How to use Poetry as an Aid to Pronunciation

Find or write poetry with homonymic end rhymes. Homonymic applies to words that sound the same but may have different spellings and different meanings, e.g. due and do. End rhymes are simply rhymes found at the ends of poetic lines.

As English speakers learn when we go to school, if not before, English is full of words that sound the same but mean different things, e.g. “blue” (a color) and “blew” (to blow air or make a sound). The language also possesses words that are spelled the same and have different meanings, e.g. “leg” may apply to the limb attached to your hip. But if you tell someone to shake a leg, you may not want him to wiggle his limb, instead you may want him to dance, or to hurry up.

When utilizing poetry as an aid to pronunciation, end rhymes set targets, that when reached, challenge students to articulate certain sounds. For example, if a poem is written in such a way that homonymic end rhymes are the only kinds of rhymes found at the ends of lines, a student, already acquainted with the word “do”, coming across the word “due” at the end of a subsequent line would know to pronounce the word “due” the same way as “do” despite the different spelling. For Example:

There was something I could not see
While looking toward the blue sea
So I ran down to the sea shore
Where I could see something for sure

Another method is to skip a line before adding the homonymic end rhyme rather than using couplets. This technique challenges the student to remember the sound of the former word in order to pronounce the latter. For Example:

As salty sweat pours
From his hands and neck
His wee tiny pores
Become gigantic

Although “inside” and “I eyed” are the intended end rhymes in the following verse, notice the accidental homonymic rhyme found in the last line. Unexpected rhyming challenges students to pay close attention to all words in the verses they study.

A lid I flipped
To peer inside
One pizza slice
Was all I eyed

Another technique is to use rhyming words in couplets that are not homonymic, but are still good examples of how English words often don’t look or sound the way you expect. Pairing rhymes continues the pronunciation tactic in that consecutive end rhyme sounds are still in effect as in the two following Examples:

Example 1

You can’t be late for school.
That’s an important rule
“Den-den it’s time you learn
Timeliness should be stern.”

Example 2

I told them I wanted to see
Just out of curiosity
How much I craved the pizza pie
Inside I felt like I could cry

It is helpful to have someone who knows English read poems for students at the start of a pronunciation improvement quest. Students should listen closely to how an assistant pronounces each word. If necessary, students should take notes as to the assistant’s explanations of word meanings so that the student will be able to utilize the notes when practicing the poems alone.

While reading poems alone, particularly poems that have not been studied with an assistant, students should try to hear and emphasize line accents or rhythms. Focusing on poetic rhythms helps students grasp full meanings of poems. Grasping a poems’ full meaning can be helpful in understanding and pronouncing words. For instance; notice the pause reflex that occurs almost on its own when reading the following verse.

No pizza lay inside this box
Just saucy crumbs that looked like rocks
My cold fingers began to numb
I should’ve hurried to get some

In locating the rhythm of the above verse, students should discover the lines read as though they could be broken into two lines; which would make the verse eight lines instead of four. Placing emphasis on the middles as well as the beginnings and ends of each line challenges students to annunciate words correctly.

Although these techniques will go a long way assisting students in English word pronunciations, when working alone, students should have dictionaries handy to look up words they’re unable to figure out.