Using Acrostics for Oral Language Development

hip-hop-264396_640Acrostics are a staple activity for almost every teacher. Beginning with a feature word (often a first name), students come up with descriptors or related ideas that start with each letter of the feature word. If I were to make an acrostic of my name, it might look like this:

Applied Linguist
Really likes cats
Inspired by students
Sugar fiend

Often, this is as far as acrostic use goes in the classroom, perhaps supplemented by an illustration or extended by writing acrostics for classmates, as suggested in this post. They may be underutilized because they’re considered poetry in a prose-focused environment. But acrostics are useful for vocabulary development, rhythm awareness, and they lend themselves to collaborative oral language development.

Try this spin on acrostics in your classroom: Have students partner off, then brainstorm something that they both really like, whether an activity, food, song or game. Using that as the feature word, have them brainstorm how that thing or idea works, looks, sounds, smells, tastes, feels, or makes them feel. These will form the basis of the acrostic descriptors. As you monitor the pairs during their acrostic development, supplement them with vivid vocabulary in connection to their feature word, including onomatopoetic words, metaphors, and verbs or adjectives that move beyond high-frequency words. Such on-the-spot mini-lessons, during an activity in which students have a vested interest, mean that the instruction is more likely to stick.

Once the pairs have finished composing their acrostics, have them divide the acrostics up for recitation in front of the class. They might want to say the most important terms in unison, including the first and last term. Offer for students to use bongos or maracas if they want to use instruments, or allow them to deliver it in a spoken-word or rap style, since these forms of oration rely on rhythm in a unique way.

Without even using the term “poetry” once, your students will find themselves getting excited about creative expression using the acrostic. If they’re really into it, let groups of three or more students write an acrostic together, and host an “open-mic” night for the class, or encourage the students to perform in the school talent show. When students can share a bit of themselves and are doing the talking, there’s not much more a teacher could ask for!

Here’s a sample partner acrostic to share. Normal font indicates Partner 1, Italics indicates Partner 2, and bold text is in unison.

Hot and sweet
Out of the oven
Cold is good, too!
Lick the crumbs away
A single cookie isn’t enough
Ten-thousand cookies aren’t enough
Every flavor!
Cinnamon, Oatmeal, Peanut Butter, Fudge Chunk
How about my favorite?
I bet I can guess…
Please, just get me some milk!

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