This is one of my favourite ways in to using poetry in the classroom. I’ve found it works with all kinds of classes, from A2 up, with teenagers or adults. Here is a ten step lesson plan for a whole lesson including eating, reading, writing and reciting.
1. Ask the students to eat a small piece of something tasty (fruit, chocolate, biscuits, cake …) and write down five words – or phrases – to describe the taste/texture experience.
If you want to try it out, choose a piece of fruit from your kitchen, or if you’re not at home and have no fruit to hand, why not choose one from the fruit bowl in the image above? (Visualisation works well too if you don’t want to use an image). Pick it up, feel its weight and texture in your hand. Lift it to your face, smell it and then take a small bite. Now write down five words or expressions that describe the experience. (This exercise can work online too ;))
2. In pairs or small groups the students compare and explain what they’ve written. If they chose or imagined a fruit, ask them why they chose that particular fruit. Then ask them to put the list aside for the moment.
3. Give the students the jumbled up words of the three stanzas of the poem but don’t tell them what kind of text it is yet. Ask them to rewrite it as two sentences.
- eaten have the icebox that I plums were in the
- probably for you which were breakfast saving and
- delicious forgive so me cold they sweet and so were
If you don’t know the poem you might want to try it out yourself.
4. Check the word order and ask the students to identify the text type (the answer is written here in white, highlight it with your mouse to read it: note left on the door of the fridge) and the identity of the writer and reader (husband to wife). I sometimes give them the original text written out on post-it notes and ask the students where they’d stick them.
Here’s the original, with no punctuation:
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold.
5. In pairs students decide how they would punctuate the lines in the note. Compare with other pairs and pyramid to a whole class consensus. Ask students to read the note out loud to check their punctuation and emphasis the relationship between punctuation/intonation and meaning.
6. Explain that the note is actually a poem. Give them the title , This is just to say … and ask the students to read the note aloud and decide where the line breaks would come in the poem version. If you want, you could give them an outline (ie three verses – each with four lines) to help them.
7. Students compare their versions with the poet’s and discuss any differences. They now practise reading the poem out loud. Ask them to notice in what way it is different from the note.
This is just to say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold.
William Carlos Williams
8. Ask the students to put away all copies of the poem and try to recall as much of it as they can. They should be pleasantly surprised!
9. Now ask the students to look back at the words (and phrases) they wrote at the beginning of the lesson. Are any of them in the poem? Ask them to substitute “plum” with their fruit/food and to substitute the adjectives “delicious”, “sweet” and “cold” with their descriptions. Ask them to make any other changes they think might be necessary. Students then compare their new poems in pairs/groups/with the whole class. You can ask them to reformulate the poem as a thank you note, starting something like, This is just to say … thank you for the grapes …
10. In the next lesson come back to the poem again. Ask the students to repeat one of the ordering activities from the previous lesson, or prepare a “wrong” version of the poem and ask the students to spot the mistakes and discuss any differences in the meaning (e.g. “I ate” instead of “I have eaten”, “very sweet” instead of “so sweet”) or simply ask the students to write out the poem in pairs/groups from memory.