How do you meet the diverse learning needs of every student in your middle school world languages classroom? How do you ensure that the newer or struggling student is able to comprehend, participate, and communicate, while the more seasoned or able student is also adequately challenged? How do you place vocabulary in a context that students will remember in a visceral sense, so that they will be able to automatically retrieve it when needed?
I propose the use of poetry, in particular the reading, memorization, and recitation of poetry, as an invaluable method to accomplish these tasks in such a way that students will both enjoy what they are doing and experience a sense of confidence and success at being able to memorize pieces of French poetry.
French language audio book and podcast author Camille Chevalier Karfis says that in France, children memorize and recite classic works of poetry from the age of eight years old. Then beginning at age fourteen, they start to analyze that poetry (Karfis). I think this is a great way to build a foundation which students can then revisit and use to develop analytical skills, for an ultimately deeper understanding of the poetic work.
This unit will provide a framework for incorporating poetry in the middle grades language classroom to support differentiated language learning, allowing each child to progress at his or her own pace. General techniques and practices that can be used across levels will be included, as will demonstrations of how they may be applied in slightly different ways in grades five through eight. Although the examples are for French classes, these strategies may be easily adapted to other classes of languages.
I have found that by using poetry and song created around a theme, students are able to process usable chunks of language more fluidly than by just learning isolated vocabulary out of context. It is also a way to supplement paired conversation practice while keeping students listening to and speaking the language together.