How to Teach Poem: An Action Research

*Suman DC

Cracking poems had been always an issue for me as a student. The poem usually has to be understood in terms of literal as well as underlying meanings: context, historicity, and degree of expressions. And as an instructor, I was facing the same challenge but in different way. Now the issue is to make them understand and keep them stuck in the lesson.

Now, as an English language teacher, I found the learners were also in my shoes, they too had difficulties understanding poems. Recently, I discovered the ways to solve this issue through action research that was introduced in a massive open online course (MOOC) called ‘Powerful tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 Tools’ with University of Houston, USA through coursera (, a free online course provider. During the course, I came across a few Web 2.0 tools, online websites which are easy to use, to edit and to share the content.

Specific context and issues 

I have been teaching Language 106: English to undergraduate college students who are 19-22 years. They learn English as a foreign language. In this course, they get familiar as well as improve their four skills of English language: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. For this, the college has formulated three sessions, 60 minutes each for a week.

In the institution where I have been working, there are basic technological facilities of multimedia such as projector, multimedia player, wifi, and scanner and so on, but it lacks a proper computer lab.

As I have already stated in the introduction part, I, including my students, do not feel comfortable while discussing poetry lessons. For instance I have been facing a problem to teach “Holy Sonnet XIV” by John Donne in the classroom.

What is action research? 

Action research’ contains the words ‘action’ and ‘research’. The action piece of action research is about improving practice. The ‘research’ piece of action research is about offering descriptions and explanations for what you are doing as and when you improve practice (McNiff, 2010).

According to McNiff, there are two types of action research. First is known as interpretive action research in which people believe that the researcher observe and interpret others’ practices through a report. Second is known as self study action research or living theory action research or first person action research. It is used to explain researchers’ own actions through report.

Here, I have decided to address my teaching issue through self study action research because it is carried out by the practitioners rather than outside researchers; secondly, that is collaborative; and thirdly, that is aimed at changing things (Kemmis andMcTaggart, 1988). 


I chose to use storybird, a visual storytelling online community, to solve this problem and the online drum machine, online musical instrument that produces the sound of drums. First of all, The storybird helped me as well as my students to visualize the text of Holy Sonnet XIV.

In addition to this, drum machine helped us recite the poem with fun/music. The storybird falls under Web 2.0 tools category because Web 2.0 tool is defined as a web based tool, which is easily accessible, interactive and collaborative in nature. As far as drum machine is concerned, I think it is one of the multimedia that we can integrate with poem to make the learning process more effective. 

Implementation/ Action

First of all, students were divided in groups of 4-5 persons each group. Then they recited the poem group wise, turn by turn without focusing on content and language in use followed by the result of the best reciting group. After that, we discussed the poem together by using storybird created by teacher. In addition to this, students were assigned to restructure the poem in their own way by using storybird.


To use these tools, teacher and students need innovative and creative skills along with technological skills because we need to match the picture or the animation (visual literacy) with the visual available in the storybird. On the other hand, students and teacher should have basic recitation skills. 


It was far better to engage students and make learning effective than ever before. At the end, one of the students said, “Poetry was never as interesting as we have discovered right today.”

There were some of the students who were hesitant to recite the poem but at the end they started as well because of their partners’ involvement and enjoyment. I found the tools (storybird and drum machine) as the best tools to teach poetry in my classroom because they help us enhance students’ participation. Moreover music helps to learn with fun. 


I have found that being able to identify the problem I have been facing in my classrooms, exploring ways to address it, and most importantly sharing it with the like-minded professionals are the ways to continuing professional development (CPD).


Hopkins, D. (1985). A teacher’s guide to classroom research. Philadelphia: Open University


Kemmis, S., and R. McTaggart (eds.). 1988. The Action Research Planner. 3rd ed. Geelong,

Australia: Deakin University Press.

McNiff,J.(2010). Action Research for Professional Development: Concise Advice for New (and

            Experienced) Action Researchers. Dorset.

McNiff, J and Whitehead, J. (2010). You and Your Action Research Project.


Sagore, R. (2000). Guiding School Improvement with Action Research. Alexandria,



(*Suman DC is an English language teacher. He is also a life member of NELTA.)


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