When I was 14 years old, I submitted a rhyming poem in my French class about bad hair days. My teacher returned it with an icy stare and accused me of mocking her unruly, curly bob (... frise, boucle, he he he! ...). Whether my poem was actually an attack on her, or a self-conscious lamentation over my own teenage coif, I truly can't remember. The poem itself, however, and the French, has stuck with me to this day.
Towards the end of the last school year, TES Resources user An Gulinck shared a French poetry workbook that reminded me of my bad-hair poem. Her workbook offers ideas on how to prompt pupils to write their own poems in the target language.
Voltaire said: "One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose."
By asking pupils to write poems in a foreign language, teachers can set vocabulary and grammar parameters to meet specific lesson objectives. Honing in on adjective agreement, I give pupils a formula to create their poem ...
Line 1: noun; line 2: same noun + is or are + adjective; line 3: same noun + is or are + adjective 1, adjective 2; line 4: is or are + adjective 1, adjective 2, adjective 3; line 5: adjective 1, adjective 2, adjective 3, adjective 4; line 6: new related noun.
Here is an example in English:
Chocolate is lovely
Chocolate is lovely, rich
Is lovely, rich, sweet
Lovely, rich, sweet, wonderful
In my Year 7 classes I like to use haikus following a simple 5-7-5 syllable pattern. But certain pupils (er, poets) need more scaffolding, so I present the task as a fill-in-the-blanks: J'aime bien _______(5) (verb), Mais, je n'ai pas de ________ (7) (noun), Bon ben, c'est la vie! (5).
Poetry in the modern language classroom is also successful in the study of others' poems. Last year, I plastered my classroom walls with my Year 9 pupils' own, tweaked versions of Dejeuner du matin by Jacques Prevert. I also gave an extra-credit assignment for them to act, illustrate, film or perform the poem. One pupil's stop-motion clay film and several in-class performances of the poem (fake tears and all) absolutely floored me. I shared the following video of the poem, which uses stop-motion with Lego, to provide inspiration for my pupils' final projects: bit.lylegopoem
Poetry is an ideal form to use and access languages. It doesn't have to be dense and obscure, but can be easily created and analysed in the MFL classroom.
Anna Winskill has taught French in Ireland and New York and English in Germany. She is a member of the TES modern languages panel.
Download An Gulinck's poetry workbook. The first half can be adapted for any modern foreign language. bit.lyfrenchpoetry
Visit librivox.org for weekly, multilingual poetry podcasts, including Latin.
Try rosaespanola's resource pack for activities on Jacques Prevert's Dejeuner du matin.