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The EAL Poetry Challenge: We Can Do It!

By Bonnie Billak
The EAL Poetry Challenge: We Can Do It!

Many people believe that English language learners, especially those at lower English proficiency levels, are not capable of attempting work assignments comparable to those of their grade-level classmates. In most cases, this is a totally erroneous assumption. With proper instruction and scaffolding, EAL students at all proficiency levels are capable of and should attempt the same work assignments as their peers. Sometimes they even excel in the process. Recently, at The International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile, students in Grades 2 and 5 studied poems. In their regular classrooms and in EAL classes, they were introduced to different types of poems with special emphasis placed on styles of writing, word choice, topic, etc. Afterwards, students were asked to write poems that were presented to parents in a variety of special settings—at Poetry Café, for instance, or in a beautiful outdoor campus park. These presentations represented a great moment of pride for the EAL students, with some even later writing about the experience in their journals. They felt like super-star poets, and rightly so for the incredible job they did! Following are four poems showing the amazing creativity, writing skill, and heartfelt spirit exhibited by the students. All were written independently by EAL students varying in overall proficiency levels from intermediate to high intermediate. The topics, styles, and wording were the choice of the students, with the vocabulary based on words they knew in English. In the first two poems, written by second-grade students, a boy chose to take an in-depth look at the color blue, while a girl showed her emotional side in a heart-warming poem about a heart. Both poems are based on the children’s knowledge and experiences and give the reader insight into the things that are of interest or importance to them. What Is Blue?> Blue like frozen ice Blue like a cold pond Blue like clouds in the air Blue like a blue whale Blue like a dolphin jumping Blue like blueberries Blue like a blue ocean — Rakan Alotaibi (Saudi Arabia) Grade 2 The Heart Is Pretty The heart is an explosion of love. The heart is happy. It is a diamond; Like a balloon flying. The heart is like a red cookie. The heart makes me happy. The heart is my Mama. — Julieta Cano (Chile) Grade 2 Another second-grade student decided to write about a science project in which classmates grew plants in huge planter boxes located in a garden area on campus. Every few days, students visited the garden to care for and check on the growth of their plants, thus providing the source of inspiration for this budding poet. The poem shows great ingenuity and offers the reader a very unique look at nature. It’s almost as if the writer talked with the insects to see what they were thinking! A Playground for Insects If I eat, I can have super powers. Leaves are like trampolines for ants. I feel excited. Insects feel us during recess. The greenhouse is like a mountain for them. The insects feel like us! — Nicole Elgueta (Chile) Grade 2 The last poem was written by a fifth-grade student who chose to write about his cousins. Like the previous poems, this one shows a high level of creativity; however, it is written in a more sophisticated style that creates a rhythmic sing-song effect. The heart-felt wording immediately brings a smile to the reader’s face, since it clearly illustrates the feelings of adolescence and brings back memories of that difficult phase of life through which we all passed. My Cousins My cousins – sometimes good, sometimes bad; I play with them – sometimes good, sometimes bad; I love them sometimes. I hate them sometimes. But it is good to have them, because I like to have my cousins. — Alberto Blanco (Spain) Grade 5 All of these poems clearly show that the creativity and output expectations for EAL students should not be underestimated. With proper instruction and scaffolding, EAL students can do grade-level work comparable to that of their peers. The goal of teachers should be to create a “We can do it!” attitude in the minds of EAL students. This will be a key factor both in building their self-esteem as well as in developing their English language skills. Bonnie Billak is an EAL Specialist at the International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile. She also does consulting work in the field of EAL teaching and program design and evaluation.

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