TESOL Connections

Grammatically Speaking

by T. Leo Schmitt
In the April Grammatically Speaking column, grammar expert T. Leo Schmitt discusses a sometimes confusing subtlety of time in the English language: the use of "until now" and "so far," and when it is acceptable to use each clause. Teaching tips are included to help you in class, and language notes are included for your reference.   

If you have a question for Grammatically Speaking, please send it to GrammaticallySpeaking@tesol.org. We welcome all types of language questions.

Dear TESOL Connections,

I'm an English teacher from Vietnam but still find myself confused about this language construct myself. Could you help me explain to my students?

I see "until" in constructions like this: I can't leave until 8 pm.

I'm pretty sure the above means "I can't leave right now, but I can when it's 8 pm." But "until now" is so confusing to me. When we say, “Until now, I haven't found a house”
OR “I haven't found a house until now,” what exactly does that mean?

  1. I haven't found a house and still haven't, up to this point.
  2. I haven't found a house recently, but now I have. (Seems consistent with the "until 8 pm" example)

Will it make a difference if we say, “So far, I haven't found a house”?

A detailed reply would be appreciated.

Regards,
Toan

Dear Toan,

You pose an interesting question. Different languages approach the concept of time with different understandings and different emphases on the subtleties of time. The differences between so far and until now are part of how English expresses some of these temporal questions.

Traditional Grammatical Explanation
As you note, until can take a time (e.g., 8 pm). It can also take a clause (subject and verb) as in “Everton defender Sylvain Distin says he would love to be able to play until he is 65.” It means an action either does not or cannot start up to the time or when the clause occurs, as in your example, “I can't leave until 8 pm,” or will continue up to the point where it stops, as in “It's real simple: We're going to give him the ball until he throws up.” The use of the negative is generally the indicator of whether it is the former or the latter. Negative means that it does not start before the time/clause coming after until. Affirmative means that it will stop after the until time/clause.

Until now is an interesting phrase as it generally indicates a change has just happened (i.e., now). So far, on the other hand, indicates that a state or action has been continuing over a period of time, but without any implication that there has been a change. Because of this, so far will often be used with verbs in the present or present perfect form such as “So far he has saved $35 and the player costs $129.” In this example, he is still saving money and hopes to be able to buy the player in the future. Until now, on the other hand, will often appear with verbs in some kind of past form as in “Her Daughter Is Her Life, And Until Now She Didn't Have A Way To Protect It.” In this case, there has been a change, and now she can protect her daughter. With the decline of the past perfect, the preterite, or simple past, has become most expected. However, see language notes below for an important discussion on variations in the meaning of until now.

Teaching Tips
One way to express the difference between these two concepts is to set up a classroom exercise where students are in a certain (contextually appropriate) situation. For example, you could say that they were all poor farmers. Then an event occurs, such as a bountiful harvest. Some situations would change with more food and money, so they could generate phrases such as “Until now, I couldn’t afford to buy a second cow” (i.e., after the bountiful harvest, I can), while others would still not change, but may change in the future; for instance, “So far, I still cannot afford to buy a tractor” (i.e., I still need a few more good harvests).

Language Notes
A significant part of the confusion with the phrase until now comes from the fact that some speakers of English do use until now with a meaning of so far (i.e., things have not changed at this point in time). In your example, “I haven’t found a house until now,” this may be the better reading as it uses the present perfect, indicating that things could change, but they have not yet done so. It is also quite possible that this is nonnative speech as the use of until now as so far does not seem to be particularly widespread. It will, however, be an interesting usage to watch as it develops (or does not). Another example is “Until now I still use Windows XP.” Here the use of still indicates that there has not been a change, but rather this use is continuing. I would read that sentence then as meaning “So far, I still use Windows XP.” This convergence of two separate meanings into a single meaning naturally causes problems in clarity. This is perhaps one reason why many grammarians get upset with nonmainstream uses.

It is interesting to note that until now is nowhere near as common as so far and is a comparatively recent expression. 

As an English teacher it is useful to remember that until is associated with certain kinds of verbs. The verb in the main clause is usually a verb that occurs over time, while the verb in the until clause happens all of a sudden. Thus we can say "Bend It Until It Breaks!" but we would not really say “Break it until it bends!” because bending tends to occur over time, while breaking often implies brevity.

Note also that there are other uses of so far. These include the sense of to a limited extent, as in “So far as I know” which is a variation of as far as I know. So far can also appear as part of the so+adj+that structure as in “Shorten falls so far that Labor will listen for a splash.” 

Last Month’s Brain Teaser
Look at the two sentences below. What traditional rule of grammar do they both appear to violate? How would you explain this to an English learner?

  1. Mary is loving her experience on The X Factor, but had trouble with Louis' choice of song for her this week, and has been forced to change her song at the last minute.”
  2. For the last two years, my grandmother has been hearing this loud noise in her head almost continually.”

Dear Mr. Schmitt,
 
Both sentences use stative verbs (love and hear) in the progressive form, something we usually tell students is against the rules. However, the progressive form is often used to indicate a temporary or non-permanent state of affairs which may change in the future:
 
I live in Massachusetts but I’m staying with some friends in California this week.
She is working as a waitress at a cocktail bar until she gets a big music contract.
 
Similarly, Mary is loving her experience on The X Factor now, but we suspect that she will blow this week’s song thanks to Louis. If that happens, she will probably no longer be loving her time. “Mary is loving her experience” indicates a (possibly) temporary state of affairs. And in fact being a contestant on the X-Factor is itself a temporary state of affairs. Using a non-progressive verb: “Mary loves her experience on X-Factor” makes it sound as if she works there permanently.
 
My grandmother’s hearing of this noise is also not permanent. It started two years ago. We certainly hope she will see a doctor soon and get it fixed. But more importantly, her hearing of the noise is continuous, which is another meaning of the progressive (or continuous) form of the verb. Saying she has heard noises in her head can mean that she has heard it twice in the past two years. The use of the progressive here makes it clear that she has been hearing this noise pretty much every day all day for the past two years.
 
Actually, I prefer not to tell my students that there are stative and dynamic verbs precisely because it leads to extremist rules such as “I’m loving it” is an evil sentence that must be wiped from the planet!
 
Best,
Walton Burns, Branford CT

Thank you, Mr. Burns. This is a good answer. Some books and teachers say that “stative” verbs should only be used in the simple, and only dynamic (or “action”) verbs can be used in the progressive (or continuous). In fact, data shows that such “rules” are at best tendencies, and sometimes not even that. If “I’m loving it” is wiped from the planet, it probably should not be for grammatical reasons.

This Month’s Brain Teaser
Look at the two sentences below. What traditional rule of grammar do they both appear to violate? How would you explain this to an English learner?

  1. "[W]hat’s more sad on NPR this morning: a story on villages infested with tuberculosis in Tajikistan who refuse to believe the disease is spread through airborne contact, assuming it is cold water that causes it or interviews with fangirls at the red carpet premiere of the Lone Ranger who believe that the movie will be a good history lesson?
  2. Bragging is cool but bragging with evidence is more cool.”

The best correct answer will be published in the next column of Grammatically Speaking.
Please e-mail your responses to GrammaticallySpeaking@tesol.org.

____________________

When writing to Grammatically Speaking, please include your name and location (city and state, province, or country). If your question or response is selected for publication, your name and location will be printed unless you specify otherwise.

Examples cited in this column are authentic examples of language use and are not the author’s creations.

Quick Tip: 3 Ideas for Using Rhymes in an English Class

by Elena Shvidko

Use simple rhymes to practice pronunciation, invigorate grammar, and foster group work and interaction. These three easy activities are interactive, lively, and enjoyable for beginning to low-intermediate ESL or EFL students. Example poems provided. 

Audience: Beginning to low-intermediate ESL or EFL students

Using poetry in a language class does not necessarily mean incorporating poems that have a deep philosophical implication or abstract concepts. Even simple rhymed verses can make a difference in your class by fostering learning with more interactive, lively, and enjoyable activities. Here are three ideas to help you get started.

Practicing Pronunciation

To practice pronunciation of English vowels, you can use short rhymed riddles.

Step 1
Prepare several rhymed riddles where the rhyming words would have a target vowel or a diphthong. Here are some examples:

I bring you warmth, I bring you fun.
I am bright and shiny. I am the SUN.

You’ll need a recipe to make
A sweet and yummy chocolate CAKE.

This is a word that rhymes with hat.
I purr and meow, I am a CAT.

This is a word that rhymes with silk.
I am white, I am liquid, I am MILK.

I bring much happiness and joy.
All children like me. I am a TOY.

I am in the dark sky very far.
I am a sparkling little STAR.

Step 2
Display a riddle on a PowerPoint slide (or use a projector, or simply give the students a worksheet) with the final word of the second verse missing:

Examples:

You’ll need a recipe to make
A sweet and yummy chocolate _________.

I bring much happiness and joy.
All children like me. I am a ___________.

Step 3
Ask one student to read the riddle aloud and finish it with the missing word.

Options
If you have more advanced students, you can give each student (or a pair of students) two rhymed words and ask them to create their own riddle for their classmates. Alternatively, you can make it a team competition. Either way, it’s fun, interactive, and creative.

Making Grammar Fun

Grammar exercises don’t need to be dry and boring. You can make a use of rhymes to practice different grammar principles. For example, to have students practice simple past tense, you can give them a few verbs (e.g., to make, to drive, to buy, to watch) and ask them to write simple rhymed verses about what they did the day before/last weekend/last week using past tense forms. Try to include both regular and irregular verbs.

Example (using the verbs to eat, to like, to be):
 
Last week I ate a cherry cream puff.
I didn’t like it; it was tough.

Options
You can adjust this activity to practice other verb tenses (e.g., present progressive, future).

Fostering Group Work and Interaction

Because writing rhymes is a creative activity, you can use it to enhance student interaction.

Step 1
Prepare a list of rhymed words—about 12–15 pairs. Try to come up with words that rhyme but have different spelling rules.

Examples: 

Step 2
Using the words from the first column, prepare cards (with one word written on each card). Write the words from the second column on the board.

Step 3
Ask a student to pick a card, read the word aloud, and find a rhyme for this word from the ones listed on the board.

Step 4
Divide the class into teams and, using the selected word pair, ask each team to create a simple (2-line long) rhymed verse. One person from each team will write the rhyme on the board. The class will decide whose rhyme is the best. You may want to prepare a few simple rubrics for how students should judge verses—or let students come up with their own rubrics prior to the activity.

Step 5
Repeat the activity for the rest of the words you prepared.

Variations

  • To make this activity more lively and fun, you can put a time limit on Step 5. There is also much laughter involved in this activity.
  • For more advanced students, add more requirements to the verses they come up with: the use of specific tenses, vocabulary words, or themes.

Conclusion
Using rhymed verses does not only allow you to make teaching more fun and interactive, but it also gives students a chance to creatively use their language knowledge. I hope these simple ideas will be helpful to you, and I hope they will lead you in new directions. 

___________________

Elena Shvidko is a PhD student in the Department of English at Purdue University. Her academic interests include second language acquisition, second language writing, and writing program administration.


 

Honoring Ourselves, Creating Community Through Poetry

by Eimile Máiréad Green
Learn how to use poetry to honor students’ native languages and cultural heritage, as well as to bridge worlds and create a sense of community. 

"Language is identity." So said Daowd I. Salih and so many others have echoed this sentiment since. This adage is deeply embedded in my being and guides me in the classroom on a daily basis. Language shapes us. Furthermore, we shape language. Thus, language and culture are inseparable for the successful English language teacher. And, that is why we must look to poetry in the ESL/EFL classroom. Poetry can be used in such a setting to honor students’ native languages and cultural heritage, as well as to bridge worlds and create a sense of community.

Current TESOL President Deena Boraie (2013) expresses a crucial truth when enumerating current trends in the TESOL field: “The purpose is not to aspire to become native speakers of English, because we are already native speakers of our own L1, but to focus on English as a means of communication.” Bilingual poetry options abound and provide just such an opportunity to shift focus from assimilation to communication.

Bilingual Poetry Tasks

Here are several types of poems that celebrate culture in their content and form, and that can be used to extend intercultural communication in your English language classroom.

Potluck Poem
In the Potluck Poem, each student chooses a special family dish. The title of the poem is the name of the dish in the student’s L1. The body of the poem consists of five simple lines of verse, each line describing one of the five senses accompanying the dish and written in English. Family dish poems are then shared aloud in a potluck-style poetry slam.

Pulse Poem
Another possibility that embraces linguistic and cultural heritage is the Pulse Poem. This poem could very well become a daily fixture in the EFL/ESL classroom. Each student chooses a word in his or her L1 that conveys his or her current mood. The body of the poem is a cinquain (a five-line poem) written in English about that pulse word. As an added bonus, this poem is an excellent chance to review parts of speech and phrase structures.

Sijo Poetry
Finally, the Korean Sijo poetry form lends itself really well to a bilingual poetry task. Students write the first two lines of poetry in English by voicing a topic and then elaborating upon that topic. The third line of poetry is the joke or surprise twist written in the students’ respective native languages.

Download example poems (PDF)
for all poetry types in this article

While these bilingual poetry tasks are examples of pattern poetry and thus somewhat restrictive and rule governed, poems in the EFL/ESL classroom can also offer a certain freedom. As Gasparro and Falletta (1994) assert, “The use of poetry in the ESL classroom enables students to explore the linguistic and conceptual aspects of the written text without concentrating on the mechanics of language.” In fact, Aguilar (2013) reminds us that “poems defy rules.” It is this break from grammar drills that allows for English language learners to explore and celebrate without fear of failure.

Found Poem
In a Found Poem, words and short phrases are gleaned from existing texts to create new messages. Within the language learning classroom, this presents an exciting challenge. Students create free verse in a blend of their respective native languages and English. Students are encouraged to bring their own reading materials with them to the class, including books, magazines, and the like in both English and their native languages. These personal libraries will allow students to convey meaning in verse bilingually with familiar, safe language.

Group Work

While the writing of poetry can be made a solitary act, this is not always the case. To be sure, the pure universality of poetry lends itself remarkably well to collaboration, not isolation. Poetry is for everyone; it exists without borders. Aguilar (2013) rightly concludes that “poetry has space for English Language Learners.” Teachers must make a space for poetry in the EFL/ESL classroom.

Somonka Poetry
For an engaging paired activity, partners can work together to craft a Somonka. The Somonka actually contains two Tanka poetry forms within its structure. (Tanka is a form of Japanese poetry that contains five lines with each line containing syllables following this structure: 5-7-5-7-7.) These Tankas serve as lyrical love letters written to each other. Students needn’t write about love for their classroom poetry partners but instead could be prompted to explore in English their shared loves, such as family, friends, or school. Once students have engaged in a successful paired somonka, a whole class poem could be an excellent language challenge.

Renga Poetry
Renga is another Japanese form of poetry; it allows for unlimited alternating three-line and couplet verses. The Renga poem is a highly interactive form because each verse must link directly to the previous verse. So, students practice both reading and writing skills as they craft their own verses and build on their classmates’ contributions.

Too often, language is viewed as a barrier rather than a bridge. Poetry in the EFL/ESL classroom illuminates language, bringing us together rather than driving us apart. It provides myriad opportunities for English language learners to embrace their diverse heritages, to explore English without fear of failure, and to build a sense of community within the classroom and beyond. Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” Let poetry in the classroom empower English language learners to feel limitless.


References

Aguilar, E. (2013, April 8). Five reasons why we need poetry in schools. San Rafael, CA: Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/five-reasons-poetry-needed-schools-elena-aguilar

Boraie, D. (2013, December 16). 8 current trends in teaching and learning EFL/ESL. [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://blog.tesol.org/8-current-trends-in-teaching-and-learning-eflesl/

Gasparro, M., & Falletta, B. (1994, April). Creating drama with poetry: Teaching English as a second language through dramatization and improvisation. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Roberts, S. (2010, April 28). Listening to (and saving) the world’s languages. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/29/nyregion/29lost.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Download this article (PDF)

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Eimile Máiréad Green is an ESL and language arts teacher in Toledo, Ohio USA. She also serves as editor for TESOL International’s Secondary Accents, the Secondary School Interest Section’s newsletter. Her writing has appeared in The Ohio Journal of English Language Arts, as well as The Independent Teacher and Ohio Resource Center’s In Perspective Magazine. Ms. Green recently contributed lessons to two forthcoming TESOL Press publications.

 

Celebrate Poetry Through Science Content: 3 Easy Lessons

by Carol I. Bearse
These easy lessons integrate science and the arts to help teach rich vocabulary, close reading, and analytical skills. 

For the past 30 years I have been an ESL teacher, a literacy specialist, a dual language coordinator, a poet-in-residence, and a university professor. While working in these roles, I have used poetry as a vehicle to enrich the vocabulary and observation skills of my English language learners. The new emphasis on the Common Core State Standards has renewed the focus on teaching rich vocabulary, close reading, and analytical skills; poetry lends itself to work within units of study that integrate science and the arts.

I have used the following three lessons with intermediate ELs as well as mainstream students. The lessons revolve around animal studies, ocean studies, and botany, but can be used in any area of science study. Depending on the grade level, all lessons can be adjusted for length and requirements.

Assessment

Here is a simple rubric that can be applied to these lessons. For different levels of language learners, the rubric can be adjusted and individualized without losing the science content:

Science Content: 5 specific details, 5 related facts; 10 line minimum
Figurative language: 2 metaphors or similes, and 2 uses of personification
Rhythm: Use of repeating line and/or repeating sounds
Word Choice: 3 vivid verbs, 3 specific nouns, 3 specific adjectives
Mechanics: Spelling and punctuation

Getting Started

These kinds of lessons are best used within units of study where students can research their favorite topics. Brainstorming vocabulary on large wall charts or classifying vocabulary using index cards are ideal ways to begin a lesson. Use of photos, paintings, and video add to the background knowledge of students as well.

I have found it best to teach one or two elements of poetry at a time and then introduce a specific pattern that could be based on a model poem. Modeling this poem several times is crucial to success.

The Poems

Riddle Poems
A kind of simple seven-line poem that students love is a riddle poem based upon science facts. For example, the following poem by a sixth grader describes a sea creature:

My body is flat-shaped (shape of body)
I live on the seabed (where does it live?)
My family’s location is near the coast of South Carolina. (specific location)
My prey includes shrimp, (specific animal’s prey)
Mollusks and other animals.
I have a brassy brown color and a long tail.
(color and shape details)
Who am I?

Notice that in this poem each line requires specific science content that guides the students to create a successful writing piece without struggling with an essay or a long research report.  This will come later after the students have acquired a strong vocabulary and observational/analytical skills.

Persona Poems
A variation of the above poem can be written as a persona poem. In a persona poem, the poet writes in the first person as though he or she is that object being personified. The same line pattern and requirements can be used.

I am a King Angelfish, known as the
Blue-banded, the king of all angelfish.
I live in the Red Sea.
And also in the Indo-Pacific water.
My colors are white, brown, black, purple, red, and blue.
I only eat small worms and algae.
My gill plate cover with is long spine for protection from predators
I am King Angel, the king of all angelfish.

Learn to Be Poem
One last kind of variation of becoming a scientific object is called a learn to be poem. (McKim & Steinbergh, 1992). Using the same kind of specific language that is gained from content area study, which are mainly Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary words (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002), learn to be poems are perfect for the science or language arts classroom. Teachers from different disciplines can collaborate and contribute to the knowledge of the content, while the ESL coach or teacher can help with the actual writing of an appropriate pattern.

I have used the poems, “How to Tell a Tornado” by Howard Mohr, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” by Wallace Stevens, and “(from) In the Root Cellar” by Maxine Kumin as model poems for this lesson.

Here is an example of a learn to be poem from an eighth grader to get your lesson started:

To Be Seaweed
To be seaweed you have to learn to sway gracefully in the smooth ocean current.
To be seaweed you have to be able to smell of the sweet salty ocean air.
To be seaweed you have to find your wet home to the sandy shore.
To be seaweed you have to feel as slippery as an eel and look like one too.
To be seaweed you have to keep it afloat in Japanese tea.
To be seaweed you have to be grand enough to top the largest and fanciest of all sand castles.
To be seaweed you have to slip away from a young child’s grasp, so as to preserve your life.
To be seaweed you have to learn to keep alive as you are transferred from your outstretching home and be set down in an aquarium.

Remember, poetry is the perfect vehicle for writing in science and for enriching students’ content area vocabulary as well as descriptive language. So, this spring, take a chance with poetry in the content areas. Add spice to your teaching and enjoy.

References

Beck, I., McKeown, M., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: the Guilford Press.

McKim, E. & Steinbergh, J. (1992). 2nd Edition. Beyond Words: Writing Poems with children. Brookline, MA: Talking Stone Press.

Download this article (PDF)

______________________________

Carol I. Bearse is an ESL/literacy consultant who has more than 30 years of teaching experience in various contexts. She specializes in integrating the Common Core standards of vocabulary enrichment and reading analysis with the principles of SIOP.

Note: Every effort has been made to contact the copyright holders for permission to reprint borrowed material. We regret any oversights that may have occurred and will rectify them in future printings of this work.

Lyrical Poetry: A Lesson in Creative Writing

by Aiden Yeh
This lesson plan teaches your ELs to use symbols and prepositions, and to build rhythm and beat when composing their own lyric poems. 

Writing lyrical poetry focuses on the composition of rhythmic words that go beyond the beat of how they sound—they tell a story, a mental snapshot of a specific moment in one’s memory. The learning activity here was inspired by Kit Wright’s poem “Red Boots On” and the lovely, sentimental story behind this poem.

Wright was describing a scene in the past that was forever etched in his memory: a happy image of his girlfriend, wearing red boots, stomping and kicking up the snow. It was a picture of pure and simple joy in the middle of a heavy snow. The poem has the stomp-like rhythm, so reading it makes one feel like singing the lines. The repetition of a four-line stanza (which works as a chorus) makes it even more musical. Below is the chorus, which also reveals the main theme and title of Wright’s poem.

She’s got
Red boots on, she’s got
Red boots on,
Kicking up the winter,
Till the winter’s gone.

(Read the full poem with the author’s comments on thepoetryarchive.org.)

Lyrical Poetry Objectives

Student Learning Objectives

  1. Learn how to read and appreciate lyric poetry.
  2. Compose a lyrical poem based on my personal observations of an incident or experience.
  3. Write a catchy four-line stanza that will be repeated twice in the poem; this should carry the theme of the poem.

Student Language Objectives

  1. Learn how to use prepositions in a lyric poem.
  2. Identify and use proper names in the text.
  3. Use rhyming words to build rhythm and beat in the texts.
  4. Adopt a linguistic style that uses symbolism or a description of an object used in the text to suggest a deeper meaning or relationship with the subject of the poem.

Materials

  • Digital camera or smartphone/tablet with camera functions
  • Internet connection and computer (computer lab)

Pretask Discussion

The following is a set of questions to set the theme of the learning activity.

Look around you. What do you see? You see people walking by. You see some people chattering away. You see them “doing” something. If you could pause what you’re seeing and take a moment to capture that scene—what do you really see? Focus on one single aspect of that action and describe: What does it mean to you? Or to the person you are observing?

Show/share with students Kit Wright’s poem. Discuss the story behind the poem. Use this poem to point out the language or linguistic aspects of Wright’s lyric poem, such as the use of prepositions, chorus, rhythm and rhymes, and symbolism. Here are some example questions and tasks:

  • What are the prepositions used in this poem?
  • Identify the proper names used in this poem.
  • What are the words that rhyme in this poem?
  • What’s the chorus or the stanza that is repeated in the poem?
  • What’s the object in this poem that suggests a deeper meaning that is connected to the person actually using/wearing it? (e.g. red boots representing happiness)

Prewriting Task

The following is the list of instructions given to students to help them with the writing task.

  • Outside the classroom (school grounds), spend 10 minutes looking at the people around you.
  • Take a picture of that scene (using your smartphone or digital camera), and upload it on your computer.  Using visualization, list a few words that describe what you’re seeing.
  • Describe the actions, the objects, the people.
  • What are they doing? What do you think they’re thinking? What objects do you see they’re using/wearing? What do these things suggest, especially in relation to their moods?

Writing Task

Have students write an 8–10 stanza poem that describes a scene that they have observed. They must use:

  • Symbolism
  • A chorus (to be repeated twice—once in the middle and once at the end)

Below is an example of a student’s work.

Brilliant smile on
by Wen

Way on my picture-taking trip
All round I've walked and fallen
I found nothing to take a picture of
"There he is, with that smile, he's chosen!"

I found it,
The picture of my poem.

He's got
His brilliant smile on,
he's got
His brilliant smile on,
Showing his white teeth,
With that beautiful smile on.
So Rushing back to the classroom,
Putting on my picture,
I wrote the poem happily.
It's done with my venture.

I'm chilling
in the poetry classroom.

He's got
His brilliant smile on, he's got
His brilliant smile on,
Showing his white teeth,
With that beautiful smile on

The poem above is a humorous way of presenting the task given and writing something creative about it. The photo shows the student-poet’s classmate sitting on a bench with a big smile on his face. The poem begins with a description of a frantic search for a subject for this poetry task. When he was about to give up, he found his subject—his close friend sitting on a bench. He took a picture of him and describes his friend flashing his shiny, white teeth; a clear manifestation of a happy smile. The student-poet continues, describing how he hurriedly went back to finishing his work. Because he had a happy subject to work on, he wrote joyfully and finished his “venture” in a snap, giving him a reason to “chill-out” with the remaining class time. This poem is an excellent example of a student describing exactly what he was doing—depicting a situation he was in—and certainly having fun doing it.

Postwriting Task

Students are encouraged to share their poems by reading them aloud in class. They can publish their work online or on your e-learning platform (if any). The student-poet who composed the example poem had a great time reading it aloud. The rest of the class also had a good laugh, because everyone knew both the poet and the subject, and they could definitely relate to the theme of his poem, as they were all busy doing the same.

On Students’ Errors

As English learners, students make mistakes in both written and oral production. Language errors must be pointed out and corrected. However, since this is a creative writing activity, it is always difficult to correct “mistakes,” as doing it often can crush students’ creative spirit. It is best to give constructive criticism.

Pedagogical Implications

The learning activity shared in this article shows how mobile technology can be used in enhancing students’ learning—in particular, in aiding their poetry writing processes from visualization to presentation of texts that elicit emotional connection and description of the images used. Going mobile does not only refer to the use of mobile phones with built-in cameras, but in a much broader sense exemplifies mobility and connectivity.

Urging students to move around, in and out of the classroom for a stipulated time, encourages them to be mobile and spontaneous. It also provides them the chance to exert effort, tap their interests, and increase their motivation to be creative. In addition, using a camera phone in taking original photos of the subject that students will be writing about adds to the authenticity of the activity.

The pedagogical implications of learning how to write poetry can be focused on personal growth, culture and identity, textual and linguistic skills, and constructive learning. Most important, students learn the artistic play of words, which allows them to connect with their own feelings and describe them in a way that makes readers relate to the message.

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Dr. Aiden Yeh is a full-time assistant professor at Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages in Taiwan. She teaches creative writing and other ESP courses. She received her PhD in applied linguistics from the University of Birmingham, UK. She is a member of the Electronic Village Online Coordinating Team and has served on the TESOL CALL-IS Steering Committee, on the TESOL Technology Advisory Committee, and as the NNEST-IS Chair in 2010.