Thursday, March 31, 2011

There once was a lass overseas...

I've started a poetry unit with my eighth-grade class. As a disclaimer, I should tell you that I hate poetry. I'm sure that's going to cause a few of our readers to gasp, but it's true. I can't write it, I'm ambivalent when I read it, and I hate teaching it. I hate teaching it because I have absolutely no good answer when my students ask, "Why do we have to learn this?!"

Just the same, I've started a poetry unit with my eighth-grade class. I'm in Saudi Arabia, where they broadcast an American Idol-esque poetry competition where people across the Arab world could text their votes for the best poet. Poetry is big here. I had a few student squeal in glee when I told them we were diving into the genre.

Unfortunately, I think I may have snuffed out their glimmer of happiness already. We started lightly, or so I thought, with a few poems that had the typical literary devices: personification, alliteration, repetition. I was trying to get them to see why poets use these devices--no, the poem "Silver" by Walter de la Mare isn't about a woman named Moon-- but I could tell they just weren't getting it. Non-literal/abstract thought is not exactly their forte, I'm afraid. And if there's a word to describe English poetry, it's "abstract."


So we moved on to more humorous topics: the limerick.

They were relieved to finally see a poem they understood when I flashed "Hickory Dickory Dock" on the screen. They broke into song and chuckled with delight. See?! English poetry can be fun!

Then I ruined it all by bringing up syllables.

This is one area in which I can empathize with my students' plight. The whole concept of stressed and unstressed syllables is very confusing when 90% of the English you hear is spoken with an Arabic accent. Language learners often do well to get all the letters pronounced correctly, don't throw emphasis in there to confuse the situation!

But the meter is the whole point of a limerick! I had to bring it up! They didn't fully understand, so when I had the girls give it a shot by writing their own limericks, I also gave them a litmus test: "If you can sing your limerick to the tune of 'Hickory Dickory Dock,' you have succeeded."

Here is one of the more humorous ones they came up with:

There once was an Arab named Noaf
Who got some hummus and loaf
She ate it with a fork
Cause there wasn't a spork
So she went off and found a cool stove

Pretty impressive, considering the circumstances, right?! She has the AABBA rhyme scheme. It's pretty close to the correct meter. It's not as humorous as her first draft, but her first draft wasn't quite on point with the meter:

There once was an Arab named Fatooma
Who got some hummus and toaboulah
She ate with a fork
Because she didn't find a spork
So she went off to play with a puma

Here's another one that was oh-so close to being a real limerick. It has missed the target with the meter...and the storyline...but it still makes me laugh.

The long neck of a giraffe
Ate me and cut me in half
I though I would die
So I said my good byes
Then I woke up and laughed

Then there's this one by one of my angels who really labored over this poem and was so hopeful when she handed it over...SO not a limerick, but still very humorous.

There was a bunch of students who had to write a poem
They didn't know how to so the teacher had to show 'em
She started with the types, and then went to examples
They finally got it and as a gift they got apples
The gifts were definitely a surprise to them.

I love it!

I realize to the untrained eye this looks like a blog post about what an incredible failure I am as a teacher. But I look at this sample of poems and see learning.

And that's what makes me cooler than you.

Vicariously yours,

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