4 Reasons Poetry Is a Great Tool for Adult ELLs
Posted by Jennifer Vecchiarelli on April 17, 2017 in categoryFacts & ResearchcategoryMember Tips

Poem in Your Pocket Day is a celebration of poetry’s influence on literacy and the self-expression of adults and children nationwide. 

Poetry is used as an instructional tool for learners of all ages. One setting in particular where teaching poetry can be both advantageous and a unique learning experience is in an ELL classroom.

Instructing Adult English Language Learners With Poetry

Poetry offers adults learning English enticing and enjoyable opportunities for reading, writing, speaking, and listening practice. Learning to read and write poetry can be very beneficial for English language learners. It allows for experimentation with language, vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme patterns, and the ability to share ideas and learn about different cultures without being restricted by firm grammar and sentence structure.

Listed below are four reasons why poetry is a great tool for adult English language learners.

Listening and Speaking

Different types of poetry allow ELL students to build proficient listening and speaking skills. The individual sounds, rhyming pairs, connected speech, and intonation patterns support phonological awareness, a critical factor of recognizing and learning print-to-sound relationships. This helps students combine syllables and understand spoken words, which allows them to establish accurate pronunciation and intonation.  As students read “chunks” of poems, and try to copy the way the instructor reads them, they can easily and efficiently practice pronunciation. 


There are many types of poetry—such as sonnets, limericks and haikus—which is helpful for ELL students to find a variety of reading material that will keep them motivated to read and learn English. Poems can provide flexibility for the topics ELL students learn about, and introduce them to different elements of American culture. For example, the poem The Ghoul, by Jack Perlutsky, introduces Halloween and explains what it is. Warning, by Jenny Joseph, teaches readers about senior citizens and being grandparents. 

Language and Vocabulary

There are many poems that are short in length, which is ideal for introducing English language vocabulary. With an amount of text that is manageable, ELL students can better piece together new vocabulary. Poems also provide a wide scope of vocabulary, language structures, and rhyming devices that are new to adult ELL learners. This provides students with the opportunity to see the English language work creatively and freely. The symbolism and use of figures of speech, such as metaphors, alliteration, etc., in poetry lead to students paraphrasing the poem to interpret and retell it in their own words. This allows students to unveil the meanings of the symbolism.  


ELL students have diverse cultural backgrounds and distinctive life experiences, including memories of home and their families and adjusting to life in a new country. Poetry can serve as an appealing outlet for students to create heartfelt stories to share with friends and family. This can help them to enjoy practicing their writing and using English vocabulary. Additionally, you can also use poems from other countries. This gives ELL students the opportunity to share their cultural heritage and be prideful of an art form they can relate to.

We hope that Poem in Your Pocket Day inspires adult ELL instructors and tutors around the world to incorporate this unique and fun method of teaching into their lesson plans. Below are a few websites that offer fun ideas for using poetry to teach adult learners. 

ESL Poetry for Adults
• Introducing and Reading Poetry with English Language Learners 
Using Poetry  
Improve Your English 


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