English poems for kids
September 23, 2021 10:13 AM   Subscribe

As a teaching project, I'd like to compile a list of poems that could be of interest to 10 to 15 yo ESL learners.

I'd like to have poems that I could read, learn, recite with the kids I'm teaching - and that I could ask them to learn. Please think about inspiring, uplifting, funny, everlasting thing of beauty favorite - not too long - texts that you'd like to share with the next generation.
posted by nicolin to Education (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ogden Nash's poems would be good for that audience.
posted by Phssthpok at 11:22 AM on September 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: "There are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves" is perhaps not necessarily "uplifting," but is beautiful, humane, and reassuring. It's a bit long maybe, but the structure lends itself to (*gasp*) cutting out a stanza or two (even using just the last one) if you value ends over means. Not offering a direct link because it's not on a public domain type site and I feel weird linking a personal blog.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 11:52 AM on September 23, 2021

Best answer: Immediately came to mind:
William Carlos Williams, especially This is Just to Say
Langson Hughes, especially Harlem
Elizabeth Bishop, especially One Art
Robert Frost, especially The Road Not Taken
Gwendolyn Brooks , especially We Real Cool
Mary Oliver, especially Wild Geese
Amanda Gorman, especially The Hill We Climb
posted by nkknkk at 2:04 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite poets in elementary school. You'd have to read them for level since they vary a lot in language and length and complexity.
posted by kathrynm at 5:25 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: * "If", Rudyard Kipling
* "Chicago", Carl Sandburg
posted by NotLost at 7:49 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When my children were little I instituted a policy: everyone watches a movie together on Friday night, but the price of admission is reciting a poem. This was regarded as cruel and unreasonable, but they can all still recite a number of poems, and are happy to be able to do so.
The first one they learned was Jabberwocky. I don't know if this is completely wrong for an ESL class, or perfect. A native English speaker can, in my experience, memorize the whole thing in about four readings. One of my children, now an adult, explained to me yesterday that the poem is about a kid finding that his father has an old vorpal sword in a pile of stuff in a closet, and he takes it and kills the jabberwock, something his father has been meaning to do for decades and has never quite got around to. This may be a comment on my parenting.
Xanadu is longer, harder to memorize, and incomplete, but it's very good. My eldest learned it as a teenager and says it's good for impressing girls at parties. Poetry is not useless.
Hillaire Belloc's Cautionary Verses are mostly very good, and funny because they're gruesome and ridiculous. Jim, Who Was Eaten By a Lion is a favorite.
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick is brief and very good.
Everyone likes Blake's The Tyger. In my opinion it's one of the best poems ever written.
The Rime of The Ancient Mariner is impossibly long, obscure, and difficult. I had a standing offer of $100 for any one of my kids who could recite it, flawlessly. One collected last summer, around a campfire. If a student needs a project, they might be interested. It has a few passages which are baked into our culture.
Ozymandias is brief and interesting. (It's notable that Percy Shelley's wife wrote Frankenstein.)
Yeats' The Second Coming is brief and chilling. it also contains one of those quotes which is wrongly attributed to a lot of other people:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I'm not a big fan of poetry which doesn't rhyme, but that, and Alan Ginsberg's Howl, are enough to make me eat my words, at least occasionally.
All my children liked Walter de le Mare's The Listeners.
Kipling gets a bad rap nowadays, for reasons not clear to me. I really like his poem Thomason, but the one everyone knows is Recessional. (It contains that notorious line, 'And lesser breeds without the law' which is often taken as an attack on one group or another, but was actually a stab at the Germans for some bit of aggression Kipling didn't like.)
Of course, if you're teaching English, the only native verse form is the limerick. If you have a class of teenagers they're likely to be popular, because it's considered improper to write ones which aren't either crude or overtly sexual.
I sat next to the duchess at tea,
And she asked, 'Do you fart when you pee?'
I replied with some wit,
'Do you belch when you shit?'
And felt I was one up on she.

That's the cleanest one I can think of. All my children know it, but their mother didn't know until they were older.
If you're looking for short poetry, Piet Hein wrote what he called Grooks, beginning when he was with the Danish resistance in WWII. The shortest one is three words, some are a bit longer. I bought the first five of his books with money I needed to eat, and then read poetry to my long-suffering friends while I ate their food. I have never regretted this.
Hein is notable in being one of the best poets writing in English when it wasn't his first language.
The problem with mirrors,
Is that you can't,
Either by hook or by crook,
Use them to see,
How you look when you aren't,
Looking to see how you look.

A lot of them are more serious than this, and with some you can't tell. It's worth finding the books, because his small, brilliant illustrations add a lot to the poems.
I'll add that it's worth having students memorize a poem. It's not difficult, and learning that is worth the trouble. Also poetry is fun to write. I once ran a poetry contest in an engineering company and some of the most unlikely people produced some very good work. Once they got over the idea that it had to be serious they were very enthusiastic.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 8:18 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the older group (13-15 year olds) - Dorothy Parker! (in the category of "funny" of course, not the "inspiring/uplifting"). Frustration, Oscar Wilde, (Slackers for something longer), etc.
Also the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. That would be in translation of course, but maybe more accessible because of that?
posted by Dotty at 5:57 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, this really notches my knowledge up ! This provides me with a very helpful list. Thanks again !
posted by nicolin at 2:33 AM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

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