The Poetry Takeaway - Resources for your Spanish Classroom
By Anne Silva
Poetry Month is almost over, but there’s time for us to talk about one more way that poetry is so important…
Recently, I was learning a little bit about early literacy for my preschooler. (The Every Child Ready to Read program) The lecture I attended was about the concepts of ”Talk, Sing, Read, Write, and Play” as habits that parents can use to foster early literacy skills, such as phonemic awareness, print awareness, background knowledge, vocabulary… the same kinds of things I want my Spanish students to develop!
Now, perhaps some activities for toddlers and preschoolers are not exactly well suited to your typical group of sophomores. (… or are they??? What if the sophomores act like preschoolers?)
But a lot of the same techniques that develop vocabulary skills in a first language do work in a second one, regardless of age.
Take poetry, for instance. Poems and rhymes, like songs, can help learners hear syllables and sounds more clearly because of their cadence and rhythm. In “Juventud, divino tesoro, / ya te vas para no volver,” it’s almost difficult to say the second phrase without the right cadence and stress pattern. And rhyme helps learners play with the smaller sounds in words. Dr. Seuss was onto something, and not just torturing tongue-twisted parents at bedtime!
And like stories, poems often contain a wider variety of vocabulary than that used in everyday speech. This can be one of the challenging aspects of using poetry with older world-language learners. However, there are usually context clues as well, helping students become more comfortable inferring meaning for these unfamiliar terms. Just think of something as simple as:
Sana, sana, colita de rana,
si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.
The verb sanar isn’t a very common one in everyday speech, nor are frogs’ tails. But it’s an easy little rhyme to learn, and students can learn or reinforce a number of different topics (Animals! Familiar affirmative commands! Future tense!) And better yet, it’s a culturally authentic little couplet. (Unlike my poor attempts at translating “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” into something that rhymes. So sorry for that one, kids.)
Now, a caveat: I feel like there is some pressure that when we talk about words like “authentic” and “poetry” in Spanish classes, especially high school Spanish classes, that we expect students to be able to jump into analyzing Golden Age Spanish poems in the same capacity that they are supposed to in English. That’s just silly, and sets everyone up for unnecessary struggles, and is probably responsible for the way a lot of people feel about poetry. (“Ugh.”) So what can we do? Well, poetry is supposed to be a sensory experience, not a drill. Let’s treat it as such: help students listen to the sounds, sense the emotional connotations of the way one word sounds instead of another, feel the rhythm from reading even incomprehensible poems aloud. Rap in Spanish. Make up grammatically correct gibberish rhymes. In short, have fun with it. If we do things like this, I think students can certainly learn from both sophisticated literary texts and simple nursery rhymes.
Every year, Americans around the nation get together to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th through October 15th. The contributions Hispanic Americans have made to the United States are endless and inspiring, and they have had a profound and positive impact on our county.
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