Last week I wrote about a lesson I did with two local elementary classes that began with a discussion of haiku. I thought I’d follow up today with a little more about haiku and teaching poetry.

I’ve probably already said this, but I’ll say it again: I think haiku are wonderful to share with students.

Because haiku focus on one particular haiku moment, they are wonderful for discussing and teaching close observation.

Because haiku try to give a reader an opportunity to experience the haiku moment directly, they are wonderful for discussing and teaching descriptive language and the value of using multiple senses in writing.

Because haiku are short, they are also wonderful for discussing and teaching word choice. It’s far less overwhelming to ask young writers to think carefully about a handful of words, than every word in a longer story or essay.

If you are looking for a book of haiku intended for children, you might take a look at H is for Haiku, a collection by Sydell Rosenberg, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America, illustrated by Sawsan Chilabi, and published by Penny Candy Books. The National Council of Teachers of English has selected the book as a 2019 Notable Poetry Book. Hurray! It is also a Cybils finalist in poetry. Double hurray!

The book begins with beautiful notes from both Syd and her daughter Amy Losak, who lead the project, describing what haiku do so well. Then page by page the book presents 26 haiku, one for each letter of the alphabet. Every one of them does exactly what Syd and Amy describe in their notes—they take a close look at a single resonant moment. The moments in this book will be of particular interest to children.

Here are a few of my favorites:

I love both of the poems on this spread. I can so clearly feel what it might be like to be in a car covered in snow—slightly dark and cold, but not too dark and not too cold, and there’s the doll ready to go, but the car is not, and where’s the child? In the house wondering where the doll is? Outside playing in the snow, momentarily forgetting about the doll? Just about rescue the doll or clean off the car and go on a jaunt?

In the facing haiku, I can hear the sound of the rain drops hitting the metal watering can perfectly. And how ironic that no one fills the watering can anymore, except the rain. And if it’s raining, who needs a watering can full of water?

I also love the bold, colorful graphic illustrations. Look at that doll’s face and her leg that isn’t bending quite right and the words in the raindrops that look like tears coming from the face in the sky. The images give the book a liveliness that works so well with poems that are observant snapshots of a moment.

This haiku immediately transports me to the bike. I am the girl plunging (what a fabulous word!) downhill! I can feel the petals and the wind and the slightly scary excitement of going fast.

What’s truly special about moments like these is both noticing them—noticing the doll on the backseat, the rusty watering can, the girl on a bike—and also noticing that you are noticing them. It’s that second step that’s essential for writing.

If you’re looking for ideas for sharing haiku with students, here are some activities that I have used:

Read Haiku: Read one aloud a couple of times. Have the students close their eyes: what do they see as you read? Look at two or three. How are they similar? Different?

Observe the Natural World: Go outside. Look closely at plants, animals, etc. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Take notes on observations.

Imagine the Natural World: If you can’t go outside, talk about what kind of day it is and what one might see on a day like this.

Write together: Begin with a first line that describes the day (a snowy morning, first warm day); use student observations to write the second and third lines.

Revise together: Are there any unnecessary words? Are there any words that could be more interesting?

Write individually or in pairs: Allow students to use the shared first line if they like.

Share: Make a seasonal bulletin board with all of the student haiku about the day.

For more ideas, here is an article from Teachers and Writers Magazine by Erika Luckert about using H is for Haiku in the classroom.

I hope I’ve been able to share a little of my haiku love with you.

For more Poetry Friday visit Laura Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

Last Friday I visited two elementary language arts classes at a local school in Washington, DC. I knew beforehand that the students had already done some work on haiku and had written winter animal haiku. I also knew that the teacher was hoping we could discuss poetic language and perhaps some other forms of poetry. With this in mind I planned our lesson.

We began with introductions. I said that I had heard they had been learning about haiku and asked them what they remembered learning. I said that I had also heard that they had been writing winter animal haiku and that I had brought my favorite winter animal haiku:

A bitter morning:
sparrows sitting together
without any necks

J. W. Hackett

Before I read it to them, I said that they could follow along while I read (I had it on a handout for them) or they could close their eyes while I read, if they liked. (When I have done this in the past, many students have said they really liked closing their eyes.) I read the poem slowly, twice. We talked about what bitter means, and I asked them what they noticed about the poem. One student asked why the sparrows didn’t have any necks. A few other students quickly hunched their shoulders to demonstrate. When I asked how they felt when I read the poem, some said cold.

Then, with heart-felt apologies to J. W. Hackett, I shared this with them (it was also on the handout):

A winter day:
birds sitting next to each other
hunching their shoulders

I said that I was trying to imagine what J. W. Hackett’s poem might have looked like when he first wrote it. (Again, my deepest apologies. Perhaps J. W. Hackett wrote truly impressive first drafts.) We then compared the two versions line by line and talked about how they were different. A student said that winter days can be warm or snowy or cold. We talked about how birds could mean any bird, but a sparrow is a specific little brown and gray bird. We talked about how the words bitter and sparrow are more interesting words than winter and bird. We talked about how the word “together” is more concise than “next to each other” and more emotional. For many of us “together” felt cozier and snugglier. We also talked about how the phrase “without any necks,” made us wonder what that meant, made us ask ourselves a question in our heads, and then think through the answer. Along the way the students noted that the syllable count in Hackett’s poem follows the 5/7/5 pattern and that mine does not. We clapped out syllables and talked about how some haiku follow the syllable pattern and some do not.

To pull it all together I said that J. W. Hackett’s haiku used more poetic language than my version. I wrote “Poetic Language” on the white board, and we made a list of what makes language more poetic. One student said, “This is like a list of what good poets do.” I quickly put that heading over mine. Underneath we wrote: “more specific, more feelings, and more interesting words.”

We then moved on to discussing another form of poetry, the “How to be…” or instruction poem. We read an instruction poem I had written, discussed it, identified any poetic language we could find, and then wrote a poem together. I chose the topic “Instructions for our Desks” before I arrived so we didn’t have to spend any time thinking about what to write about. My assumption was that everyone would have something to say about a desk and that it would be helpful to have  the desks right in front of us. Before we started writing, we brainstormed using guiding questions:

What does our ideal desk look like?
What do we do at our desks?
What do we want our desks to do?
What do we hope our desks won’t do?

After a lively discussion, I wrote “Instructions for our Desks” on the white board and solicited lines from the class. The students seemed to have lots of ideas about what to add. I left them with the idea that what they might do next is look at the language in the poem and see where it might be even more poetic.

Overall, I would say the workshops went well and the kids were engaged. It was interesting to see how different parts of the plan engaged different kids. I think it worked well to compare versions with and without poetic language. I also think it worked well to brainstorm before writing together.

Next time, I will definitely ask one of the other adults in the room to signal me when there’s 10 minutes left. I find it very challenging to be engaged with the students while also keeping track of the time!

I welcome all thoughts about my lesson, sharing poetry in schools, and especially collaborative writing with students.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.