Teaching Poetry, Week 3: Haiku – Srijanalaya
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    This is part 3 in a series of five workshops designed to be taught over a 5-week period to children in grades 6-8 (see Week 1 and Week 2 for the first two parts).

    Goals for this week's workshop include:

    • Building on the students' creativity and confidence

    • Building students' poetic vocabulary

    • Introducing them to a more familiar and traditional form of poetry: haiku

      • learning about structure in poetry

      • reviewing how to count syllables

    • Exploring ways of discussing natural elements in poetry

      • in particular, discussing differences between the four seasons (Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall)

    • Short and sweet! (short poems can be meaningful)


    Haiku: Part 1


    Today's workshop begins with a debate.

    To set up the debate, split the class up into four even groups, and assign each group to one of the four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

    Give the students about 5 minutes to brainstorm reasons for why "their" season should be considered the best season of the year. Leading questions to help the students include:

    What is the temperature like during your season? The weather? What kinds of activities can you do during that season? What kinds of foods can you eat? Are there any particular events or holidays during your season?

    After the brainstorming, each group should present their arguments. You may choose to write them on the board in shorthand as a reminder to the other teams what has been said.

    Each team has no more than 2 minutes. After all four teams have gone, allow them to respond to the others' arguments. They are now allowed to give reasons for why the other seasons ARE NOT the best season of the year.

    Decide on the "winner" of the debate, and ask what the debate taught us about the seasons?
    For example: Each season has its merits... There are lots of ways to describe the seasons, and they each have many different qualities... certain activities are better to do during a certain season (i.e. playing in the snow)... etc.


    Continue with the lesson: Haiku

    Traditional haikus describe nature, and often they focus on a certain season.

    Write a couple of haikus on the board for the students to copy down. Below is a small selection of haikus, where each poem reflects on a different season:

    Over the wintry

    forest, winds howl in rage

    with no leaves to blow.

    (Natsume Soseki)

    In nooks and corners

    Cold remains

    Flowers of the plum

    (Yosa Buson)

    Mosquito at my ear -

    does he think

    I'm deaf?

    (Kobayashi Issa)

    No one travels

    Along this way but I,

    This autumn evening.

    (Matsuo Basho)

    (For more haiku examples, see: http://www.haiku-poetry.org/famous-haiku.html)


    First: silent reading! Students read the poems to themselves, especially as other students finish writing them down. Read them once, twice, three times, slowly. Circle any words that have to do with the seasons.

    Second: read the poems aloud to your partner and discuss anything you might not understand.

    Third: have volunteers read the poems aloud to the class, making sure they emphasize the rhythm of each line, pausing noticeably at line breaks. For the purpose of becoming more comfortable with reading poetry aloud, the more dramatic, the better (pauses at the end of each line are highly encouraged).



    As a class, discuss how each poem reflects on one of the seasons. What are the words that indicate the season? Because the poems are so small, each word is really important. Why would the poet have chosen these words in particular?

    After discussing the content, review syllables, and how to count them.

    Start by making a beat ("1, 2, 3, 4...") using clapping if necessary. Like music, poetry has a rhythm (see our poetry terms sheet for more information).

    Syllables are like the beats in a song. Read one of the haikus, clapping along with each syllable.

    Do this one more time, this time stopping after each line: how many beats, or syllables, did the line have? Write numbers above each syllable on the board, and have students do the same, so that they can learn how to do this on their own.


    For example:                1   2   3   4    5

    Over the wintry

    1    2  *  3       4    5    6

    forest, winds howl in rage

    1      2      3      4    5 

    with no leaves to blow.

    *the second line actually has 7 beats due to the comma. But there are only 6 syllables. So, the poem does more or less follow the traditional 5-7-5 syllable pattern adapted from traditional Japanese haiku.

    On your own:

    Students will now do the same with the other three haikus, counting the syllables and determining whether they follow a pattern, if any. For example, 5-7-5 is an A-B-A pattern, while 5-5-7 would be A-A-B.

    Students then compare with their partners, sounding out each syllable (or clapping along) to check.


    Haiku: Part 2


    What did we learn about haikus in the previous lesson? Brainstorm and discuss with partners about haikus. After about two minutes, review haiku as a class. What is it? What is usually the theme?

    Review counting syllables; the beat within the word! Listen for vowel sounds.

    Review the pattern: traditional Japanese haiku is usually 5-7-5, but this is more uncommon in English. This is an ABA pattern. Discuss other patterns (ABB, AAB, ABC with lines of varying lengths).



    Students now pick a season they particularly enjoy, and brainstorm a list of as many words as possible that have to do with that season and/or describe it. This includes: adjectives, nouns, objects, activities, food, etc.

    For example: winter = December, January, February, cold, frigid, snow, snowman, snowball fight, tea, coffee, fire, white, warm clothes, sleep.

    (for more seasonal descriptive words, see here).

    Next step: draw that season or something about the season particularly interesting. This can be a picture of an activity, a food, or a natural scene.


    Transform to a haiku:

    Students will now transform their brainstorm into a haiku by incorporating words they brainstormed into descriptive lines about their season. The lines can be any length at first.

    Although these poems are shorter, students should take their time and pick their words deliberately.

    When it's time to revise, students try to confine their poem to a specific pattern (ABA, for example) and syllable length. Encourage students to use new words and mix up the word/line order in order to fit the constraints. This can be a lot of fun if students are opening to really revising their own work.

    For example: With the list of words from above, we can create an initial haiku:


    frigid air blows (4)

    across a white landscape (6)

    as I sip tea by the fire (7)

    and after some revision, it becomes:


    frigid air blows across (6)

    a snow-covered landscape while (7)

    I sip tea by the fire (6)

    Not only does it now follow an ABA pattern, but the words have altered slightly, as well.


    Have students work silently for a while, but if all seem nearly finished, they should read their poems aloud to one another in small groups of about 3-4 students. After sharing, group members give feedback for more revision and editing.

    If time is left over, and students are comfortable, have them share their poems with the entire class!


    Additional Resources: