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Learning through poetry.

The US Embassy's Regional English Language Office organised a workshop for its Access Programme students in the kingdom to teach the dialect through poetry conducted by American specialist Dr Alison Koushki.

The five-day workshop, which was organised in cooperation with the American Cultural and Educational Centre in Juffair, offered 30 Bahraini students the opportunity to learn English by writing expressive poetry.

The White Magic Poetry workshop was led by Dr Alison, the founder and chair of REALL: Read English Actively for Language and Life who is a Senior Language Educator in American University of Kuwait's Intensive English Programme. Since 2010, she has taught reading, writing, listening and speaking in American University of Kuwait's Intensive English Programme where her students engage in novels and stories through drawing, painting, music, drama, and choreography.

She said: "The idea of conducting a workshop in Bahrain arose when Ms Khadija Al-Hayki from the Regional English Language Office in Bahrain attended my presentation at a conference in Kuwait on drama in language education.

"I tried to make my session lively by bringing costume items that the students had used on stage such as top hats and top coats with tails worn in their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performance along with tailor-made satin dresses from Pride and Prejudice."

During the workshop, each student had to write an easy, yet deeply meaningful poem about their identity and perform it to music of their choosing based on the poem This is Me, from A to Z, conceived by Deeatra Kaifosz.

Alison said: "She has a very simple, doable format which any student anywhere can manage immediately. The poem sheet lists all 26 letters of the alphabet down the left side of the page and students compose one line for each letter. Through a quick Google search, writers start by choosing one word for each line such as I Am A, adorable, and I Am B, Brave. However, students soon discover that they can't choose just any word, they must check the meaning in Arabic and English to be sure that word is true of them. "That required critical thinking about the word and the self, and this reflective process made the poem a profoundly meaningful adventure in self-discovery.

"Most of the students were in their late teens, an age at which self-knowledge can be pivotal to decisions coming up on the horizon of young adulthood, and transformative for the insights into the self that arise."

The A to Z Poem provided focused grammar practice and helped students practice adverb clauses using when, if, and because as they add conditions to the descriptors they have chosen for each letter. For example, I am brave when I face my fear of flying, the dentist, cats, or an emotional situation like leaving home.

In the research process, students gained practice in reading and writing and then on the day before the performance, students presented their poems in class.

Dr Alison added: "We remind students of the importance of imagery in Arabic poetry and that the same is true in any language. Crafting imagery in English takes sheer creativity and making it fit the rhythm and sound calls for critical thinking. Performing for an audience is where commitment enters the picture and we found that each and every student was able to summon that in themselves."

Dr Alison stated that the workshop was a startling success. She said: "Students found it very engaging and enjoyable as they eagerly listened to what their peers recited. Indeed, teaching English through poetry makes learning the language not only easy, but also a fun, profoundly meaningful, and unforgettable way to learn all four skills -- reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

"Writing poetry is a creative experience, especially if it is about oneself. This encourages students to search for words, similes, metaphors, rhymes, rhythm, and alliteration that reflect who they are.

"Thus, they delve into English with an eagle eye and critical thinking, looking for language that represents them."

All participants of the workshop received certificates and there were four prize categories to be given in two classes for most improved, best poem, best presentation and best overall.

The prize winner for best poem and best presentation combined was awarded to Kawther Ibrahim's A to Z heartfelt tribute to her mother. "It served as an example of the power of language to capture our hearts directly," added Dr Alison. "During Kawther's presentation, tears welled up in many an observer, tears of awe and joy."

Dr Alison, who would love to return to the kingdom, will be presenting the digital version of the A to Z poetry project with her colleague in Kuwait, Alaa Dehrab. Her next workshop in Bahrain will be based on that.

Dr Alison said: "With the world transferring human experience from live to digital as we speak, 2020 would be a perfect time to compare the two. Indeed, I would stage this workshop again and again in Bahrain considering its stunning benefits to students."

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 4, 2020
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