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On 15 February I was at the British Council, Spring Gardens for a seminar given by Jeremy Harmer on using poetry and music for language teaching. This comes off the back of a show he has done with Steve Bingham, a supreme violinist, and the CD they made of poetry and some virtuoso violin playing, Touchable Dreams (iTunes link, Touchable Dreams blog, ThirdRelease).

Jeremy’s reading of the poetry was flawless, while hearing Steve’s playing made the evening for me, but the idea for this seminar was really to remind us of using poetry (and music) for language teaching. We were presented with a number of practical ideas for using poetry in the class which, although they may not be new for you or revolutionary in teaching English, to me all seemed could work with our classes.

The first of these was reordering. I had done this before with a poem cut up and handed to a group of students so they could rearrange the lines on the table in front of them. Jeremy’s twist was to take the cut up lines of poetry (he said poems of 6-8 lines worked best) and hand a line to each student (with the students in groups of the same number, 6-8). The teacher then asks the students to walk around the room and say their line to each other, but they are not allowed to show it to each other. The aim is for the students to put themselves into the correct order of the poem.

Another activity was poetry blanks, a gap fill of a different sort. Project a poem with some words removed and replaced with blanks. Read out the poem, going ‘mmm’ for each blank, as the students try to work out what the missing words are. Quite tricky. So you do it again, but the second time you read, you reveal the first letter of each missing word. A third reading, and you then reveal the first two letters of each blank. As you read, what happens is your students are (hopefully) searching their mental dictionaries for words that could fit in the gaps. One you can also do collaboratively.

Those were just two of the activities presented by Jeremy. There will be a video uploaded in the future at the British Council seminars page on the TeachingEnglish site, where you can also see recordings of previous sessions they have held, including Using Video in ELT, Teaching Grammar, and Using Literature.

You can read about a performance of Touchable Dreams and see some excerpts on the Teaching English site.