“Birdie, birdie in the sky, why’d you do that in my eye?
Looks like sugar, tastes like sap,
Oh my gosh it’s BIRDIE CRAP!”
Not all of the children dare read this one aloud; usually it’s the most rambunctious of the group who choose this one. The rest listen and laugh loudly as the readers pretend to wipe the bird poo out of their eyes. It’s time for the yearly poetry slam, and children have practiced reading their various poems in small groups. Now, the groups take turns performing their poem, in the hopes of reaping heaps of applause and cheers from their classmates.
Normally, a poetry slam is done by poets sharing their own original work. A jury decides which of the poets wins, based on a scale of 1 – 10. In my ESL lessons, however, writing original works was a bit difficult for the children. Instead, I found simple, funny poetry that they could use. Using search terms like “funny poems for kids” and “ESL poems”, I found sites like Ken Nesbitt’s, where poetry of all sorts of child-friendly topics is listed. Another excellent source is Shel Silverstein’s books “At the End of the Sidewalk” and “A Light in the Attic”.
In selecting poetry for my children, I ask myself several questions:
- topic: is it interesting to the children?
- length: is it short enough for children to practice several times over? Alternatively, if it’s too long, can I use just a portion of it?
- vocabulary: is it understandable for the children? And, where applicable, is it related to the topic we are covering in class?
- made-up vocabulary: can the children figure out what it “means” and how it’s pronounced?
Why is a poetry slam so useful for the ESL learner? I’ve addressed the natural rhythm in spoken English in an earlier blog. Reading poetry with a clear rhythm and rhyme takes this speaking activity to a higher level, combining speaking with reading. It makes it easier for children to practice speaking and reading fluently, while giving children the space to showcase their abilities in a low-threshold activity. Allowing them to work and perform in small groups makes it even easier for them to perform in English in front of a group.
Here I’ve listed a couple of sites that might be helpful in looking for poems one can use in the ESL classroom:
Ken Nesbitt’s poetry for children: http://www.poetry4kids.com/poems
Shel Silverstein’s site: http://www.shelsilverstein.com/
Gareth Lancaster’s poetry for children: http://www.fizzyfunnyfuzzy.com/
Short poems for children: http://www.mywordwizard.com/short-poems-for-kids.html
I’m curious what other sites you might find. Please share!