Tape poetry task for creative classrooms

Above, the example of tape poetry that I showed in my session yesterday at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference.

Below, a slide from my presentation, with the task suggested:

Task with tape poetry

WhatsApp, Google Drive, and a (private) Google+ Community — the icons on the right, above — make great tools for the task, though there are lots of other possibilities.

Stages for the task

First, individually…

  • Learners find English poems they like — either by (a) searching on the internet or (b) by asking native speakers (other teachers in your school…? in a school in an English-speaking country…?) or (c) by you making suggestions (which you might want to do at lower levels — and we're probably thinking teens or above and B1 or above for this task)
  • They pick a line or lines from the poem that they particularly like
  • They share the chosen lines with the rest of the class. I suggested a WhatsApp group for that but also recommended school and parental permission if you're doing this with teens.
  • They then attempt to write their own line of poetry, perhaps best on a similar theme
  • And finally they share that via your chosen tool (Edmodo would work if you don't like the idea of mobile phones with teens, with the small groups feature in Edmodo being great for this)

I suggested in my presentation that in your task design, you want to consider what parts of the task you want your learners to do in class time, and what parts outside of class. I'd recommend doing all the above mainly outside class time (but personally never use the word "homework" to describe the task 😉 !

Then, in groups of up to 4…

  • In class, taking the lines of poetry they've already found and written, mash them up into a single poem, editing them in any way they wish — for which a shared Google Drive document is great
  • They then print and cut up the finished poem into its separate lines
  • In class, the learners agree on and perhaps sketch a design for and — then outside class — produce a background for the poem (artwork probably again best done outside class)
  • Next they post the tape poem (they'll need glue or drawing pins) somewhere suitable — a classroom or corridor noticeboard, for example. You probably don't want to suggest posting on a wall or door somewhere outside in the street, though wouldn't that be fun 😉 ?
  • With the aid of their mobile phones, they then photograph the finished poem
  • They then share it with everyone in the class, for which I've suggested a Google+ Community (you might prefer Edmodo with teens, for greater privacy), though Instagram is a great place to share it if you want the whole world to see the work
  • Vital Finally, everyone comments on everyone else's poems, and on the project itself.

I say the last commenting stage there is vital because it requires the learners to use more language, as well as taking advantage of the communicative possibilities technology now offers us. All tasks making use of technology should have that last stage built in, as a requirement, in my view.

Above, I've highlighted which parts (those that are going to involve the learners talking to peers, negotiating and brainstorming, and those that will require you to provide help with language) are best done in class.

The vital point I wished to make in my presentation was that it's not the teacher but the learners that should be using technology and that they should be using it not so much for the technology as for the language its use can generate, and the tape poetry task presented here I hope is a good example of such things.

More about tape poetry
More examples of tape poetry on Instagram; on tapepoetry.com; on Twitter.

Recommended reading
Although I suspect it appeared before tape poetry ever did, Jane Spiro's Creative Poetry Writing (OUP 2004) has lots of ideas on how to get fun and language out of poetry — a word many of us probably initially turn our noses up. In my experience, however, poetry works in class, and even people who say they "hate poetry" will say they liked classes and tasks that poetry was brought into.

Would it work?
As I mentioned in my presentation, this was the one task presented that I've not actually tried out with learners. I'm sure it would work — assuming that you and your learners think classrooms should be creative places. You do, don't you?

Please do add comments, and — especially — if you try it out, and perhaps adapt it, do let me know how it went.

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  1. Here (content in Spanish) a very different idea using Instagram that seems to have worked well with learners.

    More, also in Spanish, details and updates on the project. See Twitter for more.on #instagramele

  2. A couple of poems that have always gone down well in classes (OK, one is a song — and you could use song lyrics instead):

    Philip Larkin's This be the verse (I like to blank out one particular word and ask learners what they think it might be 😉

    Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken"

    Don Marquis' The Lesson of the Moth

    Bob Dylan's She Belongs To Me

    Actually, come to think of it, with teens, I might say let's just do lines from songs — though they still have to write lines of their own.

  3. Like it. Might try it for St Valentines 🙂

  4. Like that idea, Kim! Setting a theme is probably a good idea, too.

  5. My colleague Xavi Mula points out that there's such a thing as a cento — a piece of poetry "wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors", according to Wikipedia, and asked if I meant that.

    I think that's probably too hard for most language learners and would recommend allowing them to make any changes they wish to their "borrowed" lines, plus adding their own — as that will allow them to manipulate the language more, and create their own.

    If there are any Spanish teachers reading this, Xavi is responsible for most of the great ideas on our "other" blog, Formación ELE.

  6. i did that with adults Tom, using only lines from Beatles songs (their idea, not mine!) A couple said they thought all the cutting out was "childish" but the others really went for it. nice!

  7. Thanks for feedback, Kim.

    I guess you could make the cutting out optional, though it is really cool if they 're prepared to play along. Check how many of your class are Instagram users before you propose it. I reckon they'd be up for it 😉 !

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