language learning

How Art, Poetry & Educational Technology inspire language learning.

Education & Technology

One of the most powerful things about poetry is that its message takes us beyond obvious thought into deeply-layered realms of multi-sensory possibility. Old, new, borrowed and blue ideas become revitalized as poetic imagery and perceptions play with the light of our minds. Timeless insights can explode into a multi-media style re-interpretation of language as learners engage with words through personalized experiments and creations.

I’ve always felt that we must appreciate timeless values in order to create anything meaningful for ourselves and our students. We often fall prey to the notion that being a tech-savvy teacher means championing technology for its own sake rather than for the creative potential it lends to learning environments.

The first time I found this timeless sentiment echoed back to me was in a ‘haiku’poem by Rakesh Bhanot:

“Sometimes you have to
be extremely old-fashioned to
be innovative”.

When I was asked to present at the ELT Digital Conference in Ireland[1], my instincts told me to take these insights further. I wanted to tell the story of timeless innovation from the early days of educational technology up to the present age. I also wanted to acknowledge the educational technology pioneers I had learned from. My presentation spans a timeline of development, experimentation & eclectic approaches to teaching which all culminate in student-led creativity.

Here’s the slideshow with relevant links.

I asked Rakesh Bhanot and Magdolna Terray if I could use their haikucards (see below) to use as stimuli for my workshop. Thankfully, they agreed and this workshop led teachers into using art & poetry as catalysts for brainstorming and applying teaching ideas to digital learning environments. The cards had imaginations flying high from the moment the workshop started.

Teachers at the workshop came up with lots of teaching ideas inspired by the cards and then we explored multi-media tools that would transform their coursebooks. We added our brainstorming ideas as sticky notes to the collaborative board called Linoit.
Here’s the link, followed by a summary of teaching ideas shared by participants in the workshop.


Ideas for teaching transforming courses through art, poetry & visual literacy.


1) Picture haikus

Use a topic to produce a picture, then see if they match or not. 

By Kieranne


2) Flopaiku

“I didn’t so much fall
as dive headlong into love,
before I could swim!”

Grammar perspective with so/such structure.

To practise structure ‘not so much as’ using new vocabulary ‘headlong’. What’s the difference between fall and dive? What other ways are there of falling? Discuss.

Introduce ‘headlong’ and say how this might change the meaning of fall. Talk about the what happens first – learning to swim or diving.

Then introduce the idea of falling in love and the notion of using metaphor as a tool for expressing some concepts.

By Mary Shepherd


3) Richaiku

“People spend their lives
trying to save money – but
money doesn’t save them”

Topic-based discussion on the value society puts on things as opposed to the value we personally put on things.

Ian brangan

4) Hushaiku

“Here is what to do.
Close thee book, unplug the phone.
turn off the silence.”

As discussion starter on mobile etiquette and/or mobile addiction.

Colette Godkin

5) C’est La Vie- Haiku

” Don’t lose any sleep-

all lovers make promises
that they cannot keep’

This is a haiku about love so it could be used as springboard to talk about Valentine’s day and then students could write short love letters to someone they like.  For higher levels students could also try to write a haiku about love. Initially students could brainstorm adjectives related to the topic of love and another appropriate vocabulary.

6) What I do Haiku

“Please leave me alone
I am busy translating
myself into words”

Students have 5 minutes to think of 10 words that describe how they’re feeling at that moment in time. Next, they read the What I Do Haiku. They then write a haiku about themselves using only the words they thought of at the beginning of the task.

Joanne Mitten

7) Dietaiku

“I have three haikus
for my breakfast;two for lunch
and one for dinner.”

To compare the apparent number of syllables in a phrase with the real pronounced rhythm.

Niall Brennan

8) Finelinehaiku

“Seen as opposites,
heaven and hell co-exist
and not far apart.”

As a discussion starter on feelings and opposite feelings – for lower levels, it might be a good idea to only use the pictures as some of the poems are quite difficult.

Tanja Arnhold

9) Prufrockaiku

Crumbs! darn! drat! shucks! yikes!
I’ve measured out my life with
the number of  “likes”

Discuss images/haikus separately, then use to match afterwards; develop vocab; analyse meaning.

10) Ski-fi Haiku

“We don’t ask for much:
just food, water, shelter and
playgrounds for our kids”

Use to talk about society and fundamental needs, and what is superfluous in life. Also discussion about what would life be like on another planet. If they moved to a different planet what 5 things would they bring with them to that planet if their fundamental needs are already meet.

Follow up can the students write a haiku about these things and how much they mean to the students themselves.

Terry Mc Gonigle

11) Therapeuticaiku

“When you feel listless
pick up pen and paper
and start making lists”

 Say why you sometimes feel tired. Make lists of future plans. Discuss/compare/agree.

Arms race/wars

 Why do you think the world might be destroyed?

 If we went to another planet what might be there?

Steve Paul


Here are somemore ideas from Rakesh.

Haikus in my classes appeared 30 years ago when I asked my students to write a haiku in order to give me feedback on my course. Subsequently, I started using them to introduce topics and themes in my classes and encouraging students to ‘have a go’ at writing haikus. I use them in various ways now. Here are some suggestions, with more to follow on the website.


1) Flash a haiku on a screen for 2 seconds and ask them what they remember and try to reconstruct as a group- a kind of group ‘dictation’.

2) Leave out random words as a gap fill exercise in a variety of ways.

3) Invite them to change adjectves or adverbs and suggest new ones.

4) Leave out a whole line and ask them to write it in their own words; write a new haiku to contradict the message given in the original. Think of a title for a given haiku, or show a title and ask what it might be about.

5) Draw their own doodle based on a given haiku.”


NB Technically, my haikus are not really haikus; they have the form of a haiku, viz. 5/7/5 syllables in each line BUT they do not conform to other criteria as stipulated by Japanese norms and conventions. Moreover, traditional haikus do not have weird titles. I try and play around with words and my haikus (sic.) often rely on puns and ideas rather than images. In addition, haikus do not have images that go with them; this was the ingenious idea of Magdy Terray who is responsible for the witty images that accompany my words. I simply came up with what I sometimes refer to as ‘heuristic pedagogic’ devices for creating discussion and interest in the classroom.





After this brainstorming session, we looked at various web tools that can help us create collaborative storytelling projects. This short presentation gives an idea of the kinds of things we explored and what types of course content or tests can be transformed and made more creative with the help of technology.

Here is a webmix of tools we explored created on Symbaloo.

I’m building two additional collections on Pearl Trees and listly – mainly as a way of sharing with colleagues and also as a way of demonstrating how these diverse curation tools work.

Here’s a collection I’m building as a virtual library on Pearl trees.

Here’s another collaborative curation tools called listly where I’m making edtech blog collections etc.

These are wonderful online spaces for saving tools and ideas. They all have their own characteristics, and a fuller description of these may be an inspiration for a future article. In the meantime, explore and see which ones fit you, your students and your school.

I have published an ebooklet to share more teaching ideas and more webtools to help teachers and students to be creative. I will paste links here to the ebook and expand upon some of these themes in future blog posts.


Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

1 thought on “How Art, Poetry & Educational Technology inspire language learning.

  1. Great post. Art and poetry can really help people learn language better, and featuring this on a modern presentation will make students more receptive to learning from something so old-fashioned. Utilizing online resource sharing can also make it easy for teachers to store and get their resources instantly wherever they are, and students will highly benefit from such a sound sharing structure.

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