Friday, January 16, 2015

Celebrating Bilingualism with Poetry

As I mentioned last week, January is when I kick off our full-time poetry unit in writing, which is loosely based around the book Love that Dog. (You can read more about Teaching Poetry with Love that Dog here.) One of the things I like to do to supplement the poems and ideas from that book is to encourage students to explore poetry in more than one language.

Students at our school have a choice between taking French or Spanish, so I love sharing The Keys to My Kingdom: a poem in three languages, as it retells the same poem in English, Spanish, and French. The repetitive format of this poem also provides a great scaffold for students who might be intimidated by the idea of writing a poem in another language.

The poem zooms down to a very intimate scale to answer the question of what are the keys to her kingdom, and then zooms back out again, echoing and reversing the first half of the poem. It is a also a wonderful poem for getting students to think about ideas and topics that are important to them that they could share in their poetry.

My favorite part about introducing and sharing this poem with students is the freedom and permission that it gives them to explore poetry in more than one language. Many of my students speak languages in addition to English at home, and they are often excited when they are asked to try writing poems in their native languages. I have had students write poems in Spanish, Japanese, French, Chinese, Russian, and more.

Here are two poems from students who used a similar format to The Keys to My Kingdom for structuring their bilingual poems.

A Poem in Spanish
Inspired by The Keys to my Kingdom

By: Anonymous

In Wisconsin there is a city.
En Wisconsin hay una ciudad.

In the city there is a school.
En la ciudad hay una escuela.

In the school there is a library.
En la escuela hay una biblioteca.

And in the library there is a girl.
Y en la biblioteca hay una chica.

The girl has a book.
La chica tiene un libro.

And in that book there is much education.
Y en el libro hay mucha educacion.

And in that book contains all her secrets.
Y el libro tiene muchos secretos.

A Poem in French
Inspired by The Keys to my Kingdom

By: Anonymous

Il y a un royaume.
Dans ce royaume il y a une école.
Dans cette école il y a une bibliothèque.
Dans cette bibliothèque il y a un livre.
Dans ce livre il y a une histoire
Attente être lire.

There is a kingdom.
In that kingdom there is a school.
In that school there is a library.
In that library, there is a book.
In that book, there is a story
Waiting to be read.

This week's Poetry Friday Roundup is being curated by Irene at Live Your Poem. See the whole list of hosts at Poetry Friday by Kitlitosphere.


  1. Wonderful addition that will enrich ESL classrooms.

    1. Thanks so much, Carol. I love that all students can participate, as our kids all are learning another language in school too.

  2. Nice! I love seeing all 3 languages together. Have you seen WATER ROLLS, WATER RISES el agua reuda, el agua sube by Pat Mora? I love that you incorporate this into your poetry unit. Happy Poetry Friday!

    1. Thanks, Irene, no I have not. I will definitely check that one out. And a happy Poetry Friday to you too!

  3. Yes, what a great activity to do with children who are or are working at becoming multilingual.

    1. Thanks, Liz. All our students take another language too, so everyone can participate and feel included.

  4. Yes, our two posts do, indeed "talk" to each other this week...but without prejudice or judgement!

  5. It's the first I'm hearing of bilingual poetry and it sounds and looks beautiful. :) I will be on the lookout for this title. I love the message of the poem too. :)

    1. Thanks! Me too, Myra. It's a wonderful poem about art/writing. I highly recommend checking out other bilingual poems too.


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