ESL: poetry by name

Simona G
Poem for Simona G

Here is an idea for writing poetry that I picked up many years ago from a Danish colleague. Apparently, it is common practice in Denmark to write a poem for someone’s birthday using only words that begin with the initials of their names.

I love the idea and I use it for teaching.

It is essentially a vocabulary-building activity. But it also makes for the creation of wonderful soundscapes and the reading-the-poems-out-loud part at the end of the activity is a great pronunciation exercise akin to a tongue-twister.

Finally, with everyone showing goodwill and only allowed to write positive things, the activity also rewards everyone in the class with a great gift: a poem about them alone.

Here are the instructions:

  1. Students throw their names in a hat and pick a name. If a student has a middle name or a double-barrelled surname, all the better for the ‘poet’ as it gives them more options.
  2. Students then create spider diagrams for each letter. Depending on ability, they may use the glossary in the back of their coursebook or a dictionary to complete these. I give them word categories such as:
  • names
  • verbs
  • adjectives
  • other (e.g. question words, prepositions, conjunctions).
  1. Students then put these words together to create individual phrases and string these phrases together to create their poem. You may need to give a couple of examples to start them off.
  2. When they have finished writing, I ask them to look at the individual phrases and check whether they could improve them grammatically (mainly to look out for subject-verb agreements).
  3. Finally, students ‘serenade’ their class friends by presenting the poems to them.

The poems also make great features in yearbooks.

The activity can be done collaboratively too: for example, for when a student leaves, every student writes a line or two using only the initials of the class friend leaving. These lines are then put together to form his or her poem.

Alex M
Poem for Alex M – great dictionary work!

Does your teaching involve writing poetry? How do you encourage students to play with words?

%d bloggers like this: