Creativity in the Foreign Language Classroom – Ballads

August 25, 2017 karinawp No comments exist

Thinking about how to inject some creativity into my language classroom, last week I attended a poetry workshop with the Barking Foxes Poetry Stanza in east London. The theme was ballads, which was a new term for me.

Ballad Definition

A ballad is a poem that is typically arranged in quatrains (four poetic lines) with the rhyme scheme ABAB.

Ballads are usually narrative, which means they tell a story.

Ballads began as folk songs, becoming popular during the Romantic movement of poetry in the late 18th century and continue to be used today in modern music.

The rhythm of each line is usually iambic, which means it has one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. In ballads, there are usually eight or six syllables in a line.

For example, da DA da DA da DA da DA (four stressed and four STRESSED syllables)

Because the ballad was originally set to music, some ballads have a refrain, or a repeated chorus, just like a song does.

Ballad Example

One famous ballad is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was written in 1797 and is the story of a sailor who has returned from a long voyage.

Watch the video and feel the rhythm of the story.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner begins with the sailor telling his story to a stranger, called the Wedding-Guest, who is on his way to a wedding. Let’s look at what the sailor says:

The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Ballad Questions

Were you paying attention to the definition of a ballad?!

OK. Read the two paragraphs above again and don’t worry too much about understanding all the words.  Just focus on what you do understand.

Question 1: What is the sailor talking about in the first stanza?

Question 2: What is the sailor talking about in the second stanza?

Question 3: What type of story is this?

Question 4: How is the poem arranged?

Question 5: What is the rhyme scheme?

(*Answers at the bottom of the post.)

Ballad Activity

In the workshop we read the beginning of a ballad by W H Auden called Victor:

Victor was a little baby,
Into this world he came;
His father took him on his knee and said:
‘Don’t dishonour the family name.’

Victor looked up at his father
Looked up with big round eyes:
His father said; ‘Victor, my only son,
Don’t you ever ever tell lies.’

It was a frosty December
Victor was only eighteen,
But his figures were neat and his margins were straight
And his cuffs were always clean.

And the task was to carry on Victor’s story, trying to keep the ballad form.

This is what I came up with in five minutes (I arrived late!):

Listen to me read my ballad:

Can you hear the song-like quality of the ballad?

Ballad Challenge

Can you come up with your own quatrains to add to Victor’s story?

Do you think your students would enjoy learning about and writing musical ballads?

Give it a go!


P.S. If you are in London in September, why not check out ReadFest 2017 and/or Barking Foxes Poetry Stanza at ReadFest 2017 paying homage to their favourite poets.

P.P.S. If you are attracted by the idea of being creative in the classroom, or learning in a creative way, maybe you’d like to join my online creative writing course starting in September.


Photo by David Beale on Unsplash



Q1: In the first stanza, the sailor talks about how the ship set off and began its journey.

Q2: In the second stanza, it continues the journey as the sun sets and rises.

Q3: The sailor is telling us a story about what happened at sea, so this is a narrative.

Q4: The poem is also arranged in quatrains, which are four-lined stanzas.

Q5: The rhyme scheme is ABAB.

Adapted from

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