The number of English language learners (ELLs) in US public schools is an estimated 4.7 million (US Department of Education). Under current standards, US students, including ELLs, must be able to perform informational and explanatory writing that includes identifying different types of poetry (Common Core State Standards). Three types of poetry can help ELLs increase their English proficiency skills as they transition through the acculturation process.
A cinquain consists of five lines as follows:
1. Line one consists of one word that is the subject or theme of the poem,
2. Line two has two words that are adjectives that describe the subject in line one
3. Line three has three verbs (usually in –ing) that describe the subject in line one
4. Line four has four words that serve as feelings or a complete sentence that relate to the subject in line one, and
5. Line five is one word that is a synonym of the subject in line one.
Cinquains help ELLs review new vocabulary and their respective parts of speech. And although cinquains do not have to rhyme, ELLs could be asked to include homonyms and homophones at the end of each line in order to practice pronunciation. Cinquains also teach poetry meter, intonation, and overall flow when reciting, much like practicing to sing a song (cinquain example).
Like the cinquain, a tanka consists of a five-line stanza, but with the following syllable pattern: 5-7-5-7-7. That is, the first line consists of 5 syllables, the second line, 7 and so on. Tankas do not have to rhyme, but ELLs can practice pronunciation when articulating syllables and word stress. For example, a word like record changes meaning depending on which syllable is being stressed, which could be discussed as an ELL might include both versions of the word in the same tanka. See tanka example for further explanation.
For the ELLs, perhaps the most difficult of the three types of poems is the limerick. Like the cinquain and tanka, the limerick also consists of a five-line stanza. But what makes the limerick more difficult is that it must rhyme and has a distinct meter or intonation pattern. In a limerick, the last word in lines one, two, and five rhyme, and the last word in lines three and four rhyme. Lines one, two, and five typically have between seven-to-nine syllables, and lines three and four have five syllables. The best way to demonstrate a limerick is to put it to Irish music (see example).
ELLs can use current technologies in a number of ways when creating cinquains, tankas, and limericks. ELLs can create documents in Google Drive and share their documents with others students and the teacher in order to work collaboratively on their poems. Where mobile devices are available, in-class activities can evolve around the use of both spoken discourse and their written work as they negotiate through the creative process until their final written product is complete.
Once they have completed the poem, cellphones or other recording devices can be used as ELLs practice reciting their poems. The recordings serve as a means for self reflecting on performances as the ELL poet notices areas that need improving. Peer and self-assessment with the use of technology create a classroom as a learning community as all students learn to help each other.
Poetry in class can not only help ELLs by improving English language proficiency, but can also help ELLs integrate with other students. Native speaking students can team up with non-native speaking students in order to help ELLs with their language skills as well as help native speakers gain an appreciation for cultures other than their own. Learning to be creative and celebrating diversity in the classroom show learners of today the importance of building relationships in today’s society, even with those who share different sociocultural backgrounds and experiences.