Chuck Sandy

Movement, Rhyme and Rhythm in ELT – Chuck

Invitation Standing: Bring Poetry To Your Classroom
Chuck Sandy

Chuck Sandy
What is a poem? A poem, once read and internalized, is a song that’s meant to be spoken, that’s meant to be heard.  A poem is more than words, more than whatever meaning the words of the poem combine to make.  A poem is sound, rhythm, and cadence.  A poem is the poet’s voice arranged on the page in such a way that any reader can speak with the same voice, with the same rhythm, in the same way.

Please read the poem Invitation Standing by Paul Blackburn silently to your self.

BRING a leaf to me

just a leaf just a

spring leaf, an

April leaf


  • come


Blue sky

never mind

Spring rain

never mind

Reach up and

take a leaf and

  • come

just come.

Paul Blackburn (Invitation Standing)


Can you hear the rhythm of the words and the sound the words make? Notice the way BRING is capitalized. Notice the way each line breaks. Notice the comma between spring leaf and an. Notice the lack of commas otherwise. Notice the way the word come is set off by itself, a tab away from the left-hand margin. I ask you to notice these things because this is how Paul Blackburn shows us how the poem is meant to be spoken and heard. Say BRING in a louder voice than you do a leaf to me.

Speed through just a leaf just a before pausing a moment to say spring leaf, an / April leaf and then pause and put some emphasis on come.

Read the poem again only this time, read it out loud. If possible read it out loud to someone. Ask them to listen to the sound and the rhythm. Don’t ask them what the poem is about. Just have them listen. Can you hear the poem’s sound, rhythm, and cadence? Can they? My students can and then can read it to each other just the way it’s meant to be read – and so can your students.

Take any poem you find that’s full of sound and rhythm and read it to your students.
Take the poem This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams for example:


This Is Just to Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


and which

you were probably


for breakfast


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold


Tell your students you’re going to read them a poem. Tell them it’s a dictation and that you’d like them to write the poem out the way you speak it. Tell them that you want them to arrange the words on the page so that it looks like a poem.

Now read the poem out loud several times so they hear the pauses and know where the line breaks are. Pause longer between each stanza so they know there’s a larger space between them. Then, ask your students to compare the way they’ve written the poem out with a partner and to make any corrections they think should be made.  Give them a bit of time to do this before reading the poem out loud again.

Now, show your students the poem as written by William Carlos Williams, and have them make the necessary corrections. After they’ve done so, ask them to take turns reading the poem out loud in pairs a couple of times. After they’ve done this ask, “Can you hear all the s sounds in the poem?” and have them underline all the s sounds they hear:  plums, icebox, saving, breakfast, delicious, so sweet, so cold.

Then, if you want, get students walking around the room saying the poem to each other.  Tell them to be dramatic, to speak the poem as if they were speaking to someone  – and of course they are.

Bring everyone back together and either ask students to whom the poem was probably written and where it might have been left or just tell them: Williams wrote the poem as a note to his wife Flossie and left it on the refrigerator (icebox) door. Ask a question like “How do you think Flossie felt when she read this? How would you feel? Your students will come up with adjectives like annoyed, upset, angry, disappointed, dismayed, let down, and devastated. At least mine did.

And my students – no matter how often I’ve done this and no matter what group I’ve done this with – have never had any trouble taking the structure, sound, rhythm, and cadence of the poem, and using this to write their own versions.

My favorite student-written versions of this poem over the years have been:

This is just to say


I have finished

your homework

which you left

undone last light


and which

you were probably

never going

to complete.


Thank me.

It wasn’t easy.

But now

you’ll pass.

This is just to say


I have stolen

your boyfriend

who you left

alone this summer


and who

you were probably


to marry.


Forgive me.

He was so handsome,

so lonely

and now so mine.


Notice the creativity in those versions. Notice the way grammar has been shaped and used. Notice the sound and the rhythm. Note that this is language work.  Imagine the fun students have reading their poems out loud to each other.

Short poems can be memorized, versioned, acted out, turned into video stories like this beautiful film by Lam Thuy Vo or a stop-motion video like this one from Betsie Pie Baker.  There’s so much that can be done.

In addition to being sound, rhythm, cadence, and meaning, a poem is also a manageable chunk of language which students have little trouble managing to work with in some pretty incredible ways. Why don’t you give it a try with you students?

If you’d like to find some good poems to use, have a look at the Poetry 180 Project, the Favorite Poem Project or Popular Poems To Teach. If you’re working with young learners try  Funny Poems and Stories or The Twenty Best Poems For Kids.

Now back to the Paul Blackburn poem Invitation Standing. Could you memorize it? Could your students? Could they talk about why it was written and to whom? Could   they come up with their own versions of it? Sure they could.  So could you.

I’ll be talking more about using poetry in the classroom in my presentation for the iTDi Summer School MOOC.  I hope to see you there.


Join Chuck and more than 30 other iTDi presenters for the iTDi Summer School MOOC  live from July 20th to August 17th 2014.


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Published by

Chuck Sandy

Chuck is a teacher, teacher trainer, author & educational activist with 30 years of experience in the US, Japan and Brazil. His many publications include the Passages and Connect series from Cambridge University Press and the Active Skills For Communication series from Cengage Learning. He is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops around the world. Chuck believes that positive change in education happens one student, one classroom, and one school at a time, and that it arises most readily out of dialogue and in collaboration with other educators. This is the reason he has built a Facebook group with over 9000 teachers from 24 countries that meet for ongoing educational discussions. It is also the reason he has worked to introduce Design For Change into Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, and Russia.

29 thoughts on “Movement, Rhyme and Rhythm in ELT – Chuck”

  1. I have used poetry in this way in my classes and it brings beauty and magic with it. Thanks for this article, Sandy. It encourages me to continue using them. Bring beauty into the classroom, boost creativity, make of your classes something memorable.

  2. Thank you for an interesting post, Chuck! I like using rhymes in my class, and students love it. One of the favorite one is called “Food Train”
    Coffee, coffee, milk and sugar
    Milk and sugar
    Strawberries and cream
    Strawberries and cream
    Chocolate cake and chocolate biscuits
    Chocolate cake and chocolate biscuits
    Fish and chips
    Fish and chips
    Fish and chips, soup

    students can practice it in pairs, and then produce to the class. After practicing they can create their own train by using the vocabulary they’ve just learnt.

  3. “Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
    Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
    Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)…Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
    The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


    That you are here—that life exists and identity,
    That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

    Thank you for sharing your verse with us, Chuck, and for inspiring us and showing how to inspire our learners to contribute to the powerful play.

  4. I enjoyed reading your article Chuck. I have not used poetry like what you have just explained, but I will. Poetry gives students feelings and helps them to be creative and better thinkers. Thanks for sharing the article.

  5. Thanks Chuck. Although I haven’t been using poetry since my first job as a teacher, after finishing high school, you did make me think twice on the value of poetry in language teaching.

  6. When I was an English student we had a class called poetry. I learned much about poems of William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman… They were poets that touched me so much at that time that I didn’t forget their names throughout these years. Thank you Chuck for bringin all that to me.

  7. Thank you Chuck for your brilliant ideas, I had never thought of using poems in my classes. I will not deprive my students from the joy and benefits of that.

  8. Great! Bringing poetry in our classroom simply means bringing life to our hearts and our life! Thanks Chuck!

  9. I liked Paul Blackburn’s poem…it is so short, but straight forward…a very wistful way to ask your beloved one to come…just come.

    This is just to say is a nice apology…I used to eat the huge peaches my mom left in the fridge in the summer, for me and my sisters, but I never thought of an apology…they were so sweet, juicy and cold, too!!

    I think poetry is one of the liveliest forms of any language, and students can relate a lot to poems since they love songs, and they sing songs…so they can read and speak poems and enjoy them.

    Your students’ versions are hilarious, and they show how much your students loved writing them.


  10. I love these poems that are simple enough for my students to understand but can stimulate my language and abstract concepts. Very interesting..thank you.

  11. Sandy not only theorized the meaning of poetry, ” A poem, once read and internalized, is a song that’s meant to be spoken, that’s meant to be heard. A poem is more than words, more than whatever meaning the words of the poem combine to make. A poem is sound, rhythm, and cadence. A poem is the poet’s voice arranged on the page in such a way that any reader can speak with the same voice, with the same rhythm, in the same way.”, but he exemplified with chosen poems to teach, and prompt students and colleagues to try. He did what a very teacher should do!

  12. That was fantastic. I have used poetry in my classes but I have never asked students version them nor act them out or produce relevant videos. Thank you for the new perspective you have offered us about poetry.

  13. Well, actually I haven’t tried to use poems in class because I don’t know any poems. But, after reading this post, I think I should give it a try and see whether my students will love them. Thanks, chuck.

  14. Very good poems. I think I can use this kind of poems in my phonetic lesson. Last term I had a lesson about rhythm I couldnt find anything to use in my lesson. As I was teaching English phonetic for the first time

  15. Wonderful Chuck!! I love how you use poetry in the class! I have done many similar activities using poetry. I also use art and imagery to have my student write poems rather than prose. Poetry is less intimidating to some students than prose. Thanks for the inspiring ideas!

  16. I love the fact that poetry (as song) includes so much more than the word and the denotative meaning – the connotations and the “in between” is so inviting and instructive.
    I enjoyed your presentation on iTDi as well. It gave me some excellent ideas to use with my students. Many students (people) are afraid of poetry; however, I think it is because they only see it as strict rules and conventions that are not understandable – when, in fact, I expect most poets would rather a reader enjoy the poem in all its other components.

  17. Hi chuck
    To my own undersatnding, when i first heard teaching poetry in class i was a little shocked because i thought that appreciating poems is something learners will never attain and it is for intellectual people only .But after reading you article and how you have chosen very simple comprehensible poems to be taught and how you make learners interact with the text through repetition and musicality, my views have been totally altered.You are right “a poem is not only words”

  18. My best poetry class was this: I asked the students to send me a link to their favorite song, because what is a song but a poem set to music? I got ‘this is the best homework ever’. I then printed out the song, and had them analyze it by identifying metaphors, similes, allusion, theme and the like, all points we already covered in class. This was their final for the bimester. They didn’t mind that it was poetry when presented like this.

  19. A great pleasure reading the blogs. There is no doubt that poems can be used in a variety of ways to learn language and develop faculties of mind. It depends upon the expertise of teacher how he/she encourages the students to make best of poetry in the class. There is depth and imagination in poems which can boost students intellectual abilities.

  20. Hi Chuck. Thanks for bring poetry to my attention. I haven’t read very much, if any, poetry since high school. I have never used poetry in any of my classes (until now).
    I saw the video Minstrel Man by Langston Hughes and it was great, but it was read by a student by the name of Pov Chin and she made it AWESOME. It was hard to keep a dry eye. Thanks again for sharing.

  21. Hi Chuck! Poems are like flying birds in the sky or the splashing waves of the sea, our inner voice, an opening gate to an emotional world or a dream that makes sense, so many things. Thank you for reminding it to us!

  22. This is so lovely Chuck, thank you. I hadn’t thought of using poems as a dictation activity and the way you structured it gave me an idea on how to extend the e-reading project I do with my advanced learners: I’ll assign each to record a different verse of the ”Villanelle” that we’re working on, put it together in one presentation (probably only audio) and then collectively listen and reflect on the activity.

  23. That was great! Thank you for the ideas and poems you shared, but also for the links which will be helpful for us teaching young learners.

  24. Chuck Sandy’s lesson is about FINDING the movement, rhyme and rhythm in poems. I like how he emphasizes the word BRING.
    How could I BRING this poem to my lesson? By letting the students do the FINDING.
    Thanks for the lesson, Chuck!

  25. Wow! Thank you Chuck Sandy for such a wonderful post.Thanks for sharing ideas and resources.I am really impressed by Paul Blackburn’s Invitation Standing. Still thinking the power of poetry. Never thought like your way. Now, i will definitely try all these ideas..

  26. Well written Chuck. You’ve inspired me to use poetry in the classroom. Within the next few weeks I will try introduce a similiar style to my kids.


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