Teaching Poetic Devices to EAL Learners

This time, we are focusing on the subject of English. The topic is poetic terminology. This was used with students who had already been aware of some of the terms, but were now introduced to new ones, namely personification, alliteration, metaphor, simile, rhyme and power of three. The objective was for the students to be able to recognise these by the end of the lesson when they come across them.


Introducing the concepts

First, the learners need to be introduced to the concepts through something they an easily understand. Visuals always help with these. The slides here are from my presentation, taking students through the six new poetic terms. The first one is personification. As you can see, I use images of a run-down house and a depressed person and very simple words such as dead and alive to show how the house is now treated like a person. It’s similar with the moon and the winking person in the second example. In both cases, I can ask questions such as “Why is the house alive now?” or “Why is the moon alive?” or “Why is the house a person now?” and “Why is the moon a person now?” (indicating personification and, by implication, being alive). The images are incredibly helpful in allowing children to understand this concept.


In the next slide, teaching what alliteration is, you will notice I have changed the colour of “litera” within the alliteration. This is because I am aware that “a letter” is “litera” certainly in my original language (Polish) with some other European languages having similar versions, e.g. “lettres” in French and “letras” in Spanish. Focusing on “litera” within the longer term allows students to be less overwhelmed by the length and complexity of this word and get the message that what we really are concerned with here is the fact that alliteration involves using the same letters (or sounds) at the beginning of words making up a phrase or a sentence. The sentences provided then show this in action. The actual presentation involves “disappearing” most of the sentences, leaving out just the initial letters/sounds.


The next slide is to do with rhymes, and it’s a matching activity that we do with the students. Here, I am getting them to say these out loud – they need to become aware of the fact that rhymes involve the end of a word sounding the same or similarly.


Next up are similes. This resource is for EAL learners and it’s introductory, so I do not bother here with introducing them to similes of the as…as… sort; I simply focus on the ones involving the word like. I am sure it’s quite clear what I am doing here: images are provided to show the link between someone walking and a snail, which is always slow. It’s a similar case with the very tall man compared to a mountain; mountains are invariably tall. Please note that in these examples I am not simply satisfied with using the verb to be: my sentences are not simply He is like a mountain, but I insist on using more descriptive verbs such as walks and looks. The explanation of similes is greatly facilitated by reminding students that this like is very different to its meaning in sentences of the I like him sort.


For a metaphor, I need to make the students aware that in their everyday life they often use metaphors without actually realising it. Hence the first sentence, explained by images themselves: He is a pig at which most students smile or laugh! Questioning follows presenting these images to students – “Is he really a pig?” “No? What are pigs like?” “Why is he described to be a pig?” It’s the same, of course, with the example of the house and the fridge.


We could use a simple graphic organiser such as the one below to show the idea that if a pig is dirty, disgusting or any other of the ideas listed below and the man presents similar “qualities”, then the man can be equated to the pig in the sentence The man is a pig. even when in reality he isn’t.


The final, sixth, poetic term is power of three. Here, it is explained by simply having two simple sentences – first without the words in the red font – and asking the students to provide some potential words to complete the sentence. Insisting that they need to be adjectives, we can then show the answers whilst saying they are not, of course, final, and there are many different possibilities.


The poetry game

Now, we can proceed to our collaborative learning activity where students will try and apply this knowledge. This activity is in fact not mine; it used to be available on the EAL Nexus website, before it was acquired from the British Council by the Bell Foundation; currently, I have nowhere to point you to in order to download it. It might one day appear on their website at: https://ealresources.bell-foundation.org.uk/

The game involves three sets of cards – poetry terms cards, examples cards and definitions cards. Students need to place them on a large board as you can see below. This obviously takes some time. In order to structure their talk, speaking frames are provided and I would insist that the students explain their reason for stating, I think that this is a… by following it up with because it has… or because I can see…


Do they remember?

Once this is completed, with the teacher’s assistance and support throughout, of course, we can move on to seeing what individual students remember. The cards and the boards are taken away, and the students are now divided into three levels – in my class these are red (lowest), orange (middle) and green (top). The lowest level is expected to complete certain words only, but not write any full sentences. We can also see that more boxes are left unfilled in the green (top) level differentiated activity than in the orange (middle) one, and the middle level is expected to write only two definitions as opposed to no definition provided for the green level. The collaborative learning activity they had just completed is placed on the teacher’s desk and the students can walk up three times to my table to check if they’re stuck, but will need to remember the information for when they’re back at their desk!




Collaborative Poem Writing

Now, we proceed to writing a poem collaboratively, that is, every member of the group receives up to 2 slips of paper where they are to write sentences about love using teacher pre-determined poetry techniques. It would be the teacher’s decision to think which of the techniques are chosen for which students. For instance, writing a simple metaphor (such as “Love is a…”) is actually considerably easier than producing a rhyme for another word. A good working knowledge of vocabulary is required to find rhymes (there are no dictionaries that will allow you to look for rhyming words); such vocabulary range will be unavailable to beginner EAL learners.

This activity can be easily differentiated for further by either (1) providing hints as to what part of speech needs to be used, e.g. adjectives in powers of three or a noun or an adjectival phrase (i.e. adjective+noun) in the case of a metaphor, or (2) providing a list of illustrated words to choose from to complete the sentence (for absolute beginners).

Students then write the poem together, determining the correct order of the sentences in the poem.



The outcome of this lesson is for learners to be able to recognise the poetic devices when they come across them. Here, we do this through the game of bingo. Each student receives a bingo card as you can see below. The teacher reads out sentences for them, but this time they are new ones, unheard before, e.g. A slimy snake slithered inside for alliteration or My house is every cat’s dream for metaphor.

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