Teaching Skills and Subskills through Creative Poetry Writing

Marie Šimáková

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

Robert Frost

As Robert Frost states, poetry is first and foremost based on human emotions and these emotions play an important role in the creating and writing process. But how to take advantage of emotions and creative poetry writing in EFL lessons?

Firstly, it is believed that using activities working with emotions has the advantage of an emotional response, which makes people remember. Surprisingly, creative poetry writing is a beneficial tool and works with emotions, motivation and learning language all in one. Poetry may be considered a marginal didactic tool by both teachers and students, and their positive or negative attitude to poetry often originates from their previous experience. But poetry ranks among the modern arts of communication and surrounds us almost every day in the form of nursery rhymes, advertising jingles, radio tunes, commercials and lyrics. Moreover, there are two characteristic features of poetry – it is not neutral in any way and it introduces language in a real context. If poetry is not considered to be neutral, it can serve as a great tool to express experiences, dreams, opinions, values, desires, feelings, hopes, ambitions and interests. Any individual differences or cultural variety may be expressed in poems. Personal involvement overcomes the language barrier and motivates us to communicate, which is usually the main aim of learning any foreign language.

Poetry as a didactic tool can be used as a regular activity, a topic for special workshops or a short activity at the beginning or end of a lesson. In comparison with reading poetry, creative writing eliminates passive consumption and tests elasticity of language, which leads to active language use. Any skill (reading, listening, writing, speaking) or sub-skill (pronunciation, social interaction etc.) can be practised through poetry writing, either separately or in combination with others.

Creative poetry writing can be integrated at any time during the school year or language course, and learners do not have to have any previous experience of creative writing or be advanced learners.

Creative poetry writing course

The effort to prove that all the benefits mentioned above could be put into practice has resulted in a special course based on teaching English skills and subskills through creative poetry writing. This course was mainly designed for adult learners who attend one-to-one classes at language schools and followed on from a previous course in which poetry was connected with an experiential field trip. Eight lesson plans based on creative poetry writing were integrated into the regular content of the courses. The aims were to introduce new stimuli, an emotional aspect, skills improvement and elimination of the stress factor, so providing teachers with supplementary materials and making learners and teachers step out of their comfort zone. The contents of the lesson plans were varied and included topics such as famous photographs, the story of Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, and comparing lyrics and poems. Each lesson plan consisted of several activities which culminated in the creative writing itself. Furthermore, creative writing works not only with paper and pen; it uses many different techniques of creation and interpretation (musical instruments, scrapbook techniques etc.) For an example of a lesson plan and a student’s finished poem, see below. (For a full lesson plan with worksheets, see the thesis Teaching Skills and Subskills through Creative Poetry Writing.)



Topic Modal verbs/present perfect poem
Skill Use of English (grammar)
Level B1-B2
Outcome A poem focused on modal verbs and present perfect
Time 50-60 minutes
Resources Four poems focused on modal verbs and present perfect

A table with modal verbs overview

Simon and Garfunkel – El Condor Pasa

Activities  What the teacher will do What the student will do
Print the worksheet (n.1) with 4 poems and make the students highlight all modal verbs and present perfect. Then talk about the content of the poems. Highlight the modal verbs and present perfect tense. Do you like the poems? What are they about?
Provide the student with a table (n. 2) and make sure they understand the rules. Look at the table and complete it. Think of the differences between modal verbs in present and past.
Play the song “El Condor pasa” by Simon and Garfunkel and comment on the function of modal verbs. Provide the student with worksheet (n. 3) and do the exercise as a post-listening activity. Listen to the song and think of the functions of modal verbs.
Provide the students with a worksheet (n.4) and make them write 2 poems. Students should follow the pattern Write two poems – follow the pattern.


Where have you been?

I have never seen

Such a good director’s Cut

But! 🙂

Would you agree with the end of the movie?

Have you ever watched it during the rain?

Should we watch it again?




Holmes, V. L., & Moulton, M. R. (2001). Writing simple poems: Pattern poetry for language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kırkgöz, Y. (2008). Using Poetry as a Model for Creative Poetry Writing. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 4(2), 94-106.

Panavelil, A. (2011). Teaching Poetry in an EFL/ESL Class: An Integrative and Communicative Approach. ELT Voices – India, 1(3), 11-20. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from http://eltvoices.in/Volume1/Issue3/EVI13.2.pdf

Sebranek, P., Meyer, V., & Kemper, D. (1995). Write source 2000: A guide to writing, thinking & learning. Burlington, WI: Write Source Educational Pub. House.

Spiro, J. (2004). Creative poetry writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Praveen, C. (2007). Guiding ESL Learners to Appreciate Poetry. The Internet TESL Journal, XIII (8). doi:http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Praveen-Poetry.html