Poetry in the Classroom by Ania Musielak


Ania Musielak

The first time I met her and heard Ania‘s work was at TESOL France, where she had a workshop on using drama in the classroom. All of us who were there absolutely loved her tips. When I asked her to write a guest post for the blog, I was absolutely delighted because I love her enthusiasm and the kind of educator she is. I was also happy she chose one of my favourite topics – poetry! She informed me that this was her second guest post. Her first one, I found out later, was for another person I admire a lot- Ken Wilson. You can read Ania’s post for Ken’s blog here.

Ania, thank you so much for your workshop and your post!

Why do we have to read this? „Sigh”

Is it really necessary? „Sigh”

But it sucks….. (A series of „sighs” here)

Those are the comments I heard from my advanced teenaged students when I asked them to read a play by the Bard himself. As a lover of Shakespeare’s work (and a huge literature freak in general) I was determined to make the lesson work by all means. So I decided to put a twist on it and … loosen up a bit.

Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes in Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo and Juliet" (Image from http://celebrities09.blogspot.com)

The first step was to show the students that Shakespeare really did write about timeless topics –  and what is more interesting to a bunch of 18-year olds than some love stories?  And to add a modern flavour to the lessson I introduced a contemporary poem too. And so the time for the lesson came.   They knew to expect something different as I asked them to leave the coursebooks at home. They were a bit anxious anticipating a test or something worse;) They were not that relieved to learn that we were doing poetry…

The reading I chose was an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet and Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem Serious Luv. But first I presented them with a picture from Baz Luhrmann’s film Romeo and Juliet and just the title of Zephaniah’s poem and asked them to predict the content of the texts. That was supposed to  focus my students on the theme and give the purpose of reading.

Serious luv

That grabbed their attention and they came up with topics such as puppy love, fancy dress party, unrequited love, angels and demons (!) or tragedy. Now it was time to check their predictions about the texts and start reading. I also set a couple of activities to help them understand the text and make it more user-friendly. 


Benjamin Zephaniah  (from Funky Chickens)

Monday Morning

I really luv the girl that’s sitting next to me

I think she thinks like me an she’s so cool,

I think that we could live for ever happily

I want to marry her when I leave school

She’s the only one in school allowed to call me Ben

When she does Maths I luv the way she chews her pen,

When we are doing Art she’s so artistic

In Biology she makes my heart beat so quick.

When we do Geography I go to paradise

She’s helped me draw a map of Borneo twice!

Today she’s going to help me take my books home

So I am going to propose to her when we’re alone.

The next day

I used to luv the girl that’s sitting next to me

But yesterday it all came to an end,

She said that I should take love more seriously

An now I think I really luv her friend.

  William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet



It is my lady. O, it is my love!

O that she knew she were!


O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name.

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.


Romeo, doff thy name,

And for thy name, which is no part of thee,

Take all myself.


I take thee at thy word!

Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized.

Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

Vocabulary sheet

 e.g. baptised (adj)        I’ll be new baptised.  baptism (noun)baptise (verb)  christened 

To make them more “at ease” with the text we did a group miming activity. While  I was reading the text aloud ,my group acted it out silently walking around me. The use of mime and movement helped  my students concentrate on gesture, facial expression and body language. It created an imaginary context and, for some, lifted the immediate pressure to speak.

Then it was time for some stimulating discussion and creative use of the language. I wasn’t familiar with the wonderful world of word clouds tools so my words sheet wasn’t as pretty as it is now. (Vicky’s comment: I apologise for not being able to insert Ania’s beautiful word cloud here.)

After distributing the word clouds (no projector in my classroom unfortunately) my students were asked to decide which of these words were relevant to the text and had to choose three and put them in order of importance. An animated discussion followed:) 

The next activity concentrated on the the relationship between the main characters. We used  cut out figures stuck with some tack on chopsticks. I asked my learners to represent the relationship of the key characters by arranging them close, far away from, next to, under or on top of each other. Of course they were happy to oblige and started comparing (and criticizing) the arrangements of others.

The lesson was a success and a lot of project works followed. As the group was preparing for CAE exams we did a lot of writing tasks (such as changing the verse into prose, as well as constructing a report and a letter) and at the end of the year – a short performance was put together. The poetry reading proved to be creative and fun and it helped my students build fluency not only in reading itself but also in writing and speaking.

19 thoughts on “Poetry in the Classroom by Ania Musielak

  1. Hi Ania!

    First of all, a million thanks for writing this fantastic post – I loved it from the first time I read it! I really like how you combined William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” with the Zephaniah poem – and all the activities are such great ideas! I cannot wait to use them in my classes as well.

    I am so happy I met you in France and as I have said countless times, your workshop is truly one to remember. The ideas were so original and your enthusiasm spread to us all and was bouncing off the walls! Thank you so much.

    Dziękuję Ania!

    1. Vicky, proszę bardzo:)
      Thank you so much for giving me an
      opportunity to post my text. And thank you
      for your encouragement and nice words.
      I try to make my students like (well, at least
      not hate;) poetry. Works most of the times.:)

  2. Great post, Ania!

    I wish you’d been my English teacher at school… no, that doesn’t work – I wish my English teacher, who was a brilliant guy in so many ways, had been like you, and understood that you really have to work hard to find ways to make teens connect with Shakespeare.

    Combining the themes of the plays with something more accessible is clearly a successful route. I would even suggest dumbing down a little more (I hope you don’t mind the expression, it’s a positive one for me when it comes to education!) and maybe connecting a Shakespeare theme, such as unrequited love or jealousy, with something similar that has happened in a soap or drama on your TV that your students are familiar with.

    But your interactive idea – with mime and chopsticks – is memorable and will remain in your students’ minds for a long time, I’m sure.

    1. Ken, thank you so much:) A praise from you
      means A LOT:) Next time I will definitelly
      combine it with some celeb gossip and famous
      couples. Or a drama – here probably have to
      educate myself a it more and start watching
      Gossip Girl or something;)

  3. Sounds like it was an unexpected activity for your students and one that utilised a topic at their hearts (pun intended). As Ken mentioned, I’m sure this activity will remain with them for a long while thanks to your originality. I very much agree with Ken’s other idea to relate it to a context they might be more familiar with, like a popular drama or even celebrity goss.

    I’d like to ask what language goals, if any, were a part of the chopstick relationship activity. Was it just a way to facilitate comprehension? Maybe just for fun?

    I have to admit I’ve never been comfortable with Shakespeare (or many older poetic texts) or encouraging students to act out what their reading. I’m not sure I know why, though I can think of a few possible contributors. When you’re not comfortable with the material as a teacher, the students won’t be. So I’m glad there are others out there who are!


    1. Having a quick reread of my comment, the word “just” with regards to comprehension and fun make it sound like I’m minimising their importance. I didn’t intend to, actually. 🙂

  4. Tyson, thank you very much for commenting:)
    As to the chopstick activity I wanted them to talk
    and exchange ideas – they were good at writing
    and grammar but some of them weren’t very
    keen on speaking. My goal was to create a
    context that would promote discussion:)
    I was always a “fan” of Shakespeare and I like
    to combine the reading with some contemporary
    themes, discuss the latest film adaptations and
    theatre plays.
    Thank again for your suggestions:)

    1. Along with other people’s comments here, the Leo DiCaprio acted “Romeo & Juliet” was cool and helped me to enjoy ‘Shakespeare’ more (or even understand it – lol). One piece of ‘poetry’ I’ve used to facilitate and relate to the understanding of teenage love is the song “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QNO9xDADB8) because it brings the element of the unrequited love to a very modern context between a “loser” and a popular girl. Good stuff.

      1. FYI – After tweeting about my comment, Wheatus (the band) contacted me on Twitter to ask me if I was a teacher, where and of what. Then they tweeted “nice…anything you need us for just shout :)” Awesome, this internet. I wonder how I might someday take them up on their offer.

      2. Wow, that is great:) Can you imagine the
        students’ reaction if they (Wheatus I mean)
        walked into the classroom;) Amazing:)
        Thank you for commenting and sharing
        your ideas.

  5. What a great post, Ania!

    I really enjoyed the miming activity at the end. It’s wonderful that students get to do a bit of acting and use poetry in one lesson. Poetry like this lends itself to acting so it makes sense! Thanks for the great ideas!

    1. Thank you Shelly. You are the one who always shares the ideas. Thanks for being so helpful.
      And I’m glad you like the text:)

  6. Hi Ania,

    What a brilliant post! I can just picture your students discussing the relationships between the characters (chopstick characters – ace idea!).
    I remember that as soon as the Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo & Juliet came out I thought: yes, finally, a version which really brings to life (especially for a teen audience) the drama and complexity of the themes Shakespeare wrote about.

    And the association between the play and Zephania´s poem (which I hadn´t read before, so thanks for the suggestion) – that is something our teenage students can certainly relate to.

    I think the best thing about this post is how you show how we can bring into the classroom several elements: drama, poetry, extensive reading and speaking activities, exam preparation – and all of this can only contribute towards engaging learners in a rich and rewarding experience and ensure their language development.

    Thanks for sharing with us your work.


    1. Thank you very much for your kind words.
      I love Zephaniah’s poems – they are great not
      only for lessons with YL:)
      And Baz Luhrman’s MTV version of Romeo
      and Juliet definitelly is something a lot of
      students enjoyed and it helped bring
      Shakespeare into the world of ELT:)

  7. Χρόνια πολλά, καλά κι ευτυχισμένα! Καλές γιορτές! 🙂

    Υ.Γ. Επιμένω να μη θέλω να γράψω αγγλικά κι ελπίζω να μη σε πειράζει…

  8. Hey Ania!
    I must say that I’m thrilled with your ideas! So much to work on! I really liked the idea of having sts to move around and act out the poem.
    Moreover, the mix of activities, as Valeria mentioned before, is surely a big hit! Having the opportunity to engage sts through the use of literature is proved to be rewarding. I’ve had similiar experiences last year and I truly believe that as teacher we shoudl never neglect the power of literature, drama and poetry in class although teenagers regard it as something boring.

    1. Hi Bruno,
      Thank you very much for commenting:) And
      I totally agree with you – the importance of
      literature and drama is definitelly understated.
      And it is important to make our sts interested
      in those topics as they can benefit a lot from
      such lessons:)

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