“To Take the Road or Not to Take the Road… That is the question!” – Robert Frost Meets William Shakespeare

An old poetry album, opened on a table showing a poem written in calligraphy.
Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

Reading poetry is like taking a journey while listening to relaxing, inspiring, and melodious music. Poetry goes beyond mere words to communicate the innermost thoughts, feelings, and struggles mankind goes through. Reading and reflecting on poetry is a great medium for building deeper bonds with oneself and with others.

As ESL teachers, and therefore agents for change, we can benefit from reciting poetry in our classroom. Poems can be part of your lesson plans to illustrate a grammar point or start a class discussion.  For example, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, is a great model for practicing passive voice.  The class could move on from there to discuss the passivity of humans when confronted by “a road less traveled by” as in the last sentence of the last stanza:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

This is also a good topic for a class discussion about fear, courage, and the willingness to be different and explore the unknown. Another example is the famous “to be or not to be, that is the question” quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This poem is an indicator of how English has transformed as a language throughout history. For a contemporary reader learning English, much of the poem is hard to grasp, yet poems are the perfect form to illustrate the dynamics of English. When poems are recited in class, learners feel a sense of unity with one another, mainly because the motifs and themes of great poems have a universality that can be appreciated by all cultures.

However, poetry is not just about language. Poetry transcends both linguistic and cultural borders through its interpretive nature, and is capable of enchanting any reader with its creative use of the written word. Fortunately, the art of translation is at our disposal to bestow upon us the joy of poems written in a multitude of languages. For example, Rumi on Love has a formidable line which states “your task is not to seek love, but to merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” This quotation from Rumi can be useful for our classes in two specific ways:

  • First, it shows how translation allows us to enjoy other literature.
  • Second, it provides a good topic for free discussion sessions. The poet’s ideas about love and self-love can spark some great class discussions.

The role of poetry in the ESL classroom can be diverse. It touches students emotionally and intellectually. Students can use the lines to practice grammar and improve fluency, while also engaging their interpretive aptitude. This approach might sound a little unconventional and is often under-utilized in the classroom, but as Robert Frost might put it today, go for the road less travelled!

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2 thoughts on ““To Take the Road or Not to Take the Road… That is the question!” – Robert Frost Meets William Shakespeare

  1. I would add 2 additional points:

    1: Rhyme and Rhythm can give students opportunities to explore homophones, and differentiate between phonemes as applied in poetry and practised in speaking the poems. Prosody can also be used to demonstrate and “play” with intonation, stress, and speed, (fun).

    2: I have also used simple poetry, not very challenging lexically or intellectually. Still, they enjoy the physical “rhythm” and the wittiness of some. Having students create their own couplets is something many enjoy, rhyming and/or with rhythm – or not.

    1. Thank you for your ideas! They ‘re both helpful. Yes, a detailed look at rhyme and rhythm to set the scene for speaking! And your creative comment on stimulating the poetry spark in students. Yes, Why not!

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