Repository logo

Exploring strategies of teaching poetry to English Second Language (ESL) learners in grade 12.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study is an exploration of strategies that are of utility to ESL teachers to teach poetry in a South African context. It advocates a learner-centered approach to teaching and learning and closely aligns with the Department of Education’s curriculum requirements. Given the paucity of poetic strategies available to teachers in rural, ESL contexts as evidenced in such studies as Lim and Omar (2007), El-Hindi (2008), Panavelil (2011), Juhlin (2018) amongst others, this study seeks to explore and provide enabling, unorthodox and innovative strategies that teachers can use to teach poetry in their ESL classrooms given the resource poverty typical to this demographic. Maake (2017) points out that there is a decline in the teaching of poetry in the ESL classrooms in South Africa, even though the CAPS document (2011) clearly states that poetry should be taught like any other literary genre in the FET phase. The decline may be attributed to a number of factors, some of which are insufficient resources, negative attitudes towards poetry, overcrowded classes, language barriers, and inadequately trained teachers. This desktop study is consequently a review of methods the ESL teacher may have recourse to, given the contextual dynamics manifest in the South African ESL classroom. Practical Criticism informs the approach used in this study. The rationale for this choice is that ESL teachers consciously or unconsciously use some of the tenets of practical criticism in their classroom. This study therefore seeks to build upon this to add increased analytical rigor and expand the capacity for critical analysis. This study uses desktop methodologies to advance its thesis. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, online peer reviewed articles, e-books and personal reflection are mostly utilized to inform this study. This study is embedded in the critical paradigm, acknowledges its own subjectivity and seeks to empower people. This study also uses Vygotsky’s theory of sociocultural learning, the central thesis of which is that knowledge is socially constructed. The theory is relevant in this study because it helps the teacher understand how learners acquire knowledge in an ESL context. The teacher understands his/her role as a facilitator of knowledge and not as the sole source of information. The sociocultural theory of learning insists on a learner-centered approach to teaching and learning. It also promotes the contextualization of knowledge to the learners’ understanding of their own world. This theory introduces the idea of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) as a range between what learners can do (the known) and what they can do with the assistance of a teacher (the unknown). Poetry in the ESL class is perceived as a necessary ordeal for examination purposes. This study contends that the intrinsic joy and the discovery of new knowledge as well as the aesthetic appreciation of poetry is what ESL teaching and learning of poetry should be foregrounding. The portrayal of poetry as an elitist genre has taken away left our learners with negative attitudes and experiences of poetry. Therefore, this study, by advocating different strategies of teaching poetry, seeks to reimagine poetry and rekindle interest in learners. One of the key findings of this research is the use of cognitive reading strategies as the tools to teach poetry in ESL classes. Brumfit (1980) argues that reading is a very complex activity as it is composed of “perceptual, linguistic and cognitive abilities”. Cognitive reading entails reading for understanding, an in-depth reading of the text which seeks to uncover the true meaning/s of the text. Using the words in the text, the reader is able to infer effectively with sufficient evidence to validate his or her argument. The key findings of this study are cognitive reading strategies: pre-, during-, and post-reading strategies, paraphrasing, close reading, discussing the vocabulary used in poetry, and multimodality. These strategies provide an in-depth analysis of a poem and encourage a learner-centered approach to teaching and learning. Furthermore, they are compatible with Practical Criticism as a lens to poetry analysis because of their focus on the text. Understanding the congruence between these strategies and the sociocultural theory of learning, teachers can have effective poetry lessons.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.