This is just to say …

This post is inspired by Scott Thornbury and his post, P is for Poetry.  This is one of my favourite ways in to using poetry in the classroom. I’ve found it works with all kinds of classes, from A2 up, with teenagers or adults.  Here  is a ten step lesson plan for a whole lesson including eating, reading, writing and reciting.

1.        Ask the students to eat a small piece of something tasty (fruit, chocolate, biscuits, cake …) and write down five words – or phrases –  to describe the taste/texture experience.

If you want to try it out, choose a piece of fruit from your kitchen, or if you’re not at home and have no fruit to hand, why not choose one from the fruit bowl below? (Visualisation works well too if you don’t want to use an image). Pick it up, feel its weight and texture in your hand. Lift it to your face, smell it and then take a small bite.  Now write down five words or expressions that describe the experience.  (This exercise can work online too 😉 )

2.        In pairs or small groups the students compare and  explain what they’ve written.  If they chose or imagined a fruit, ask them why they chose that particular fruit. Then ask them to put the list aside for the moment.

3.        Give the students the jumbled up words of the three stanzas of the poem but don’t tell them what kind of text it is yet. Ask them to rewrite it as two sentences.

1 eaten have the icebox that I  plums were in  the

2 probably for you  which   were  breakfast   saving  and

3  delicious forgive  so  me   cold   they sweet  and so were

If you don’t know the poem you might want to try it out yourself.

4.        Check the word order and ask the students to identify the text type (the answer is written here in white, highlight it with your mouse to read it:  note left on the door of the fridge) and the identity of the writer and reader (husband to wife).  I sometimes give them the original text written out on post-it notes and ask the students where they’d stick them.

Here’s the original, with no punctuation:

I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold.

5.        In pairs students decide how they would punctuate the lines in the  note.  Compare with other pairs and pyramid to a whole class consensus.  Ask students to read the note out loud to check their punctuation and emphasis the relationship between punctuation/intonation and meaning.

6.        Explain that the note is actually a poem.  Give them the title , This is just to say … and ask the students to read the note aloud and decide where the line breaks would come in the poem version. If you want, you could  give them an outline (ie three verses – each with four lines) to help them.

7.        Students compare their versions with the poet’s and discuss any differences. They now practise reading the poem out loud. Ask them to notice in what way it is different from the note.

This is just to say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


And which

you were probably


for breakfast.


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold.


William Carlos Williams

8.        Ask the students to put away all copies of the poem and try to recall as much of it as they can. They should be pleasantly surprised!

9.        Now ask the students to look back at the words (and phrases) they wrote at the beginning of the lesson. Are any of them in the poem?   Ask them to substitute “plum” with their fruit/food  and to substitute the adjectives “delicious”, “sweet” and “cold” with their descriptions. Ask them to make any other changes they think might be necessary. Students then compare their new poems in pairs/groups/with the whole class. You can ask them to reformulate the poem as a thank you note, starting something like, This is just to say … thank you for the grapes …

10.  In the next lesson come back to the poem again. Ask the students to repeat one of the ordering activities from the previous lesson,  or prepare a “wrong” version of the poem and ask the students to spot the mistakes and discuss any differences in the meaning (e.g. “I ate” instead of “I have eaten”, “very sweet” instead of “so sweet”) or simply ask the students to write out the poem in pairs/groups from memory.

This entry was posted in thoughts on teaching, using literature in the ELT classroom and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to This is just to say …

  1. daniel says:

    Love it, Ceri. That’ll go down a treat, so to speak, with my older teens class. Thank you. Here’s a nice poetry activity for you now…
    Tell your students to write a new word they’ve learnt this week at the top of a piece of paper. Then, underneath, they write 2 words to describe it. Under these, they write a question about it. Under this, the answer. Finally, they write the word again.
    They are then told it’s a poem (like your activity, it’s crucial not to use the ‘p’ word till it’s no longer scarey!) and they can read them out, stick them on the wall… or on their fridges at home! Here’s one…

    donkey, target
    Who has got a donkey called Bullseye?

    Strangely memorable.

  2. Training ELTeachers says:

    Interesting post Ceri. My own use of poems is rather limited but the length and shape of this one reminded me of EE Cummings. Maybe the instant attraction from the point of view of ELT teaching is that Cummings used no punctuation so with the lack of interesting ways to teach punctuation – his poetry helps because students can try to punctuate it! Not sure if that’s disrespectful in the world of poetry – probably. But some of his poems include dialogues so students can read the poems aloud in pairs etc. My favourite being ‘may i feel said he’ which you can read at

    Probably wise to cut the last few lines thoug…. 🙂

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi John, nice to see you here 🙂
      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply! And thanks for the link. I love this one too, though I’ve never had the courage to use it in class … even without the last few lines 😉

  3. Hi Ceri

    I’ve made it interactive for you, so if you’ve got access to a computer in the classroom, or better still an interactive whiteboard, this could work really well.

    The Hide button allows you to hide the words so they can write it down from memory. In groups works best. First to finish, if you’ve got teenagers like Daniel has. When they start to struggle, say “OK, pen(cil)s down, 10 seconds, no writing, just read it…” Let them look for 10 seconds by clicking “Show” and then “Hide” again.

    Hope you get the chance to use it!


  4. Ceri Jones says:

    Hi David, and thanks for calling by to show case your language plants graphics. They look really nice but I don’t really think the hide and show function works in the unjumbling stage of the activity. The students need to see the words in order to process them – and in stage 8 (rewriting what they remember of the poem) my aim is simply for the students to remember what they can, with no prompts or spoonfeeding. Sorry if this sounds a bit dismissive, as I say, the graphics are great and I’m sure they work well in activities where a show and hide function is more appropriate.

  5. Thanks Ceri, will take note of this.

  6. Sorry, Ceri, I only just read this post.

    I think the fact that William Carlos Williams turns a simple note into poetry so effortlessly is what makes this work so well. I love the way you build up the task and get students to do so much with such a short text, untangling it, personalizing it and rewriting it.

    One other idea I had was asking the students if they ever leave notes like this in their own homes, for whom and what about? Could they transmit the basic message of this poem in half a dozen words? Which words would they include? Perhaps as an extension of step 9…?

    Anyway, just an idea – great stuff this!


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