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Sheryl Jouvenat

Poetry is Powerful!

Sheryl Jouvenat

Sheryl Jouvenat is Instructor of ESL at the Intensive English Program at Rice University, Houston, Texas.

Poetry is intensely personal. Poetry can make the reader laugh, cry, and feel a connection to the writer. In other words, poetry is powerful. I have always believed that poetry is a form of self-expression that anyone can try, regardless of language, culture or level of English.

Groan...not poetry!
My Advanced-level Culture students groaned at me when I told them that they were going to write poetry. They didn't believe they could do it. Most of them didn't write poetry in their first languages, not to mention in ENGLISH! Besides, what about all those rules: rhyme, counting syllables, and trying to become Shakespeare.

How they did it
I told them to forget about all the sonnets and haikus of their pasts; I would teach them an easy way to write a poem. I had my students start out by freewriting about anything that they could describe well: their best friend, the cola can sitting in front of them, or the weather to name a few subjects. They had complete freedom to choose their subject.

After they finished freewriting for 10 minutes, the students went back through their freewrite and formed their poem in the following way. They underlined the most important ideas from their freewrite and transferred those ideas to a separate sheet of paper. They were looking for key words, loaded with description and feeling. Some read the poems aloud to adjust the rhythm, added more description to their poem, and rearranged the sequence of ideas, if necessary. They took their poems home to work on and recopy, and then the next day the students who felt comfortable read their poems aloud in class.

My students didn't worry about punctuation, but that could be something that could be worked on in future classes. I basically wanted to get them used to the idea that they could be poets and use English for self-expression and fun!

Please take a look at our Poetry Project!

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