga, M.P., (2020). A multimodal approach to foster the multiliteracy pedagogy in the teaching EFL through picture books: The Snow Line. (42) 49-199. DOI: http://doi.org/10.28914/Atlantis-2020-42.1.06 

Song, J. (2012). Teaching multiliteracies: A research based on multimodality in a PPT presentation. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 2(1), 113-117.