Learn English Through Poetry

Some students can just sit down at their desk, study from a textbook, understand the material and be content with that study process. While others, need to find different and creative methods to help with their studies. Whether you like to write poetry or not, it can be a helpful and creative tool when learning English.

Poetry is rhythm and melody based – much like song lyrics – so it’s easier to remember new vocabulary than just merely reading them off a page. Reading through a poem that interests you, but that also rhymes, is more entertaining and therefore you’re more likely to retain vocabulary. However, if you’re not a poetry reader, getting started with this activity can be a little daunting! Here are some tips to follow:


1. Picking A Poem

You’re going to want to pick a poem by an author who is well known because there will probably be lots of translations that you can follow along in your native tongue. You will also want to pick a poem that is fairly simple to understand. Sometimes, poetry can be very deep and complex – full of metaphors and deeper meanings, which can be hard to understand. For a list of relatively simple poems to start out with, click here. If it all possible, print off the poem you foundFor example, if I were to pick a simple, repetitive poem with some new vocabulary I might pick The Rainy Day by Henry Hadsworth Longfellow:

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

2. Work On One Stanza At A Time

A stanza is a group set of lines within a poem. If you work on the whole poem at one time, you can start to feel very overwhelmed. So instead, just work on one stanza at a time. Read the first stanza in your native tongue, and then read it in English. Next circle/highlight all the words or expressions you don’t understand. For example:

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

3. Look Up New Vocabulary

The next step is to look up all the words in your dictionary, or refer back to the poem in your native tongue to see if you better understand the word in its context. Write out all the words and their definitions on the back page of your poem. Try to define the vocabulary in your own words. For example, the definition of dreary in the dictionary is:


[ ˈdri(ə)rē ]

dull, bleak, and lifeless
But you might define it yourself by saying: “Dull, boring or depressing. Like, going to work is a dreary routine.” Try to make the definitions personal to you, that way you’re more likely to remember them. 

4. Move On To The Next Stanza

Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you’ve completed the poem. You don’t have to do this all in the one day – take your time. This is supposed to be a fun activity, so don’t feel the need to exhaust yourself with it. When you’re finished working through every stanza, read the entire poem. See if it makes complete sense. If there’s something you are still unclear with, go back to step 3 and look up further expressions or vocabulary. If you’d like to try something a little more complicated, go through your poem and look for additional things like phrasal verbs, similies, metaphors etc.
Hopefully, you enjoy this fun English activity!

5 thoughts on “Learn English Through Poetry

  1. I like this and might just do this if I end up with higher level Chinese students this coming Summer. We truly do have an all inclusive curriculum from EF that we have to follow, but I can try to fit it in where I can. Thank you for the idea. Maybe, I just use Dr. Seuss instead. LOL


    1. I think reading poetry is a great way to learn new vocabulary (if that’s your goal), but it’s also quite enjoyable if you’re reading it just for pleasure, as you mentioned. I find it really helps with a better understanding of the language you’re learning.

      And thank you for that poem. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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