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A descriptive study on the role of poetry as teaching material in developing communicative abilities of students in the EFL classroom


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The aim of this study was to d e t er m in e whet h e r poetry e n g e n de r e d a more communi c a t i v e c la s s r o o m in teaching E n g l i s h language to students in the u ni ve r s i t y

level than traditional c la s s r o o m materials- The study

was conducted at B i l ke nt University. The stude n t s in

three upper i n t e r m ed i a te classes at BUSEL were chosen

as subjects for the study. A sample lesson using

poetry was taught in two experimental groups and the

verbal flow was o b s er v e d in these cla s s e s by means of a

checklist w h i ch d e t e rm in e d how much and what kind of

discussion poetry gene r a t e d among the students. A

post-treatment q u e s t i o n n a i r e was given to these

subjects after the cla s s time ended to get their

reactions and ideas about the lesson. In the control

group, a traditional a pp ro ac h to teaching was used and

it was obser v e d using the same c he c k l i s t to see the

discussion level in this class while they were

following their usual lesson plan within a f i f t y - m i n u t e

period of time. As a separate part of the study a

q ue s t i o n n a i r e was a d m i n i s t r a t e d to EFL teachers to get their comme n t s on the u t i li t y and value of using poetry

in the EFL c l a ssroom. The findings showed that poetry

engendered a m o r e c om mu n i c a t i v e classroom. The

classroom was c o m m u n i c a t i v e in the sense that students


students' attention and providing motivation. They

were eager to express their opinions and to d is c u s s

d i f f er e n t ideas with each other. Teachers' r es p o n s e s

to poetry were also p ositive and their p os it i v e

re s p o n s e s (especially when c o upled with the p os it i v e

stud e n t responses) are strong evidence that poetry can

be effectively utilized as teaching material to c r e at e

a more communicative c l a ss r oo m suggesting that poetry








BY NAZAN MUNZ U R AUGUST 1991 lu.: . > > ' , · 1 ■ -I . ...


J A î h А г э А ε ·





July 31, 1991

The examining c o m mi t te e appointed by the

Institute of E c o n o m i c s and Social Sciences for the thesis e x a m i nation of the MA TEFL student

Nazan Munzur

has read the thesis of the student. The committee has d e cided that the thesis

of the s t udent is satisfactory

Thesis title : A d e s criptive study on the

role of poetry as teaching

material in developing

com m u n i c a t i v e a b i lities of st u d e n t s in the EFL classroom.

Thesis Advisor ; Dr. James C. Stalker

B i l k e n t University, Pro g r a m


C o mm i t t e e Members : Dr. Lionel Kaufman

B i l k e n t University, P ro gr a m MA TEFL : Mr. William Ancker B i lkent University, Pro g r a m MA TEFL


We cert i f y that we have read this thesis and that in our c o m b i n e d opinion it is fully adequate, in scope

and in quality as a thesis for the degree of Masters of Arts. d . A James C. Stalker (A d v i s o r ) 1* 1 1 rrx /\ r-t L· ^ W il l i a m Ancker (Comm i t t e e M e m b e r )

Approved for the

Institute of Econ o m i c s and Social Sciences

Ali K ar a o s m a n o g l u D i r e c t o r



To .my family


TABLE OF C O N T E N T S P AG E A B S T R A C T ... TABLE OF C O N T E N T S ... i ... . LIST OF T A B L E S ... ix A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T ... . CHAP T E R 1.0 I N T R O D U C T I O N ... 1

1.1 Background and Goal of the S t u d y ... 1

1.2 S tatement of the R e s e a r c h Q u e s t i o n ... 2

1.2.1 The R e s e a r c h Q u e s t i o n ... 2

1.2.2 D e f i n i t i o n s ... 3

1.2.3 Basic L a n g ua ge I s s u e s ... 3

1.3 S tatement of the Methodological P r o c e d u r e ...6 1.4 Plan of O r g a n i z a t i o n ... 7 2.0 L I T E R A TU R E R E V I E W ... 8 2.1 I n t r o d u c t i o n ... 8 2.2 L i t er a t u r e in the EFL C l a s s r o o m ... 8 2.2.1 A r g u me nt s A g a i n s t the Use of L i t e r a t u r e as a Teaching A i d ... 9

2.2 . 2 A r g u m e n t s For the Use of L i te r a t u r e as a Teaching A i d ...12

2.2 . 3 C o nt r as ti n g For and Aga i n s t Arguments. ... 13


2 . 3 Poetry in the EFL c l a s s r o o m ...15

2.3.1 I n t r o d u c t i o n ... 15

2 . 3 . 2 A rguments Ag a i n s t the Use of P o e t r y ... 15

2 . 3 . 3 Arguments For the Use of P o e t r y ... 18

2.3 . 4 C ontrasting For and Against A r g u m e n t s ... 22

2.4 A c t ivities with P o e t r y . . ... 23

2.4.1 I n t r o d u c t i o n ... 23

2 . 4 . 2 Act i v i t i e s For Vocabu l a r y Bui I d i n g ... 23

2 . 4 . 3 Act i v i t i e s For Developing Speaking S k i l l s ... 24 2.5 C o n c l u s i o n ... 27 3.0 M E T H O D O L O G Y ... 28 3.1 I n t r o d u c t i o n ... 28 3.2 Subjects. ... 29 3.3 M a t e r i a l s ... 30 3.3.1 C h e c k l i s t ... 30 3 . 3 . 2 Q u e s t i o n n a i r e s ... 32 S t u d e n t - Q u e s t i o n n a i r e ... 32 3 . 3.2.2 T e a c h e r - Q u e s t i o n n a i r e ... 33 3.4 Data Collection P r o c e d u r e ... 34 3 . 5 Analytical P r o c e d u r e ... 38


4.0 A N A LY S I S OF THE D A T A ... 39 4.1 I n t r o d u c t i o n ... 39 4.2 Chec k l i s t A n a l y s i s ... 40 4.2.1 Control G r o u p ... 40 4 . 2 . 2 Experimental G r o u p - 1 ... 42 4 . 2 . 3 Experimental G r o u p - 2 ... 43

4 . 2.4 Comparison of Verbal Flow in Control and Experimental G r o u p s ... 47 4.3 S t u d e n t Questio n n a i r e A n a l y s i s ... 50 4.3.1 Experimental G r o u p - 1 ... 50 4.3 . 2 Experimental G r o u p - 2 ...53 4 . 3 . 3 Total Student R e s p o n s e s to Que s t i o n n a i r e in Experimental Groups-1 and - 2 ... 55 4.4 T e a c h e r - Qu e s ti on n ai re A n a l y s i s ... 57 4.4.1 I n t r o d u c t i o n ...57 4.4 . 2 Total Group R e s p o n s e s ... 57 4 . 4 . 3 Native Teacher R e s p o n s e s ...60 4.4.4 N o nnative Teacher R e s p o n s e s ... 62 4 . 4 . 5 Native Speakers' C o m m e n t s ... 64

4 . 4 . 6 Comparison of the Native and N o n n ative Teachers' R e s p o n s e s . ...65


5.0 C O N C L U S I O N S ... 69 5.1 I n t r o d u c t i o n ... 69 5.1.1 R e v i e w ... 69 5.1.2 C o n c l u s i o n s ... 70 5.2 Assessment of the S t u d y ... 71 5.3 Pedagogical I m p l i c a t i o n s ... 72 5.4 Future R e s e a r c h I m p l i c a t i o n s ... 73 B I B L I O G R A P H Y ... 75 A P P E N D I C E S ... 78 APPENDIX A: C h e c k l i s t ... 79 APPENDIX B: S t u d e nt Q u e s t i o n n a i r e ... 80 APPENDIX C: T e a c h e r Q u e s t i o n n a i r e ... 82 APPENDIX D: Lesson P l a n ... 85


T A B L E 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 4.10 4.11 4.12 L IST OF T AB LE S PAGE Student and T e a c h e r P a r t i cipation in

the Control G r o u p ... 42 Student and T e acher Parti c i p a t i o n in

Experimental G r o u p - 1 ... 43 Student and T e acher Parti c i p a t i o n in

Experimental G r o up - 2 (in 100 m i n s . ) ... 45

Distribution of S t u d e nt and Teacher

Participation in E x p erimental Group-2

(in 50 m i n s . ) ...46

Totals for Each of the Interactions in

Three Groups (in 50 m i n s . ) ... 48

Distribution of S t u d e nt and Teacher

Talk in Three Gr o u p s (in 50 m i n s . ) ... 50 Student R e s po ns es to the Q u estionnaire

in Experimental G r o u p - 1 ... 52

Student R e s po ns es to the Q u estionnaire

in Experimental G r o u p - 2 ... 54

Student R e s p on se s to the Q u estionnaire

in Experimental Group-1 and - 2 ... 56

Teacher R e s p o n se s to Q u e s t i o n n a i r e ... 59 Native Teachers' R es p o n s e s to

Q u e s t i o n n a i r e ... 62 N onnative Teachers' Resp o n s e s to


I would like to express my grat i t u d e to my thesis

advisor, Dr. James Stalker for his invaluable

guidance and encouraging patience throughout this

s t u d y .

I would also like to thank to Dr. Lionel Kaufman

and Mr. W i l l i a m Ancker for their helpful suggestions.

I am also grateful to my colleagues, Ms. Zeynep

Iskenderoglu and Ms. Anne Polat for their kindness and



1-1 Background and Goal of the Stu d y

Linguists often q ue s t i o n the role of c re a t i v e

literature as class material in teaching E n g l i s h to

n on - n a t i v e speakers at the u n i v e r si ty level. However,

in recent years teachers of EFL have shown i ncreasing

interest in using literature in the c la s s r o o m with

their students. It is true that many EFL teachers in

Turkey are literature trained, not ELT trained, and

that a foreign language is often learned to en a b l e a

student to read the l i t erature of the language, not

n e c e s s ar i l y for more practical purposes. These

teachers like to use l i t e rature in the cl a s s r o o m and

for them banning l iterature from the ELT c la s s r o o m is

impossible. A c c o rding to them, literature can be

useful because it can be used to teach "additional

language and cultural concepts" required by EFL

stude n t s (Rahim, 1989). On the other hand, language

teachers who are ELT trained often do not like

literature and they argue that it is not pos s i b l e to

use literature e f f ec t i ve ly in an EFL clas s r o o m b e c a u s e

they think poetry is time c onsuming and a 'luxury'.

According to them it incr e a s e s the burden upon language

teachers because it is not so easy to teach a literary


includes library research, q uestionnaires and

o b s e r v at i o n s using a checklist. Such a study, as of

now, has not been done in Turkey and it is hoped that

it will be beneficial to Turk i s h EFL teachers.

1-2 Statement of the R e s e a r c h Quest i o n 1-2.1 The Research Q u e s t i o n

The concern of this thesis is to assess the value

of poetry as teaching material in the EFL classrooms.

The question to be answered in this study is: Can

poetry engender a more c om m u n i c a t i v e classroom in

teaching English language to students in a uni v e r s i t y

level English language c l as s ro om in Turkey than

c l a s s r o o m s using n o n - f i c t i o n a 1 prose? The assumption

behind this study is that poetry, if chosen care f u l l y

and used intelligently, can be a valuable teaching

material for developing students' communicative abil i t y

in E n g l i s h in u n i v e r s it y level EFL classrooms- A

related question exp l o r e d in this study focuses on

atti t u d e s of teachers and s tudents towards the use of


C o m m u n i c a t i v e classrooms C om mu n i c a t i v e c la s s r o o m is a

classroom where c o m m u nication is emphasized. According

to Nunan (1989) in the c om mu n i c a t i v e c lassroom ‘’the

roles of teachers and learners are in many ways

complementary. Giving the learners a different role

(such as gre a t e r initiative in the classroom) requires

the teacher to adopt a d if f e r e n t r o l e ” (p.87).

According to Breen and Candlin (1980, ctd- in Nunan,

1989) “the teacher has three main roles in the

c o m m u n icative classroom. The first is to act as

facilitator of the c o m m u n icative process, the second is

to act as a participant, and the third is to act as an

observer and l e a r n e r ” (p.87).

Traditional Class: For this particular study

traditional c l a ss r o o m is defined as being a textbook,

teacher— c e ntered classroom, with the teacher neither

actively d i s co u r a g i n g or encouraging student-talk.

Non-fictional Prose: Essays, s el ec t i o n s from text

b o o k s .

1.2.3 Basic L a n g u a g e Issues

This study is limited to the use of poetry to

teach E n g l i s h to EFL students at u ni v e r s i t y level.

A ccording to the research literature some people


d i s t i n ct i v e and problematic features of poetry is that

it d e s t r o y s the usual n o r m s of language; it often

breaks the rules for the grammatical structure of a

sentence, but on the other hand, she says that poetry

also orders and patterns the language, and she gives

rhyme as an example of this because "ordinary

c o nv er s a t i o n does not u s u a l l y proceed in rhyming

couplets, but poetic language often demands this kind

of phonological organization" (p.3). There are many

other obj e c t i o n s to using poetry in language lessons.

One of the reasons for not using poetry is that if the

learners find poetry d if f i c u l t and boring in their own

language, how can they enjoy it in another one? Many

poems are very difficult to understand, even for a

nat i v e speaker. But Toml i n s o n (1986) thinks that

universal topics such as youth, old age, marriage,

birth, love, education and frien d s h i p have a great

potential and can make poetry more attractive and


There are some scholars who think that when the

purpose of most courses is reaching c om mu n i c a t i v e

c o m p e t e n c e — 'as fast as p o s s i b l e — poetry is not

relevant, and they think poetry is a luxury, it is time

consuming. They say "luxury" because they think there


It takes time. Instead of spending more time on exploring it, we may e nh a n c e students' c o mm u ni ca t iv e com p e t e n c e in an easier and faster way. But b e cause it

is a way of communication, poetry may improve the

students' use of language and may be useful for them in

expressing their feelings and ideas. Poetry can

provide useful o p p or tu n i t i e s to develop students'

commu n i c a t i v e competence. According to Bengi and

Kurtboke (1985), what makes poetry worth studying in

foreign language classes is its endless potential for

c l a s s r o o m discussion as a highly creative and open-

ended form of literature- And also poetry is s h orter

than prose and can be given as a piece of discourse,

both in meaning and form, in an average l es so

n-The study of poetry involves all four skills so

these skills can be given to the students in an

integrated way using poetry. So the use of poetry can

bebeneficial in many ways- More detail on the issue

will be given in the second chapter.

This controversy a t t r acted my attention because I

am a literature trained teacher and interested in

poetry in particular- A review of the professional

literature showed that there is a need for empirical

studies on whether or not to use specific pieces of


students?" and "how can st u d e n t s best benefit from it?" are d i s c ussed in the literature, there is a scarcity of r e s e a r c h that supports the o p i n io ns of writers on this t o p i c .

1-3 S t a t e m e n t of the M e t h o d ol og ic a l Procedure

This is a d e s criptive study and the intention is

to e v a l u at e the utility of literature, poetry in

particular, for teaching E ng l i s h to university level

EFL students. Based on the f indings of the literature

review and original data c ol le c t i o n instruments, (a

c h e c kl i st and two di f f e r e n t sets of questionnaires) the place and utility of poetry at the university level for stude n t s of EFL in the E n g l i sh P r e p - p r o g r a m at Bilkent

u n iv e rs i t y in Ankara, Turk e y was examined. This

res e a r c h has been cond u c t e d in six steps:

1. Literature has been reviewed to find what

s c h o l a r s say about the place of literature, and poetry

in particular, in the EFL classroom. Some views whi c h

s u pport or refute the uti l i t y of literature in the EFL

situ a t i o n were assessed.

2. A sample lesson using poetry was planned and

taught in two EFL classrooms.

3. The checklist was used to observe the verbal


Discussion is d e s i r ab le in EFL classrooms. The

checklist d e t e r m i n es how much and what kind of

discussion poetry generates.

4. The q u e st i o n n a i r e s were conducted to g a ther EFL students' and teachers' c o mments on using poetry as a language teaching aid in the EFL

classroom-5. The data were analyzed and compared with what

the review of literature said to see if the data and

what the scholars say mat c h with each other.

6. Based on the results of the study, suggestions

for teaching E n g li s h through poetry were proposed, and

some guidelines for s election and for using poems in

the classroom were offered.

1.4 Plan of O r g a n i za t i on

Chapter 2 presents the review of professional

literature. It provides various views on the role of

literature and poetry in particular in the advanced EFL s i t u a t i o n ·

Chapter 3 d e s cr i b es how the data were c o l l ected and what kind of inst r u m e n t s are used in the study.

Chapter 4 presents and analyzes the data.

Finally, C h a p t e r 5 o f fers a summary of the study, conclusions and d i s c u s si on of general implications.



2.1 Introduction

This chapter is divided into three sections.

First, the place of c re at iv e literature in the EFL

c l as s r o o m is discussed. Second, discussions of the

particular role of poetry are reviewed, and third,

a ctivities using poetry w hich will develop language

skills are reviewed.

2.2 L iterature in the E FL C la s s r o o m

There are many p ub li c a t i o n s on modern m et h o d o l o g y

for language classes, new audiovisual aids, and new

teaching activities. Choos i n g one technique or

another, preferring one kind of material to another, is

up to the teachers because they think it will be the

most effective for a specific class. C re at iv e

literature is one of these teaching m aterials and

teachers are beginning to c on s i d e r seriously the role

of literature in language teaching. The re s e a r c h

literature has been reviewed to find what scholars say

about the place of c r ea ti v e literature in the language

classrooms. The r e are not many research s tu d i e s on

the rationale for using c re at iv e literature in the

classroom. Most of them are d is c u s s i o n s of how to use


views which accept the utility of creative l i t erature

as a teaching aid in the EFL situation and some views

which refute the idea. These pro and con ar g u m e n t s are

reviewed in the following sections.

2.2.1 A r g u ments Against the U se of L it er at u re as a Teaching Aid

There are many d i s c u s si on s on using c re at i v e

literature in EFL classes- The major arguments against

using literature as a teaching aid will be summarized

here. First, there is an emphatic reaction to the

place of literature in the EFL/ESL courses from

Blatchford (1972). His conclu s i o n is that "the study

of English literature is a luxury that cannot be

indulged during the limited amount of time allocated to English" (p.6). Qu e s t i o n i n g the teaching of literature

as a vital concern of the EFL program, B l a tchford

argues that "teachers are ill-trained to teach

literature". P reparing teachers to be able to teach

literature is an e x t r av a ga nc e when the demand is not

high and when the obj’e c tives do not call for its

teaching (Rahim, 1989).

The second argument against using literature is

again from Blatchford- He thinks that second language


c o mm u n i c a t i v e skills, “the c l a ss r oo m emphasis should be

on the functional use of language, not on literature"

(p.6). He notes that ex c e p t in a very few countries,

the study of literature in the schools is s ub or d i n a t e d

to a primary empha s i s upon functional command of the

language and the a b i l i t i e s of the students to handle

simple language s i t u a t i o n s involving the four basic

skills (Rahim, 1989, p. 115). Topping (1968, in Rahim,

1989) agrees with this idea and says:

Literature has no legitimate place in a

second language p r ogram w hose purpose is to

teach language skills to a cross section of

students who are preparing for studies or

work in a variety of disciplines. (p.ll3)

Another argument is that reading literary works

will have no pedagogical effect, especially on one's

speaking, listening, and writing skills. According to

Topping (1968), the idea that literature will

"represent the style that can properly stand as a model for the students" is u nr ea l i s t i c and erroneous (p.97).

If it were to be so, "we could all become Joyces or

Hemingways, or F a u 1k n e r s ...The fact remains that

literary genius is not acqui r e d by reading the w o r k s of

the masters" and imitating those who practice artful

violation of syntactic rules. Many language teachers

who disagree with using literature as a teaching aid

argue that students are required to study the cla s s i c s


and they argue that the writing is too difficult, the

language too speci a l i z e d and the subject of no

practical r e l e v a nc e

-The final ar g u m e n t which is advanced by Rahim

(1989) is that it is ineffective to impose foreign

literature upon s tudents who may not have been

introduced even to their own literature, whose formal

education may be brief and whose background in cultural

understanding of the setting of literature may be

deficient- Rees (1970, in Rahim, 1989) says that

teachers of literature often claim that the reading of

the best e x a m p l es of the literature of the foreign

language is v a l ua b l e for its cultural insights- Rees

does not agree w i t h this statement and says "this is

doubtful"- He thinks it may not represent the culture

of the country- P o v e y 's statement (1962, in Rahim,

1989) that "American literature will open up the

culture of this c o u n t r y to a foreign student in a

manner a n a l o go u s to the extension of the native

speaker's own a w a re n e s s of his culture" (p-42)

indirectly implies that American literature reflects

the culture of the country. This, according to Topping

(1968, in Rahim, 1989), reflects a past tradition in

the evolution of American literature, and a student

need not to dig up the "fossils of past eras" to learn American c u l t u r e (p.99).


Arguments For the Use of Literature as a T e aching Aid

Povey (1979, ctd. in Rahim, 1989) sums up nicely

the major arguments for the utility of using literature

in the classroom- His first argument is that

"literature can be useful because it can be used to

teach additional language" (p-110). According to him,

literature will e n hance the basic skills by e xtending

linguistic k nowledge in the areas of vocabulary,

syntax, and style. In stating this idea, Povey

d isagrees with Blatchford (see 2-1.1). Elliott (1990)

agrees with Povey and sees literature as a rich source

of authentic material- He says:

Literature provides students with an

incomparably rich source of authentic

material over a wide range of register. If

students can gain access to this material by

developing literary competence, then they

should e f f e c t i v e ly internalize the language

at a very high level, (p. 198)

Elliot (1990) also thinks that it is difficult to see

what other material could be offered to an advanced

student to give him or her such varied and w or th w h i l e


input-As a second argument Povey (1979, ctd- in Rahim,

1989) says that "literature can be useful because it

can be used to teach the cultural concepts required by

the students" (p.llO). He thinks that literature can


e n hances the learner's u n derstanding of the cultural

values of English-speaking people, which is part of

gaining true fluency in language.

There is an argument from Marckwardt (1975) that

reading literature aids language skill development

p a rticularly in reading and he sees creative literature

as useful reading material and says;

L iterature is being used primarily to improve the student's effecti v e n e s s as a reader, both

in English and in his own language. So

viewed, it could be called language-learning

m a t e r i a l . (p-75)

2 - 2 - 3 Contrasting For and A g ai n st Arguments

In summary, Blatchford (1972) thinks that studying

literature is a luxury' and it cannot be indulged

during the limited amount of time allocated to English.

On the other hand, Widdowson (1975) believes in the

u t i l i t y of poetry and sees it as a rich resource for

d e v eloping learners' ability to use language- Another

d i sa g r e e m e n t is seen between Blatchford and Povey.

A c c o rding to Blatchford, c la s s r o o m emphasis should be

on the functional use of language, not on literature.

He thinks that second language learners need to learn

c om m u ni c a t i v e skills and literature cannot do that.

Topping (1960) also agrees with him. But Povey thinks

that literature will e n hance the basic skills by


vocabulary, syntax and style. Another a r gument against the use of literature in the classroom is that literary

works have no pedagogical effect, e specially on basic

skills. But Mar c k w a r d t (1975) sees literature as a

language learning material and thinks that literature

improves the students' effectiveness as a

reader-Widdowson (1975), in his book S tylistics a nd the

Teaching of Literature, summarizes both sides of the

issue and says:

There are many people who question the

relevance of literature to the practical

concerns of language teaching, many who

regard it as an unnecessary indulgence, there are others of less practical bent who wish to dissociate it from language study in order to

preserve it like a sacred relic possessing

mysterious potency. It seems to me that we

urgently need an attitude to literature and a teaching appro a c h based upon it, which, while

acknowledging that literature is strange and

mysterious and an object of reverence also

recognizes that it is a use of language and

so c o m p a r ab l e with other uses of language;

and that it is only one of the strange and

mysterious ways in which human beings manage

to c o m m u n i c at e with each other. (p.l24)

He thinks that if one can accept that literature can

provide a resource for developing learners' ability to

use a knowledge of language for the interpretation of

discourse, then it ought to be one element of the

language course. A ccording to him, the level of the

students, their interests, their purposes in learning

are also important in choosing literature as one of the elements of language courses.


2-3 P o e t r y in the EFL ClasBroofn

2-3-1 Introduction

In this section, a r g uments for and against the use

of poetry in particular as o p posed to prose in the EFL

c l as s r o o m s will be reviewed because poetry is di f f e r e n t

from prose in both its style and form. It is a

d i f f e r e n t literary genre than o t her kinds of literary

works. T h rough the review of professional literature,

only one empirical study by Akyel and Yalcin was found. Others were only the o pinions of some professionals who are interested in the issue.

2 - 3 - 2 A r g u m e n t s Agai n s t the U se of Poetry

There are many ar g u m e n t s against the use of

poetry. In this section some of the major arguments

will be summarized. One major argum e n t against the use

of poetry in the EFL/ESL c l a s s r o o m is that the language

is too difficult. Maher (1982) points out that:

Few teachers will g r u dg e the place accorded

the novel or short story in expanding

vocabulary, reinforcing structure, or

breathing life into the body of language.

The poem, however, w ith its obscurities and

sometimes archaic e x p r e s si on and spelling,

has a harder time d ef e n d i n g itself as valid

instructional material rather than mere

decoration, (p.327)

When talking about the archaic e xp re s s i o n and spelling, Maher is most probably talking about such poems as:


A fiery soul, vghich, working out its way, Fretted the pigmy body to decay;

And o 'e r ~ in f o r m e d the tenement of clay.

(Apsalom and Achitophel, D r y d e n , qtd. in Maher, 1982)

But if Dryden had a reader in mind when writing that

poem, it was most c ertainly not EFL students. Maher

(1982) also adds that among language teachers today the

specific ch a r g e lies in the area of relevance to

immediate needs, and he mentions a remark made by a

teacher ” I am not against poetry. Don't get me wrong.

It is just that when the purpose of most courses is

c o m m u nicative c o m p e t en ce — as fast as p os si bl e — poetry

is just not relevant" (1982, p.327). The teaching of

poetry as Moody (1971, ctd. in Maher, 1982) complains

"presents difficulties, and many teachers are inclined

to avoid it as long as they can" (p.327). In addition

to these mechanical diffic u l t i e s Denman (1988) presents content d i f f i c u l t i e s and points out as well that poetry is often not a p referred reading;

Given the choice, I suspect most children

(and as well as adults) would prefer an ice

cream cone to a plate of raw vegetables,...

Likewise, I suspect that many kids would

rather w a t c h a television m i n iseries version

of a novel than devote long s olitary hours to

reading the novel. In the same vein, if they

were up to reading, I suspect they would

prefer an a c t io n - p a c k e d popular book to

some more serious, perhaps inspirational,

poetry. It is the nature of the human

critter to want initially the quickest, most

immediately s a t i sfying experience rather than a deeper, m ore demanding experience, (p.55)


As he mentions, poetry is d e m a n d in g for both teachers

and the students. They need to unders t a n d its s u rface

and deep meaning. They a l s o need to understand

d en o ta t i ve and c onnotative m e an i ng s of words. It is

not s o metimes as clear and u n d e r s t a n d a b l e as a prose.

Akyel and Yalcin's survey r e sults (1990) support

Denman. Their survey is impo r t a n t because it is the

only empirical study a v ai l ab le that explores the

u t i l i t y of literature teaching in the E n glish

d e p a r t m e nt s of five selected p ri v a t e higher schools in

Istanbul, through an analysis of s tu d e n t s and teachers

r esponses to questionnaires. Their goal was to

d e t e r m in e and evaluate the pres e n t state of literature

teaching in the English d e p a r t m e n t s of private high

schools. According to their study poetry is cited by

stu d e n t s as not having much e f f e c t on language skill

development. Students find it boring. Only in the

rare case where teachers d e m o n s t ra te d their own

interest in poetry and were able to communicate their

e n t h us i as m to their students wa s poetry accepted by

stude n t s as useful. But, on the other hand, they come

to the conclusion that c ar ef ul l y selected poetry could

e nc o u r a g e the students to read and enjoy more modern

poetry. But they didn't have a ny t h i n g to say about its


2 - 3 - 3 A r g um e n t s For the Use of P o etry

There are some advant a g e s of studying poems in

E ng l i sh language classes. A poem can do many things-

First of all, as Scharer (1985) suggests, a poem says a

lot in a few words. Curry (1984) also agrees with this

view and says that poetry is "condensed language"

(p.65). In a few words, perhaps only one or two, the

poet can communicate feelings, ideas or images for

e x a m p l e ;

The Eels I don't mind eels Except as meals.

(Ogden Nash, 1959, qtd. in Bouchard, 1988) It can tell a story:

Twas the night before C h r i s t m a s ...

(Moore, 1971, qtd. in S a n d e l , 1990)

or a poem can say how we feel when we are sad or happy,

things that we like or wonder about. For example the

following poem "Magic" makes us wonder. To some

listeners it tells a story: Magic

Did you ever see snow go As your finger felt it?

That's because your hands are warm And as you touch, you melt it.

(Sandel, 1990)

Second, a poem is usua l l y short and this can be a

great pedagogical advantage because it can be given as

a whole in meaning and form in an average lesson. For


feeling of loneliness effectively: Lone Tree

There's this tree, see, All by itself,

Like it doesn't have any friends. And I thought that s om et i m e s

I feel like that tree feels. Lonely, you know,

All alone~not even one friend in the world.

So, I said to the tree: "Hey, tree, let's you and

me be f r i e n d s \ "

(Curry, 1984)

T h i r d , as Sandel (1990) suggests, a poem can sing

with its own music of rhythm and rhyme , and can sing

with sounds and words that are used over and over

a g a i n :


Bananas and cream. Bananas and cream: All we could say was Bananas and c r e a m . ..

(McCord, 1977, qtd- in S a n d e l , 1990)

The merry-go-round goes around and round And up and down;

around and round And up and down...

(Baruch, 1959, qtd. in S a n d e l ,1990) or

One, two, button my shoe...

Curry (1984) also agrees w i t h Sandel (1990) and says

that since it has rhythm and sound effects, poetry has


language, poets choose their words c ar ef u l l y to help

create emotional impact. The sounds of the words

themselves help to c o mm u n i c a t e feelings by their being ’’hard", "soft", "gentle", or "strong".

Fourth, a poem can paint a picture with words: The snow fell softly all the night.

It made a blanket soft and white

(Wilkins, 1959, qtd. in S a n d e l , 1990) As Denman (1988) says:

poetry is by its nature, a type of writing

different from prose. It looks d i f f erent on

the page. It sounds different to the ears.

It uses words in d i f f erent ways and

ultimately gives us a diff e r e n t kind of

reading experience, (p.73)

Leki (1986) agrees when she says "poetry has the

advantage of being short and often appealing to the

senses by attempting a re-creation of auditory and

visual images" (p.3).

Poetry can be a refreshingly diff e r e n t c l a s sroom

activity. Bouchard (1988) supports this view and says

"Poetry can expose students to the cr e a t i v e use of

syntactic and lexical items, as well as the unique ways of thinking in the new language" (p.53).

As Rahim (1989, p.ll3) indicates there are some

defenders of poetry such as Arna and Allan Harris

(1967), Donen (1974), hcC o n o c h i e (1981) and Ramsaran

(1983) who a d vocate the teaching of poetry as an

effective device in language learning by following four p r i n c i p l e s :


Select poems that would enhance self-

understanding, start with the dramatic

content of the poem, cl a r i f y the poem's

underlying values, and help the student see

how the poet treats formal linguistic

resources- (Rahim, 1989)

They believe that the practice of these principles and

techniques in the classroom will c er t a i n l y enrich the

lives of students. Lazar (1989) also supports them and

claims that;

By using poetry to focus on particular

features of English, we can encourage

students to think about how these features

operate in non-poetical contexts, (p-4)

She explains this with examples and says that if a poem

ingeniously invents its own v oc ab u l a r y then perhaps we

can use it to e n c o urage our s tu d e n t s to think about

word-building in general. Or if a poem is webbed

tightly together, then it may provide students with an

extreme exam p l e of cohesion in discourse. Poetry can

be used in the classroom to expand our students'

overall language awareness. We should involve our

students in making their own i nt e r p r e t a t i o n s of its m e a n i n g .

Ramsaran (1983) d e m onstrates how poetry may be

used in language classes to d ev e l o p the students'

knowledge of English. She s ug g e s t s that teachers

choosing poems for classroom study should bear in mind

the specific language points that may be illustrated


matters of p r o n u n c i a t i o n , rhythm and intonation; vocabulary; grammar; and meaning).

2-3.4 C o n trasting For and A ga i n s t Arguments

In summary, there is an argument that the language

of poetry is too difficult- Maher (1982) finds poetry

s o m etimes obscure and its words archaic whereas Scharer

(1985) thinks a poem can say a lot in a few words.

Leki (1986) m e n t i o n s both the advantage and the

d i s a d v a n t a g e of poetry. She says poetry has the

adva n t a g e of being short and appealing to the senses by attempting a re-creation of audit o r y and visual images, but the d i s a d vantage is its c o n c i seness and the lack of

linguistic r e d undancies that aid comprehension- Akyel

and Yalqiin's survey showed that the students found

poetry boring and it had no effect on their skill

development, but they also come to the conclusion that

c a r efully selected poetry can encourage the students to read and enjoy poetry.

It can be c o n cl u d e d that the question of whet h e r

poetry should be included in the EFL clas s r o o m will

remain unresolved u n l e s s empirical evidence on both


2-4 A c t i v i ti e s with Poet r y

2-4-1 Introduction

In this section some of the activities suggested

to d e v e l o p language skills through poetry are reviewed

and the question of how poetry will serve these ends is a n s w e r e d .

2 - 4 - 2 A c t i v it i e s For V o c ab u la ry B ui l d i n g

fiaher (1982) suggests many a ctivities which may

help the students develop their k nowledge of English.

His first suggestion is 'Building a poem'- In this

activ i t y the teacher gives a word and the class must

think of as many words as possible associated with that

word. These are immediately put on the blackboard.

Then the students must c om p o s e their own poems using

the listed words- This e x e rc i se produces a useful

chart of c o n t extualized vocabulary. With the help of

this exercise, the students b ra in s t o r m and have the

o p p o r t u ni t y to learn d ifferent wor d s that they do not

know from their friends. They use them in context

w hile building their own poem and improve the chances

that they will learn them. His second suggestion is a

'Discrimination exercise'. In this exercise, the

teacher presents the poem with certain words blocked

out. U n d e r n e a t h each missing word there are two


again, brainstorm in choosing the a p p ropriate word, but they also focus on syntax and learn to distinguish, for example, p r e p o sitions or verb tenses.

Hayhoe (1988) a p p roaches the poem in a diff e r e n t

way. He s u ggests using the 'cloze procedure' and

applies the p rocedure in an e n j o yable way. For


The poet W i l l i a m Blake has had a lot of

trouble finding the right adjectives for the

poem overleaf, and he has sent us a copy with

blanks in it. He would like us to suggest

which words might fit in best with the

meaning of the poem. William has a complete

version of the poem at home and he will send

it along later for us to compare with ours.


Applied to poetry, the value of the technique is to

get pairs and groups of students talking about the

creative p o s s i bilities of language as they grapple with

the text and co m p a r e the likely effects of the words

they suggest. On a more practical level, this e xe r c i s e

also develops students' vocabulary.

2 . 4 . 3 A c t ivities for Devel o p i n g Speak i n g Skills

Maher (1982) s u ggests a good activity which gives

the opportunity for the students to co m m u n i c a t e and

exchange ideas. His suggestion is 'Poem Cartoons'. In

this activity a game situation is provided. Each

student divides a large piece of paper into cartoon


picture or simply selected objects that illustrate in

some way one line or phrasal image from the p o e m -

Papers are then exchanged, and each person tries to

repeat orally the gist of the poem using their friends'

pictorial version- This exerc i s e is particularly

suitable for poems because each line of a poem can be

illustrated in some way. Later on, looking at the

pictures, students retell the poem and associate the

words or sentences with the help of these illustrations

This helps the students to practice their oral skills-

They learn to explain a picture in a different 'poetic'

way. They also learn certain phrases or words with the

help of this exercise.

Tomlinson (1986) suggests turning a poem into a

short story- This activity is also useful to encourage

students to communicate. Sente n c e structures are

irregular in most of the poems. Narrating a poem and

turning it into a short story help them to build up

regular sentences and to use their imaginations and

organize their thoughts. Through this exercise, they

produce their own sentences in order to turn the poem

into a story so that they improve their oral skills-

Dramatizing a poem, as Tomlinson (1906) and Denman

(1988) suggest, can also be a useful activity for

developing speaking skills. Denman says "give them


own-Shakespeare style'.“ (p.l74).

Tomlinson (1986) suggests pre- and post-reading

activities. A c c o rding to him, learners can be prepared

■for their e x p e r i e n ce of a poem through activities such

as: discussing c o n t r o v e r s i a 1 topics related to the

theme of the poem; predicting the poem's content from

drawings, photographs, realia, sounds, scenes from

plays, etc.; p r e - t eaching difficult vocabulary items;

and practicing s t r u ctures featured in the poem- He

suggests p o s t-reading activities to give the students a

chance to use their interpretation of the poem and

stimulate communication- Such activities include

painting group interp r e t a t i o n s of the poem, continuing

the poem, re-writing the poem from a different

viewpoint, and discus s i n g controversial statements

about the poem. The s e pre- and post-reading activities

are also useful for developing oral skills- Students

talk to each other and to the teacher and express their ideas and thoughts and learn to make

judgements-Lazar (1989) presents a different activity. She

suggests that the teacher can give the students a poem

which is cut up into strips. In groups or pair, they

put it together again. After they are finished, the

teacher asks them to justify why they put it together

in the way they did. This exercise also improves the


explain the whys of something.

These activities can be adapted to almost all

levels of students.

2.5 Conclusion

In this chapter the professional literature was

reviewed and some arguments for and against the use of

literature were presented. But as stated before, those

were only the opinions of some professionals who are

interested in the issue. A l t h o u gh there may be other

empirical studies, in the s o urces available to the

researcher only one empirical study was found. This led

to the research conducted here which was designed to

answer the question whether or not poetry engenders a

more c o mmunicative classroom. Does it work? and how


table  shows  that  students  participated  40  times  and  the  teacher  participated  10  times


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