More on poetry

We had our local TPRS meeting today.

The plan was to discuss out how to work teaching poetry into a TPRS classroom. It ended up being more about some of the nuts and bolts of teaching poems to kids who need to memorize them for a purpose. I Flip-videod our speaker, a former TPR textbook writer and current university mentor for student teachers in world language, not to mention a TPRS and CI supporter (and school-board member hopeful), as she gave us a great demo of introducing a poem through gestures. The links to the videos are in comments below. She asked why we like to teach poems; her main two of three ideas were culture, and confidence: kids like having something that can roll off their lips, and it doesn’t take too long to teach them.

She taught us the first couplet of a French poem very quickly through TPR. It was fun to see how easy that made the learning, even on a Friday afternoon.

We talked briefly about how gestures seem to really nail in meaning, but that the best thing is to use every possible way to assure comprehension and recall: pictures, gestures, stories, questions, jokes, general silliness. Nick mentioned how use of gestures goes down as fluency goes up.

I was planning to talk about adding the TPRS twist to poem instruction, but then others started adding truly awesome ideas. Kristin shared a Laurie-inspired drawing-fill-in. Kids listen to the poem being read, and fill in the blanks with pictures. They could also go through the initial stages of learning the poem and do this exercise later. There is a word/picture bank on the left side of the page. Laurie had shown that to us two AFLA conferences ago; part of what she demonstrated was playing a song and having kids fill in the blanks as they listened to it. It’s very powerful. As usual, Kristin jumps on these ideas and makes them her own. I’m glad for the reminder.

Kristin's poem fill-in

Then Sophie (or Virginie…someone can correct me; I’m depending on Betsy’s retelling of this because I was sitting too far away) shared how she creates a four-column page (landscape view) with the poem in the middle two columns, and with rows marked off by couplet. In the outer two columns, kids draw pictures so that they can use them to tell the poem, having folded the paper so that they can’t see the poem if they’re ready to use just pictures as support, but they can then still open and get a sneak peek at the poem as needed. I think that we could use that technique with critical structures on the inside and drawings on the outside for any story as well!

I must break in here and say that Karen’s little boy was getting passed from person to person as well so everyone could get a baby fix. He put up with it admirably! He only started to cry when she told us that she had to leave. What, you want your son to lose time with language input???

Tam then shared how, when kids have learned a poem through gestures but haven’t seen it yet, she puts all the words for a poem randomly on a grid to project onto her screen. The kids have heard that the class is going to be completely silent. She starts by pointing at the first word in the poem somewhere in the grid, then the next one, and keeps going until she’s pointed out the first line. Then she holds out the pointer to the kids, some of whom are already wanting to do the next line. Pretty soon the entire class has helped point out the poem and she can hand them a copy of the grid and they can “write” the poem. Tam says it’s a terrific way to fool the brain so that the brain thinks the activity is to put the poem in order, when really it’s a reading activity.

It was great to see everyone. I wish I could have been able to hear what the ideas were for assessment, since a couple of people were oohing and aahing on the other side of the table, but maybe someone will send me a summary of the ideas. I love our little community.

K. leaned way across the table to explain that I still hadn’t answered her question in the following letter. I left my explanations, thinking they might help someone, but it turned out that she was talking about what to do once having asked kids to draw pictures after a weekend, for example. I said that we would talk about them, circle information on the drawings, work them into a story, use them for later assessments, and so on. Maybe other people have more specific answers for her.

Here’s her original note:


A quick question. When you have students draw pictures, how do you use the pictures?
I am feeling very uninspired right now, or rather a failure at this TPRS thing this year. Good thing there is a lot of year left for improvement :o)

Hi K,

I use pictures in a number of ways.

I like to quote Laurie Clarcq: she says that the purpose of language is to form a picture in someone’s mind. Drawing pictures helps remind kids that they should have a mental picture whenever they hear or read something.

That being said, sometimes pictures are a way that I get to repeat the information more often. After we’ve done a story, I might have one kid draw at the board, and everyone else draws at their seat while I repeat the story. We might number four-six pictures and then retell the story out of order; they have to say which picture represents each part of the story. Then I might start pieces of the story and have kids finish or embellish a given picture. I might do a dictation with short sentences from the story and then have them identify which pictures went with which sentence.

Once the language is falling out of their mouths, they can get into groups and retell the story: if there are four kids, they retell it once with each one telling about one picture. Then they switch and a different kid starts, or they all try to add as much as they can to picture #2.

Sometimes I hand out a reading and ask them to do a mural with all the pieces there.

If someone has a phone, they take pictures for me and send them so that I can post them on our website (here’s an example, if it works.)

If you do embedded readings, here’s a post about another idea for using drawings

Don’t feel discouraged. You’re awesome for trying it! New stuff is always hard to implement, especially when we’ve taught and learned for so many years in other ways, and the kids have too.


(Note: I’m tagging this under “songs” because that way people can find it if they want to use the idea for teaching songs. Usually we don’t talk so much about teaching poetry in TPRS.)

11 responses to “More on poetry

  1. Another amazing and very doable idea. I have not really started Mvskoke for 2012. We have our first formal class on Wed. I took everyone’s ideas that trying to teach for just two days was a little silly. And so we just hung out doing games and stuff at afterschool with formal classes starting next week. But, this gave us time to indoctrinate the new staff and also to work on what the expectations and rules are when you come to afterschool.
    BUT! Here is the cool thing–Friday has been our Mvskoke class usually. One boy said “Shucks I wanted to speak Creek today.” So, I did an informal class with whoever wanted to come and see what it was like. We had 6 kids and we played with dominos working on numbers, colors, :pass me,” and “help me”. We used about 50% English to help the ones who hadn’t been there before. They went for 45 minutes playing and helping each other. And learned two new structures. Help me and pass me. And if I was assessing (which I am not) they used applied information from other content (had to add the dots on the dominos, numeric pattern recognition and color questions). Spontaneous and bonding as we helped each other and just played. Yeah there were only 6 but we only had 30 kids total yesterday for all the staff to hangout with.


  2. Here’s the link to Tam teaching us a poem through TPR. I love using TPR to teach songs and poems. I typically teach a couple of lines and then circle a little bit, then repeat, just to interrupt their rote-only learning. Tam pointed out (maybe not in this clip) that she would do this only ten minutes a day, until the kids had all learned the poem.

    Here’s the link to Tam explaining the grid system. Sorry for the angle.


  3. Pingback: Catching up with links | mjTPRS

  4. Michele,
    Merci beaucoup! Seeing the video is so helpful. It also makes me feel like I am a part of your wonderful group of colleagues! What a joy to have that! (and on a Friday afternoon!) Do you think your friend Tam would share some of the poems that she uses with a fellow French teacher? I have been using some Jacques Prévert poems with my second year students and I think I could go back and review with a stronger focus on the gestures. Seeing it done gives us all guidance about how we can interpret the technique in our own classes.

    Thanks to you again for sharing and to Tam in advance if she is able to share poems she has used. I would be happy to share my list of Prévert poems we were using to reinforce the passé composé if anyone would like.


  5. Ruth, I will send your note off to the TPRS French teachers here in Anchorage area, a very sharing group. I don’t know who their leader is, but I know that for a while they were sending files around. In the meantime, here’s the link to the poems Alaskan students have to learn for Declamation.

    PS I feel strongly that all the folks who read this blog are part of the community. I would like to find a way to better share our meetings, partly because there are Alaskans who can’t fly in for them. We do still have the monthly Monday ALAN network meetings, open to anyone, anywhere in the world even though they are on Alaska time. I’ll keep posting those as they happen. Usually the announcement is made that day or just one earlier, so you might be best to e-mail the organizer to get the future dates.

    And anyone who wants to look over past notes on our group’s Ning can send me an e-mail or a request through comments.


  6. Wow! Thanks for the link to a ton of poems. It’s nice to hear from folks as to how and when they are using them, which are the favorites, etc.

    I have been thinking about songs since I posted here this morning and wanted to share this thought/question. The songs I have used this year seem to be very pleasing to my students. But they are contemporary and some are rap or hip hop songs. They go fast and have a lot going on. What I have done (and I wonder what others think) is to focus on one or two phrases from each song and let the kids know that these are the phrases that we are “taking with us”. What are your thoughts and experience with contemporary music? I am finding it so successful. I found a song this year titled “Il y a” (there is/there are in French) We listened to it and talked about meaning but didn’t do any gestures or really pick out that many words (it goes fast and has a lot going on). It has a great message (there is a better world for you and me, etc) and kids LOVED it. They loaded it on to their ipods etc. One kid in class one day had his head phones on and I reminded him of school rules about electronics in class. He says “But, it’s IL Y A!” I went back to see and it was! How cool is that? Some of my first year kids have really picked up these cool little phrases and made them their own! (FYI on the Speaking assessment I just did, I don’t think there were any students who didn’t produce “il y a” easily when they were speaking!)

    I think I have Spring in my soul right now (we have sun today). I feel so positive about my kids and about language!


  7. Michele,
    Thank you so much for the videos! They were so helpful to me! I’m kind of having a mid-year crisis with some of my classes so taking this type of breaks will be good for all of us. My problem has always been coming up with gestures. In the video they make so much sense and I’m always having difficulties with figuring out how to gesture this or that. Any advice would be appreciated. Also, if it is not much to ask from Tam and Ruth, I’d much appreciate the lists of poems that they’ve been using. Merci mille fois!


  8. Michele,
    I, too, found the video with Tam extremely helpful. The poem she used to demonstrate the method seems very, very doable in terms of vocabulary and stylistics. I have been toying with the idea of using poems with my German students but have been hesitant to put my thoughts to action because I cannot find any poems that would be easy enough to adapt to TPRS (particulary for me as a beginner). I checked out your link to the Anchorage poem page and feel the same way about the German poems posted there. Mainly, I am concerned about the antiquated language in those poems and their appeal to young students.
    I will probably use Tam’s approach with songs rather poems (at least for now). We’ll see how it goes.


  9. Hmm…maybe Nathan has some poem ideas for German students. I agree with you about the antiquated poem issue. It is really hard to gesture language that isn’t useful for kids, not to mention not too productive.

    I use this method as I teach songs, first saying the words in poem form, and later in the rhythm of the poem, then finally half-singing the words. I usually teach my Russian 1 kids about ten children’s songs this way in their first semester because of all the useful words they’ll have floating in their brains. I use those songs for attention at the beginning of the class and as transition devices.


  10. Brigitte, have you seen Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic auf Deutsch (Ein Licht Unterm Dach)? It has short, silly, rhyming poems that are perfect for students!


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