How to Teach Poetry To ESL Students

Effective Strategies for Teaching Poetry to ESL Students

Introduction: Poetry classes offer a unique and engaging opportunity for ESL (English as a Second Language) students to develop their language skills and explore the beauty of the English language. Teaching poetry to ESL students requires specific approaches that consider their language proficiency and cultural backgrounds. This article aims to provide comprehensive strategies for teaching poetry effectively to ESL students, encouraging their creativity, language acquisition, and cultural appreciation.

Incorporate Multicultural Poetry:

To engage ESL students, it is important to introduce a diverse range of poetry from different cultures. For example, you can share poems from their own countries or poems translated into English. By exploring poetry from different cultures, students can connect with their heritage while expanding their understanding of different poetic forms and styles. This not only promotes cultural appreciation but also helps students relate to the themes and emotions expressed in the poems, making the learning experience more meaningful and relatable.

Example: Introduce a poem by Langston Hughes, a renowned African American poet, to ESL students and discuss its historical and cultural significance. This allows students to gain insights into the African American experience while exploring poetic techniques and themes.

Focus on Visual and Sensory Elements:

Visual aids and sensory experiences play a crucial role in enhancing ESL students’ comprehension and engagement with poetry. By utilizing images, videos, or real objects related to the poem’s theme, you provide students with a tangible connection to the emotions and imagery conveyed in the poem. This helps them better understand and appreciate the depth and meaning of the poem.

Example: Before reading a poem about nature, show ESL students images of scenic landscapes and encourage them to describe the colors, sounds, and scents associated with each image. Then, connect these sensory experiences to the imagery in the poem, allowing students to make meaningful connections between their own experiences and the poetic language.

Activate Prior Knowledge and Personal Connections:

Help ESL students relate to the themes and emotions expressed in poems by activating their prior knowledge and personal experiences. By encouraging them to share their own stories, memories, or cultural traditions that align with the poem’s subject matter, you create a bridge between their personal lives and the poetic material. This fosters a deeper emotional engagement and personal connection with the poem.

Example: Before reading a poem about family, have ESL students discuss their own family traditions, relationships, or memorable experiences. Then, connect these experiences to the themes explored in the poem, allowing students to draw parallels and understand the universal aspects of familial relationships.

Use Scaffolded Activities:

Breaking down complex poems into smaller sections or stanzas and providing scaffolded activities is essential for ESL students’ comprehension and interpretation. This approach allows students to focus on specific elements of the poem and gradually build their understanding of poetic techniques and language.

Example: Select a poem with metaphors and guide ESL students through identifying and analyzing these devices. Provide definitions and examples of the figurative language used, and encourage students to create their own metaphors in response. By scaffolding the learning process, students gain confidence in their ability to analyze and appreciate poetic techniques.

Emphasize Oral Expression:

Encouraging ESL students to engage in reading poems aloud, participating in discussions, and performing recitations helps improve their pronunciation, fluency, and confidence in using English. Oral expression allows students to experience the rhythmic and melodic qualities of poetry, enhancing their language skills and fostering a deeper connection with the poetic material.

Example: Organize poetry reading sessions where ESL students can practice their pronunciation, intonation, and expression. Encourage them to choose a poem they connect with and perform it in front of the class. This activity not only enhances their language skills but also boosts their confidence and public speaking abilities.


Teaching poetry to ESL students requires an inclusive and tailored approach that considers their language abilities, cultural backgrounds, and individual learning needs. By incorporating multicultural poetry, utilizing visual and sensory elements, activating prior knowledge, providing scaffolded activities, and emphasizing oral expression, educators can create a rich and engaging learning environment. Through these strategies, ESL students can develop their language skills, cultural appreciation, and creative expression while exploring the power and beauty of poetry.