While listening to a radio 4 podcast on a very interesting idea to encourage English school children to learn poetry off by heart, I thought: hang on, this could work for my students.

While listening to a radio 4 podcast on a very interesting idea to encourage English school children to learn poetry off by heart, I thought: hang on, this could work for my students. Foreign language students have a bit of a talent for learning things off by heart, be it vocabulary lists or irregular verb conjugation, so why not cash in on this ability and show them some poetry?

Choosing a poem though, looked like it would be difficult. It had to be something short and sweet, with a little bit of new vocabulary but not too much, and the new vocabulary there was had to be easily explained or else they wouldn't be able to see past the words to get the meaning. It had to be catchy with the rhythm and rhyme of a memorable poem and poignant too. My enthusiastic teenagers (16 - 17 years old) have just started a First Certificate course but won't be ready for a while... what can I do to inspire them in the meantime. Why, poetry of course!

After first suggesting learning a poem off by heart I was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm. So off I went on the hunt for a decent poem. With Valentine's Day looming, and their hormones raging, I thought the theme of love would be apt. Younger teens love writing stories about death so that was always an option but what I have found is much better: a poem about love and death at the same time.

'Remember' by Christina Rossetti is a wonderful sonnet that can be easily read by Upper Int students. It touches on the coyness and imbalance of first love (you love me more than I love you) and cleverly considers the question of how to feel when your ex moves on. The idea of guilt is introduced and also that of what we owe to past loves.

I learnt the poem myself and recited it to my students who were able to immediately feel the ryhme and rhythm. I introduced it by mentioning it's a sonnet, which they have studied at school, and they asked to hear it again. We took it two lines at a time and glossed the meaning. There were no vocab issues until 'grieve' which they were able to guess from context. 'Vestige' happily is of latin origin and although formal in Spanish, was something some of them recognised. I then gave it to them to read. Their homework is to learn the first two lines off by heart.

With my other groups I have decided it will be nice to try different poems and record the reactions. I have a great range of pre intermediate children (aged 8 - 9); Proficiency adults; Intermediate teens. I will be brave and even try this out with my beginner children (aged 8 - 10) and pre-int young teens. Finding the right poems will be the challenge but I'm considereing the following:


Pre-Int children

Pre-Int teens

Intermediate teens WARNING by Jenny Joseph

Proficiency Adults IF by Rudyard Kipling

I would love to hear any ideas which have worked with anyone who reads this.

I am planning a cycle like this:


The obvious fruit of 'doing' poetry is to allow the students the chance to express themselves through this medium. They will be able to experiment with rhyme and rhythm and poetry forms such as haiku, limerick, sonnet and free verse and picture poems. I hope to help their pronunciation and awareness of sounds (weak and stressed syllables) as well as giving them an emotional connection to English to help them see it as a means of communication not just something else to be studied after school.


yes i agree with you about to learn poems by heart, because it developted the memory of the child.


It also helps to memorise words that can influence in the vocabolary of the student.

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