When I was in high school, no topic in English class was more despised than poetry. The student consensus was that we would either read Edgar Allen Poe for the twelfth time or we would read some obscure poem about flowers. Even though I like poetry, especially the medieval poetry I read in college, I was hesitant to teach an ESL class about poetry. The class would be for my more advanced students, but I wasn’t sure if the topic would be too difficult. After much deliberation, I decided to teach rhyme and rhythm, share examples of English poems, and write a poem together as a class.The result: I learned that kimchi is sexy, Taylor Swift likes sweet potatoes, and apparently there IS a word that rhymes with spaghetti!
To teach rhyme, I started with one of my favorite children’s poems, Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! I quickly realized that my students had difficulty identifying or creating English rhymes because of their pronunciation (example: “bad” rhymes with “red”). I hadn’t thought about that, so I needed to show some more examples of rhymes rather than just words that sound a little similar.
“Like this!” I said, writing two Korean words on the board. “Gamja (감자), namja (남자)!”
The class exploded in laughter. “Potato man!” said one of my students.
“Yes! Gamja rhymes with Namja. Same spelling, same sound. Now – what rhymes with ‘red’?”
They got it.
We moved to a quick discussion of rhythm. Of course, it wouldn’t be a class about poetry without a little Robert Frost, so I taught the first stanza of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
“Whose woods these are I think I know,” I said, gesturing for my students to repeat.
“Whose WOODS these ARE I THINK I KNOW!” they yelled, exaggerating the iambic tetrameter even more than I did. They were much more into it than my English class was when I was in high school.
And now for the real challenge: writing our own poem. I had thought carefully about how to generate interest in writing and how to provide a good prompt and directions. So I pulled up YouTube on my computer and then walked over to the blackboard. I wrote the following words:
Scotland = Haggis. Korea = Kimchi.
“In Scotland,” I said, “a poet named Robert Burns wrote a poem about Scotland’s traditional food, haggis. Haggis is sheep’s stomach. Every year in January, people in Scotland have a big dinner with haggis and read the poem.”
I typed “Address to a Haggis” into YouTube and played a video. My students watched with a mix of interest and horror. Even though the poem was in Scots, not English, students could understand what was happening based on the context–there were kilts, bagpipes, and an old Scottish man stabbing at the haggis with a knife (if you’ve never seen a Burns night, you should. They’re hilarious!).
After the video, I said that we would do the same thing as Robert Burns. We were going to write an “Address to Kimchi!”
On the blackboard, we brainstormed words that described kimchi – sour, spicy, red, food, etc. Then we used an online rhyming dictionary to find rhymes for the words we picked. Together, each class created an “Address to Kimchi,” which I have included below.
From the boys:
From the girls:
My students enjoyed composing and reciting their creation. My co-teacher for the period, Ms. Kim, was also impressed with the lesson. She said watching the “Address to Haggis” and reading the students’ “Address to Kimchi” gave her a new perspective on how food could be a type of national pride.