Teaching poetry in the EFL/ESL classroom can become bogged down in a vocabulary lesson, which is often so dense that students cannot begin to tackle the poem itself, not being able to see the wood for the trees. A line by line gloss is so demotivating, to be avoided at all costs.
One approach, I have found quite useful, is to focus on the imagery of the poem to unlock the meaning. I get the students to explore the imagery searching Google images and creating a PowerPoint presentation to collate what they consider the five or six key images of a poem. These PowerPoints can then be posted online for discussion by the class, or presented in class using the Interactive White Board.
Searching for the images is a useful way of circumventing vocabulary issues, and allows students to explore the meaning of a word through images rather than text. While precise meanings cannot be pinned down in this way, I do feel that most Google image searches give a good overall sense of the meaning of a word. For example, I searched the word peregrinations, and was confronted by many images of people walking. If the poem contained the word I could use this in a montage for my presentation, reinforcing its meaning in my mind. In some ways this works better than searching a dictionary because so many of the cultural connotations of a word are conveyed. It is then that much painful to discuss the meanings of words, and the imagery of the poem, using student collages to kick-start the discussion. Students will work quite hard to ensure that the images they select for their presentation accurately reflect the meanings of words in the poem.
It is useful in the brief to ask students to add text to the presentation: phrases or keywords from the poem to identify what each montage represents. What works especially well, I think is the notion that each reading of a poem is an internalisation of meaning rather than a passive reception of the received interpretation of the poem. In class discussion I ask students to defend their view of the poem by comparing it to the received view and getting them to find evidence in the poem. I think this leads to more “ah ha” moments than a Spark notes approach.