Who is afraid of poetry in the CLIL classroom?
In 2007, Carter stated that “literature has begun to assume a higher profile in contexts of second language acquisition” (p. 10). This assertion was made at the time CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) started to become widespread in Europe, with the promise of not only developing students’ language proficiency but also helping students enhance their content by learning in an integrative way. It is now the time to keep supporting literature as an effective resource to be used in the CLIL classroom, in order to improve students’ educational profile. In the following article, I will make the case for poetry in the CLIL classroom, and will suggest some creative ideas to make the most of this literary genre in content subjects delivered through a second or foreign language.
A change of focus
The first step is to change our focus, as teachers, and consider poetry from a wider perspective.Poetry will not only contribute to our students’ language development and literary knowledge, but it will also concern four different areas which Coyle (1999) considers essential in the development of CLIL. They are known as the 4 Cs: Content, Communication, Cognition and Culture/Citizenship. We also need to change students’ perspective on poetry. They often expect to be given a long poem, usually about love, which they will be asked to read out loud. However, poetry is all around our pupils, as they listen to songs, recite chants, play with words and use metaphors. This is the starting point to help them enter the world of poetry in a foreign language. We should start by giving them an opportunity to explore poetry as writers or creators. Once they become familiarized with the basic mechanisms of writing poetry, they will feel at ease reading and enjoying poetry written by others, and they will incorporate more strategies into their own writing.
Starting with Jazz Chants
Jazz chants were created by Carolyn Graham (2006) with the aim of helping students learn vocabulary and structures easily by using rhythms. One of the main advantages about jazz chants is that they can be used at any time in class, and do not require any resources. We can simply use our voices and create rhythm by clapping, clicking our fingers or hitting an object. Let us imagine that students have problems with the words: evaporation, climate and cloud. You can create a simple jazz chant:
This simple routine can help students to finding meaning in rhythm, and they will soon be acquainted with how poetry can help them make their learning more memorable. Finding words to fit in the rhyme can help them increase their logical thinking and incorporating this strategy into their learning routines will benefit their cognitive development. Jazz chants can be shaped in a more complex structure. For example, we can use questions and answers about content students are dealing with in class. Add some clapping and good rhythm and you will get an effective jazz chant which you can use as a warm-up, revision or wrapping-up activity. Consult the following link for more information about jazz chants: http://jazzchants.net/.
Exploring different poems
Not all types of poetry are suitable to use in the classroom as an initial exploration into the world of poetry. Some forms, such as sonnets or ballads, may initially be too difficult and complex for students. Nevertheless, other types, such as acrostics and shape poems, can help students to start enjoying poetry in class.
Acrostics are poems which revolve around a word which is composed by the first letter of each line. I often use acrostics to reinforce students’ schema building (see Walqui to get more information about scaffolding strategies for your classroom). First, I ask them to brainstorm words related to a concept or idea. Then I write the idea on the blackboard and ask students to contribute with words which start with the letters included in this main concept. Then, I create the poem. This simple activity is a good model for my students to know the steps that they should take to create an acrostic. Another possibility is to use interactive tools, such as the fantastic Acrostic Creator ReadWriteThink website: http://www.read writethink.org/files/resources/interactives/acrostic/
Shape poems are one of my favourite forms of poetry because my students are often highly visual, and using pictures is motivating as well as effective for them. Shape poems can be used in many ways. The teacher can bring a picture to class, and students brainstorm words and try to fill in the shape with these words. Another option is to ask students to write two sentences defining the object they can see, and then ask them to use the sentences as the line shaping the object. The ReadWriteThink website also includes a fantastic tool to work with shape poems in class: http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/theme_poems/. Crafts and poetry We can also reinforce content learning by giving students the chance to experiment with arts and crafts. I strongly recommend the Makingbooks website http://www.makingbooks.com/ freeprojects.shtml, where you can access free projects with clear explanations and videos to use in your classroom. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the “Who am I” book, a great resource to help students describe main concepts seen in the classroom. Students write clues on each of the four sides of the book, and write the concept they are referring to at the centre. Once students have seen the four clues, the concept is discovered. Students can create these small-books on different concepts and play in class by showing clues to their classmates. The poetic value of these books may vary, but will no doubt ease the way to start working on metaphors, similes and other figurative language.
To finish with, I will be dealing with the Storybird website (www.storybird.com). This website enables you to create your own story or poetry book. Registration is free (unless you wish to have access to the Premium services). When registering as a teacher, you can create classes with your students’ names, and produce usernames and passwords for them to create their books. If you choose poetry books, Storybird will choose a group of words for your students to use. Students can also select their favourite illustrations by selecting a wide range of contributors, which facilitate their pictures for free. Students’ work can have public or private access, and may be located in virtual libraries. When using Storybird it is very important to write careful instructions for your students. You need to limit the number of poems, used forms and the assessment criteria, so that students do not feel lost during this task. It is a good idea to spend one session in the computer room in order to check that students are on the right track.
All in all, even if it seems paradoxical to experience a literature comeback just in time to be introduced in the trendiest pedagogical approach, I believe that traditional resources can find new places in innovative teaching-learning methods. Literature can have an essential role if we start looking at it from a fresh perspective. The ideas mentioned in this article are meant to be a basic introduction for teachers, so that they can start working with poetic devices and poetry in the classroom. Integrating rhythm, metaphors or book craft projects can be a good starting point to give children more confidence when working with poetry in the CLIL classroom, and to encourage them to make the most of poetry, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Raquel Fernández Fernández
Carter, Ronald (2007) Literature and language teaching 1986-2006: a review. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 17/1: 3-13.
Coyle, Do (1999) The next stage? Is there a Future for the Present? The legacy of the communicative approach. Francophonie, 19: 13-16.
Graham, Carolyn (2006) Creating Chants and Songs. Oxford: OUP.
Walqui, Aida (2006) Scaffolding instruction for English language learners: A conceptual framework.
The International journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 9/2, 159-180.
James Crichlow, for having revised the very first
draft of this article.
Image: Tania Hage (photographer)