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Dec 2018 - Year 20 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Poems as Creative Writing Activites for ESL Students

Mihaela Schmidt is an English language teacher.She has been teaching EFL as well as German as a foreign language for over 20 years at 11th General Grammar School in Zagreb, Croatia.She is  a mentor teacher to other novice teachers. For more than a decade she has been the assessor at the Matura exams and 5 years the senior moderator. Her interests include: Creative writing, blended learning and language assessment.

What would life be without poems and what would poems be without life? I think that is one of the key elements of poetry and one of the most important reasons why poems should be a part of the ESL curriculum. Many people and ESL learners as well, regard poems as something they were taught about some time in their life, and many of them do not even dare opening this treasure box called poetry any more in their lives. The reason for this fact lies in the notion that the society itself keeps the poems and poet writers very often isolated from the society so their poems and voices cannot reach the wider audience. Because of that the key role of the kindergardens, schools, universities, libraries and even the poets themselves is to promote their work for a very simple reason: Poetry remains a dead corpse  if its voice is not heard. According to Collins (2001) and his idea of a website comprising of 180 poems to be read to the students on a daily basis or as frequently as possible at schools , if you spend just a few minutes „reading a poem each day, new worlds can be revealed.“.

What is more, many researchers have as well recognized the tremendous potential of poetry. They portray interesting themes through a meaningful language and hence motivate the learners not only emotionally but also cognitively to communicate creatively in L2 (Lazar, 1996). This argument is also stressed by Heath (1996) because poems offer opportunities for students to project their feelings and emotions and hereby foster personal involvement in writing tasks, which is one of the key concepts in language learning. To sum it up, poems are used as a means to practice language items by exposing students to „authentic models-real language in context…Thus, literature lessons make for genuine opportunities in group work and/or open ended exploration by individual student (Brumfit and Carter 1987, p.15).

I myself have also tried using this approach throughout my teaching career and although it is sometimes very difficult to stick to the curriculum plan there are always a few lessons left for the writing-using model where the original poem serves as a role model and a stimulus for a creative output. Hereby I would like to draw the attention to a few of my most favourite creative writing tasks which refer to poems. One of them is to get students writing poems according to the so called „I am …“ poem template. Students are first shown the model poem, and they have to finish the beginning lines of the poems. One of my fourth grade students of secondary school composed the following poem:

I am alive

I wonder about the novelty of existence

I hear about it

I see no such merit in breathing

I want serenity

I am alive

I pretend I belong somewhere but I don't

I feel like I'm slipping away

I touch empty air

I worry about my sanity

I cry randomly

I am alive

I understand your point of view

I say such things for my sadness

I dream about brighter days

I try but I can't get it

I hope someday I'll get it straight

I am alive but I am dead inside.


The other template my students adore playing with, is the so called reverse writing process which means that a poem can be read forward and backwards. The most suitable template for it is the reversal poem template:


Reversal Poem Template (2015)

I am a _____________________________ (negative)

And I refuse to believe that

___________________________________ (positive)

I realize this may be a shock, but

___________________________________ (positive)

Is a lie

_________________________________ (state a lie)

In 30 years, I will tell my children that

I have my priorities straight because

________________________ (one word – negative)

is more important than

_________________________ (one word – positive)

I tell you this:

Once upon a time

___________________________________ (positive)

But this will not be true in my era

__________________________________ (negative)

Experts tell me

__________________________________ (negative)

I do not conclude that

___________________________________ (positive)

In the future,

__________________________________ (negative)

No longer can it be said that

___________________________________ (positive)

It will be evident that

__________________________________ (negative)

It is foolish to presume that

___________________________________ (positive)

And all of this will come true unless we reverse it.


The student composed the following poem:


I am a sinner

And I refuse to believe that

Everyone is perfect

I realise this may be a shock, but


Is a lie

I was never sad

In 30 year's time I will tell my children that

I have my priorities straight because

Picking a fight

Is more important than

Caring for each other

I tell you this:

Once upon a time

I was in love

But this will not be true in my era

Since it is hard to live truly

Experts tell me

I'm insane

I do not conclude that

I'm okay

In the future

I will leave

No longer can it be said that

We would stay together

It will be evident that

I didn't care 'bout you

It is foolish to presume that

We were just fine

And all of this will come true

Unless we reverse it.


The third template for poem writing I use with my students is the so called „5 senses poem“, where students think of a notion and characterize it by the means of verbs and adjectives. The students who are in the first grade of the secondary school produced the following short poems consisting of only one stanza:


Book                                                  Bed                             Apple

Smells like old paper                         Smells fresh                Smells fruity

Sounds like heaven                            Sounds squea              Sounds crunchy

Looks perfect                                     Looks comfortable     Looks round

Feels like love                                    Feels warm                 Feels dry

Tastes awful                                       Tastes bad                  Tastes sweet


The fourth template which I together with my students adore is of course the Haiku poetry writing template.

Haiku Pattern Template (n.d)

Name:             Date:  



1st line: 5 syllables

2nd line: 7 syllables

3rd line: 5 syllables


Remember to count the number of syllables in the entire line!

If your line has too many syllables or not enough syllables, delete, add, or substitute words.



Birds are so talented   (6 syllables)     [Take away the word so] Singing a song sweetly     (6 syllables)            [Add the word so]

Always in tune           (4 syllables)     [Substitute never out of for always in]

Revised Poem:

Birds are talented       (5 syllables)

Singing a song so sweetly      (7 syllables)

Never out of tune       (5 syllables)


The  students, first grade of secondary school,  wrote the following poems:


Winter                                                            Sea                                         


Winter makes you freeze                               The wet sea haze                   

You should dress up warm and go                The sea gulls fly in the cold  

Sun in your heart now                                    The thunder approaches



Christmas tree shining

Its branches full of light

Little angel flies


To conclude, this article has discussed the use of poems to foster students’ creativity in writing. The four mentioned models i.e. “I am poems”, Reversal poems, 5 senses poems or Haiku poems are just some of the vast array of examples for the creative writing activities. Such creative writing taks are rarely found in ELT student’s books, but I would strongly recommend every teacher to enable their students to indulge in such creative writing tasks because as Langer (1997) points out it allows them to reflect on their own personal ideas and feelings which many other types of writings do not encourage in foreign language learning.



Brumfit, C. and Carter, R. (1987). Literature and Language Teaching, Oxford:Oxford University Press, 15

Collins, B. (2001). Poetry 180. Retrieved from

Heath, S.B. (1996). „Re-creating literature in the ESL classroom“, TESOL Quarterly, 30,(4), 776-775

Langer, J. (1997) . Literacy acquisition through literature. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 40, 602-614

Lazar, G. (1996). „Exploring literaty texts with the language learner“, TESOL Quarterly, 30(4), 773-775

Reversal poem template, (2015). Retrieved from.

Read Write Think. (n.d). Haiku pattern template. Retrieved from.


Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website

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