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Poetry in the classroom

Für Gymnasium Unter- und Mittelstufe

Hausarbeit 2011 16 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Pädagogik, Sprachwissenschaft



1. Introduction

2. A brief outline about poetry and literature in the curriculum

3. Poetry in the classroom – Why?

4. Poetry in the ‘Unterstufe’
4.1 Exercises & Aims

5. Poetry in the ‘Mittelstufe’
5.1 Exercises & Aims

6. Conclusion

7. Literature

1. Introduction

In general, poetry seems to be a fairly neglected topic in today’s classrooms. Reasons for this may be multiple[1] and it is probably difficult to determine universally valid explanations. It does not make a difference whether it is poetry in the mother tongue or poetry in a foreign language; it just seems that poetry in general does not seem to be very popular. Skipping through the current schoolbooks the impression occurs that poetry only plays a subordinate role. Also, when under time pressure and the necessity to drop certain topics, poetry seems to be among the first ones to be dropped. The question arises whether this is due to teachers who never found access to poetry? The extra effort it might take to prepare for a poetry lesson? Or is it lacking courage to approach a topic that seems to be unpopular? It is up to teachers to either inspire or discourage pupils when it comes to poetry. This inspiration or discouragement may last a lifetime.

Many pupils probably consider poetry as ‘un-cool’. But in the time of events like literature and poetry slams, which are highly enjoyed by many pupils and students, it should be worth re-thinking the attitude about poetry and to bring poetry to the classrooms.

With this paper I would like to show approaches, activities and ideas how teachers can make poetry more popular in the classroom.

When planning the classes, teachers need to comply with the curriculum. The curriculum describes the standard of what - and to a certain degree - how pupils should achieve and learn in each year. This ‘standardization’ in each German state enables teachers to know which level to expect when they come into a new class and also makes it easier for pupils to change schools. Therefore, curriculums are provided on a yearly basis by the ministry of education for all public schools.

Since the curriculum does not clearly distinguish between poetry and literature and often mentions ‘literary texts’, which also include poetry, it was not possible to strictly look at ‘poetry’ in the curriculum. I therefore had to expand the outline a little further.

The curriculum for English in ‘Unterstufe’ (year five to seven) and ‘Mittelstufe’ (year eight to ten) in general stipulates, according to each year, a focus on literature. Especially from ‘Mittelstufe’ onwards the curriculum expects teachers to work with authentic texts. The curriculum also provides examples for authentic texts, for example in year eight authentic texts are travel guides and instruction manuals, ads, and also longer narrative texts and poems.[2] Pupils in year eight are supposed to differentiate between narrative and reporting texts and to learn about linguistic devices; they are supposed to recognize the basic structure of a text, simple formal characteristics and the main intention of the author[3]. With this demand it almost seems necessary that adequate poems are introduced in the classrooms of year eight.

In years six and seven the curriculum lists poems in the classroom as optional[4] However, at the same time the curriculum demands to cover a wide variety of different text-styles: Ads, forms, instruction manuals, letters, brochures, diary- or blog- entries, articles in newspapers and magazines, and literary texts[5]. When selecting texts in year seven, the ministry of education expects teachers to concentrate on foreign language acquisition. Explicitly, the ministry of education states: “Lesevergnügen, persönliches Interesse, Informationsentnahme spielen eine, wenn überhaupt, untergeordnete Rolle.“[6]

The curriculum for ‘German’ in year provides first access to poetry, the curriculum for English refers to poetry as ‘optional’. This may provide a good basis for an interdisciplinary project in German and English.

Year five’s curriculum does not provide ‘real’ literature; pupils are expected to understand simple and short texts about known topics and they should for example be able to read and understand timetables and maps.

According to the curriculum of year nine, the basic language acquisition should have taken place at this stage[7]. When it comes to literature, pupils should master complex and authentic texts; among these texts the ministry of education explicitly lists poems[8]. Pupils are expected to encounter opinions and arguments, understand logical contexts and combination of content, form, and language. They should be able to express their own opinion in a convincing way and interpret also emotional impacts of literature[9]. Linguistic and formal devices and their impact can be related to the intention of the author; pupils are able to make a difference between facts and opinions[10]. As texts to be read the ministry of education lists short stories, short plays, and also poems[11].

In year ten the ministry of education expects pupils to work with authentic and original texts, regional and social differences are supposed to come into consideration[12]. Basic techniques of interpretation are to be learnt and applied and literary text should relate to corresponding regional and cultural studies[13]. As recommended texts the curriculum recommends extracts of a drama or novel from the 20th or 21st century and other shorter texts, like short stories and poems[14].

The curriculum encourages teachers to work with literature. Not necessarily explicitly poetry, but poetry suits and covers many aspects and demands of the curriculum well and should therefore not be neglected.

As shortly described in the previous chapter, pupils in years nine and above should posses enough knowledge about the English language to work with original, authentic poetry. However, this does not imply that poems cannot be used as teaching, respective learning, methods also in lower years. Aligned to the age of the pupils there are many poems and methods that support the language learning process, even for pupils in year five.

One part of the language learning process is the learning of vocabulary, the meaning, the pronunciation and the use of unknown words or phrases. Learning only the word, maybe by reading and re-reading the word, may sometimes bring the desired result and the new word and its meaning may find their way into the pupils’ brains. However, it is easier to learn and to remember new words and phrases in a holistic approach, when the learning process is supported by rhyme, rhythm, movements, music, emotion, or association[15]. Especially since brain systems save words in many different nets it is absolutely helpful to activate many senses when learning[16]. When it comes to rhyme and rhythm poems provide many possibilities to remember new words. “Reime und Lieder haben den Vorzug, die Festigung der Fremdsprache über die zusätzliche Stütze des Rhythmus und der Melodie zu erleichtern.“[17] The combination of language and rhythm makes it easier for learners to imitate and memorize the sound and the pronunciation of new words[18].

Of course, the meaning of poetry in the classroom goes beyond learning vocabulary. When working with poetry pupils often have to complement or explain what is indicated but not described in the poem, they need to form hypothesis and need to justify and re-evaluate them, this process should lead to communication and discussions in the classroom[19]. Often poems illustrate emotions and experiences that pupils experience themselves. Discussing such poems in the classroom helps pupils to develop and work with empathy[20].

Ansgar and Surkamp give another valuable reason for teachers to work with poetry: The usually short lengths of poems make them universally applicable, as a single unit, as an introductory or complementary unit or as short time-fillers without taking too much time to prepare[21].

In general, poetry in the classroom should not be limited to ‘real’ poems, a more creative approach can help, maybe song texts, rope rhymes, rap, or even ads may turn out as valuable sources.


[1] See Nünning, Ansgar and Surkamp, Carola. 2008. Englische Literatur unterrichten 1. Seelze-Velber: Klett|Kallmeyer. Page 83.

[2] See , accessed on July 11, 2011.

[3] See , accessed on July 11, 2011.

[4] See and , accessed on July 11, 2011.

[5] See , Hinweise zu Textauswahl, Aufgabenformen, Erstellung von Aufgaben und Einsatz im Unterricht : ISB AK Link-Ebene: Leseverstehen – eine zentrale Fertigkeit, accessed on July 11,2011.

[6] , Hinweise zu Textauswahl, Aufgabenformen, Erstellung von Aufgaben und Einsatz im Unterricht : ISB AK Link-Ebene: Leseverstehen – eine zentrale Fertigkeit, accessed on July 11,2011.

[7] See , accessed on July 11, 2011.

[8] See , accessed on July 11, 2011.

[9] See , accessed on July 11, 2011.

[10] See , accessed on July 11, 2011.

[11] See , accessed on July 11, 2011.

[12] See, accessed on July 11, 2011.

[13] See, accessed on July 11, 2011.

[14] See, accessed on July 11, 2011.

[15] See Timm, Johannes-P. 2007. Englisch lernen und lehren. Berlin: Cornelsen. Page 346.

[16] See Scovel, Thomas. 1998. Psycholinguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[17] Timm, Johannes-P. 2007. Page 119.

[18] See Nünning, Ansgar and Surkamp, Carola. 2008. Page 84.

[19] See Nünning, Ansgar and Surkamp, Carola. 2008. Page 83.

[20] See Haß, Frank. 2006. Fachdidaktik Englisch. Stuttgart: Klett. Page 159.

[21] See Nünning, Ansgar and Surkamp, Carola. 2008. Page 85.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
517 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – Institut für Anglistik
poetry gymnasium unter- mittelstufe




Titel: Poetry in the classroom