Mike Harrison's Reviews

Making Dreams Touchable

Written on 16/02/2011 – 4:46 pm | by mikeharrison

On 15 February I was at the British Council, Spring Gardens for a seminar given by Jeremy Harmer on using poetry and music for language teaching. This comes off the back of a show he has done with Steve Bingham, a supreme violinist, and the CD they made of poetry and some virtuoso violin playing, Touchable Dreams (iTunes link, Touchable Dreams blog).

Jeremy’s reading of the poetry was flawless, while hearing Steve’s playing made the evening for me, but the idea for this seminar was really to remind us of using poetry (and music) for language teaching. We were presented with a number of practical ideas for using poetry in the class which, although they may not be new for you or revolutionary in teaching English, to me all seemed could work with our classes.

The first of these was reordering. I had done this before with a poem cut up and handed to a group of students so they could rearrange the lines on the table in front of them. Jeremy’s twist was to take the cut up lines of poetry (he said poems of 6-8 lines worked best) and hand a line to each student (with the students in groups of the same number, 6-8). The teacher then asks the students to walk around the room and say their line to each other, but they are not allowed to show it to each other. The aim is for the students to put themselves into the correct order of the poem.

Another activity was poetry blanks, a gap fill of a different sort. Project a poem with some words removed and replaced with blanks. Read out the poem, going ‘mmm’ for each blank, as the students try to work out what the missing words are. Quite tricky. So you do it again, but the second time you read, you reveal the first letter of each missing word. A third reading, and you then reveal the first two letters of each blank. As you read, what happens is your students are (hopefully) searching their mental dictionaries for words that could fit in the gaps. One you can also do collaboratively.

Those were just two of the activities presented by Jeremy. There will be a video uploaded in the future at the British Council seminars page on the TeachingEnglish site, where you can also see recordings of previous sessions they have held, including Using Video in ELT, Teaching Grammar, and Using Literature.

Jeremy Harmer poetry

For now though you can see Jeremy give another version of the Making dreams touchable talk at the IH DOS conference site here: http://www.ihworld.com/video/category.asp?c=5 (video, 54 minutes duration)

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  1. 6 Responses to “Making Dreams Touchable”

  2.   By Tyson on Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

    Although I like to write poetry myself, I’ve never been much on reading or listening to others. I’m not sure why exactly. As a result, I’ve rarely used any in my class beyond pop songs.

    I like the second activity you mentioned here, especially with regards to the reasoning behind it. I may try that if I can find one that suits my context.


    •   By mikeharrison on Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

      Welcome, Tyson.

      I really recommend seeing Jeremy’s talk if you can. When the British Council video is up I’ll add the link here. It really is something Steve’s playing.

      Mike =)

  3.   By Cecilia Coelho on Mar 8, 2011 | Reply

    What a great account of the session Mike! I hope I have the chance of attending Jeremy’s session on poetry. I don’t think I use poetry enough in the classroom, especially with lower levels. I realized that after Scott’s post on P is for Poetry. I hope to do better this semester.

    Thanks for sharing Mike.

    (I had read the post right after you wrote it, it just took me some time to get around to commenting on it ;-)

    •   By mikeharrison on Apr 12, 2011 | Reply

      Hi Cecilia,

      Responding a little bit late to this – my apologies! (see you soon and buy you a beer to make up for it!)

      I identify with where you’re coming from about using poetry with lower levels – I’ve done it a bit more this year, but think I could always do a bit more, y’know. Let’s swap some ideas over a drink at the weekend?


  4.   By kylie on Apr 7, 2011 | Reply

    Thanks for sharing these ideas! I often think about using poetry in the classroom, but often chicken out, fearing that my students won’t understand or appreciate it. I’ll have to keep these in mind as I prepare for next term, and hopefully fit them in somewhere! Thanks!

    •   By mikeharrison on Apr 12, 2011 | Reply

      And a bit late here too, sorry Kylie!

      Welcome for the sharing, my thanks initially go to JH for sharing them at the seminar, and alongside Steve it was an unbeatable combination.

      I think I’ve felt like that before when I thought about using poetry, like a little bit silly. I can definitely say, having done it, that it’s well worth it!

      Mike =)

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