When selecting a poem, I keep the following things in mind. Will the poem lend itself well to any of the strategies listed below? Does it incorporate any of the linguistic elements discussed below? I find that it is not useful or really possible for me to split these up according to a set of strategies and a set of linguistic elements, as I consider all of these possibilities when planning for poetry, and they are so inter-related that grouping them further would be redundant. I do not claim this list to be exhaustive; what follows are just the standard basics that I find myself most consistently incorporating.
As one of the research-based strategies proven to increase student achievement (Marzano), categorization may be used in many different ways. Students can categorize nouns and adjectives into masculine or feminine, singular or plural. Vocabulary can be categorized into parts of speech, verb forms (first person singular, etc), as well as thematically (days of the week, colors.) Students can place given words into predetermined categories, or create their own categories based on a word list. They should be encouraged to be creative and to think outside the easily-identifiable categories that immediately come to mind.
Cognates and Bridge or Stepping Stone Words
I will discuss the vocabulary for each poem in terms of three different categories of cognates: Easy-spot, vocabulary-builder, and French-Spanish cognates, as well as bridge or stepping stone words. In class I refer to these word categories as les cognats simples (easy-spot), les cognats complexes (vocabulary-builders), les cognats espagnols (French-Spanish), les cognats compliqués (bridge/stepping stone words).
Easy-Spot and Vocabulary-Builder Cognates
As the names indicate, I label as "easy-spot" cognates those words that practically jump out as the same or similar in English, so it is easy to spot them. "Vocabulary-builder" cognates are either words that have similar roots, but require a little more work to uncover them, or words that are similar enough to be "easy-spot" but not used frequently enough to be easily-accessible to middle school students without teacher prompting. These words help students to make connections with a broader English language vocabulary as well as a French vocabulary base. Some students will focus on the easy-spot cognates, as that is where their own i + 1 leaves them most comfortable, while other students will relish an opportunity to develop a deeper language connection base with the vocabulary-builder cognates and the bridge words discussed below.
Since I have many students who speak varying degrees of Spanish, identifying Spanish-French cognates helps those students to use their own special tools to decipher language, and gives them a sense of accomplishment at being able to do so. I am not a Spanish-speaker myself, and I do not claim to include a complete list of such cognates in my lesson discussions. Just some ideas, words that I have found to be similar enough to evoke student connections, or words that I can use to help broaden language skills by modeling a similarity that a student had not previously considered.
Bridge or Stepping Stone Words
Bridge or stepping stone words are those words that serve, as the name indicates, as a bridge or stepping stone to the actual meaning. The association is there, but it is loose; students need another step, modeled by the teacher, to make a connection. By seeing the teacher think-aloud a stepping stone connection, students begin to develop the same linguistic skill, as well as confidence in that skill. An example of a bridge word is le temps. Although it means "time" in this poem, it means "weather" in a different context. During our weather unit, I introduce le temps as related to "temperature," but that you can't stop there. "Temperature" is a bridge or stepping stone to "weather" as you often consider the temperature when discussing the weather. So I give la température as a better cognate for "temperature" and stress that it is a bridge to understanding that le temps means "weather."
There are different ways to pair students together for practice, and I like to incorporate several of them, to meet different needs. Sometime I pair like-performing students together so that they can progress together and feel equal; sometimes I pair somewhat-weaker and somewhat-stronger students together so that the stronger can help the weaker and reinforce learning by guiding/teaching. But I never pair strong opposites together as it just frustrates everyone and makes the weaker student feel bad. Students can also be paired by choice, or some random correlation, just to mix it up.
In class I assign two different "color" pairs, bleu and rouge. The blue pairs are assigned for like-leveled practice, and the red for stronger-weaker performance. The pairs change based on performance on some assessment, whether a pre-test, a post-test, or a formative assessment of some sort. Changing the pairs after each unit helps students to learn new learning styles and averts the possibility that students feel too cognizant of their "role." Keeping them together for different elements of a unit helps it to not get too confusing, though I have been known to assign entirely different pairs for a particular activity if I think changing the pairs will be of benefit. I generally don't tell students the specifics of the pairings, although they may figure it out.
And since it is based on performance on particular assessments, students don't end up feeling like they are labeled as a "low" or "high" kid, and the stigma of being the "weaker" student in the pair seems to be avoided. I will reiterate that these pairings are based on data of some sort. Too often teachers assume that a student will perform a certain way and should be in the "weaker student" category when it is not always the case. And students can sense that.
In pairs, students can practice reading the poem, helping each other pronounce properly. They can practice memorization, as one student can recite and the other can read along, prompting the reciter as needed. They can practice alternating lines or words from memory, or putting the poem to a tune for memorization practice, or acting it out.
Repetition is important in many ways when planning this type of learning. Repetition within the poem can help trigger memory in several ways. First, if a particular phrase is repeated, then when students get stuck you can give them just the first syllable of the phrase and it is often enough to get them on their way to the rest of the line. Second, it can help establish a rhythm to the text, so that rhythmic or sound clues can be helpful (see "Rhythm and Sound," below.) Third, repetition of vocabulary across different contexts (textbook work, classroom activities, conversation, reading comprehension) allows the student to process the vocabulary at his or her given pace. While some students will get the vocabulary the first time they encounter it, others will need many different methods and instances of repetition before it becomes "automatic." It is worthwhile to find poems that repeat previously-learned vocabulary while practicing new vocabulary as well.
Rhythm and Sound
When selecting a poem, I try to find something with good mouth-feel, something fun to wrap your mouth around and produce. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I try to exploit that quality in the poems I choose, as I (like many) absolutely adore the sound of the French language. Stressing the different sounds created by the words helps students to link sounds together, for both linguistic and memorization benefit. Drawing attention to the different stretches in your face when words are enunciated lends a kinesthetic sense to the practice that some students may need.
I find it easier to remember vocabulary when I enunciate it more, and my students seem to as well. If I have them repeat after me while reading the lines, it is much more interesting to do when I am exaggerating the sounds and then they are too. And it allows me to open up the door, declaring that no one will look sillier than I will, so let loose! It is so important to have an environment in which students feel safe, and by showing them it is okay to get silly, they are put at ease. Also, sometimes I recite lines in a certain voice, and then they must repeat in that voice. Changes can be made in the pacing of the phrases as well as the volume of your voices. All this repetition is necessary for students to obtain the language, but the method makes it fun! (See "Repetition," above.)