The present article promotes the use of poetry in L2 education as a tool for reading comprehension and expansion of language skills via cultural contexts. It analyzes the experiences of first- and second-year university students in Japan – their new roles, responsibilities, and the difficulties faced as they progress into higher education – and how meaningful representation of their challenges can be found in poetry typically written for a very young audience, with a particular focus on Shel Silverstein. The child characters that Silverstein writes about express a great deal of misunderstandings and misgivings which is analogous to the experiences young adult students face. In conjunction with the analysis of viewpoint characters in children’s poetry, the present study argues that the stylistics of Silverstein’s writing provides the additional benefit of exposing language learners to otherwise unfamiliar and often untaught expressions, idioms, and dialect. The paper concludes with an evaluation of student comprehension as well as their ability to apply interpretive pressure to the texts based upon skills practiced throughout instructor-led close readings. A note on student feedback to the texts is then provided alongside considerations for future implementation and where adjustments may be warranted for students across other cultural or linguistic backgrounds.
Rocky A. Burton is an adjunct professor for Toyo University and Tokyo University of Science among others. He is a regular presenter and participant at international conferences and the Japan Association for Language Teachers. He specializes in language education, academic & creative writing, and literacy comprehension. His writing about poetry literacy and other cultural issues have so far appeared mostly in small university journals but has been rapidly increasing in volume. He lives in Tokyo, Japan with his wife and two cats.