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Using Poetry and Lyrics in a Writing Class

Presented by:
Randall Weaver
Project Read
San Francisco Library

Adult literacy tutors in a continuing education workshop within a one-on-one tutoring program.


1) to enable tutors to use lyrics and poetry to teach writing
2) to enable tutors to help adult learners experience language and express themselves in new ways
3) to provide tutors with new and exciting ways to make the task of writing more enjoyable and less stressful for their learners.

SIBL Chapter One CD � the songs and the lyrics
CD player
Lyrics or poems printed out. (Randy used EINSTEIN'S BRAIN from the SIBL CD, and Woody Guthrie's THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND.)

Tutor preparation:

Discuss why you would use poetry to teach basic literacy skills, and what makes something poetic. Is there a reason why people remember poetry and song lyrics more easily that other forms of writing? What aspects of poetry and song lyrics cause them to resonate so fully? Do you think some aspects of poetry and lyrics can be useful in teaching an adult to read and write better?

  • Rhythm
  • Rhyme
  • Form/Pattern
  • Imagery

You might want to identify the learner's favorite poems or songs during the previous session.

Form poetry

Alphabet poems:

Build a poem by using the first letters of names, objects, whatever � This works well with your and the learner's own names

On the go ...Always searching
Urban dweller...Mother of two
Reader of books...Eater of Mexican food

List poems:

These can be about almost anything. Start by naming a subject, then brainstorm words that describe that subject, much like a mind-map exercise.

Hounded, trapped, tortured, and killed
Desert dwellers and scavengers
Surviving across the land


Follow this basic model:
Line 1: one word � a title, or the name of something
Line 2: two words describing the subject
Line 3: three words describing the action of the subject
Line 4: a sentence expressing the feeling you have about the subject
Line 5: one word repeating or re-naming the subject

Cicada ugly, noisy thrumming, sawing, praying
easily frightened and always lonely singer


Lyric poetry: write your own

  • Start by discussing a song, poem, or story that elicited a strong response from your learner.
  • Discuss the theme and why it is powerful.
  • With beginning learners, use a mind map to generate a list of words that s/he associates with the topic.
  • Then the learner can practice getting the poem on paper using some of those words.
  • Reread the poem to see if the words contribute to the emotion that s/he is trying to express.
  • Remember that spelling is secondary to writing�encourage your learner to concentrate on recording her/his feelings, and worry about spelling later.

Music as Narrative Poetry: writing based on existing material

  • Use a recording and lyric sheet of a song that interests your learner.
  • Listen to the song and discuss why the composer might have written it�what feelings was s/he trying to share?
  • Discuss other ways of expressing these feelings using the existing patterns found in the song, OR discuss a different subject of interest to your learner.
  • Generate (brainstorm/ mind map) a list of words and rhymes, and fit them into the song.
  • Emphasize that correct spelling is not essential in writing first drafts.


  • Ask the learner to re-read their new lyrics to themselves.
  • Read out loud or sing the creation.
  • Review what the learner has written and determine, as a team, what basic skill-building needs to be addressed.

Back to SIBLization Resource Guide