Monday, October 12, 2020

Haiku: A Path to Poetry for Young Writers

Most young children love poetry, but when it comes to writing poetry they are often overwhelmed by the demands of rhythm and rhyme. Sense suffers as kids scramble for rhyming words.

My Mom

I love my mom oh so much
I love her more than chocolate - Dutch!
She s me all the things I need
And I help her to weed.

Now this poem, written by a second grader, is not without its charms, but it contains a mixture of the profound and the mundane that is typical of a child stuck in the rhyme versus sense conundrum. Freeing children from the demands of rhyme allows them to tap into the natural poetry that is within them. Haiku provides a structured, but non-rhyming. poetic form with which nearly all children can be successful. 

Haiku is, of course, the short poetry form that originated in Japan. Literally translated haiku means "beginning poem" and indeed these little poems are an excellent starting point for young poets. 

Haiku attempts to capture a single moment or single image in the world of nature. A good haiku should capture an image in the way that a photograph freezes time. As the poet X. J. Kennedy says, "You just point to something and let it make the reader feel something, too."

Haiku consists of three lines containing seventeen syllables, five-seven-five respectively. Writers and translators of haiku do not adhere strictly to the syllable arrangement, but with young writers I believe the strict form provides a helpful framework. As children become more adept at haiku, the rules can be loosened.

Introducing Children to Haiku

First read lots of haiku to the children. I like to find books that provide illustrations or photographs so that I can show the students the image the author was attempting to capture. I have included a list of suggested books below.

Secondly, lay out the "rules of haiku" for children on an anchor chart. My chart contains the following:

1. Haiku attempts to capture a moment in time in nature.
2. Haiku attempts to help a reader see an image in the mind's eye.
3. Haiku attempts to make the reader feel something (happy, sad, amazed, calm, Ahah!)
4. The first line contains five syllables.
5. The second line contains seven syllables.
6. The third line contains five syllables.

Next, analyze a few haiku from the books you have read to the students. Discuss how the poem captures a moment in time in nature. Have the children clap and count the number of "beats" or syllables. Younger children sometimes have trouble clapping and counting at he same time, so I have them clap while I count. 

Now you can brainstorm with the children a list of words that might be found in a haiku and that might be a topic of a haiku. . The children will name many things that can be found in nature. I encourage them to use specific words (not just bird, but cardinal, not tree, but oak.)

You are now ready to model writing a haiku for the children. Using the list of words the children have brainstormed, I talk about the image I am going to try to capture in words. Without worrying too much about the syllable count, I put a tentative first line on the board. I encourage the children to look it over and make suggestions. This gives me the opportunity to show the children how we can manipulate the syllable count by adding or deleting words or choosing a different word with the same meaning. This procedure continues through the next two lines. When the first draft of the haiku is completed, I model revision behavior by reading over the piece and making changes that clarify the message and make the poem conform to the structure of haiku.

Finally it is time to have the children try their own haiku. I stand back and marvel as the classroom fills with the sounds of children clapping out syllables and conferring with each other. Generally I have the children do a rough draft, a revised copy, and an edited copy before they transfer the haiku to art paper and illustrate. Children's haiku can be bound into an impromptu big book for all to read or displayed prominently on a bulletin board.

Your students will no doubt amaze you with their facility for haiku. Here are a few written by my second graders in years past.

In a quiet lake
Where I visit everyday, 

I hear the birds sing.
            Krystal Tamayo

Blue rain falling down
Landing gentle in my hand.
So cold and so clear.    
               Jennifer Bergman

Juicy red apples
Sitting in the greenish tree.
All ready for me       
                Kristy Hajducek

Down the sunny path
Slither, slither goes the snake.
Everybody run!
                Anne Marie Schamper

Haiku Books

Atwood, A. (1977) Haiku -Vision. NY: Scribners.
__________. (1973) My Own Rhythm. NY: Scribners.
Cassedy, S. (1992). Red Dragon on My Shoulder. NY: Harper Collins.
Crews, N. and Wright, R. (2018). Seeing Into Tomorrow: Haiku by Richard Wright. Millbrook Press.
Lewis, R. and Keats, E.J. (1965) In a Spring Garden. NY: Dial Books.
Raczka, B. and Reynolds, P. (2018).  Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys. NY: HMH Books.
Ramirez-Christianson, E. and Gallup, T. (2019). My First Book of Haiku Poems. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle.
Salas, L. P. (2019). Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons. Millbrook Press.

Teacher Resources

Donegan, P. (2018). Write Your Own Haiku for Kids: Write Poetry in the Japanese Tradition. North Clarendon, VT.: Tuttle.
Hopkins, L.B. (1998). Pass the Poetry, Please! NY: Harper Trophy.
Kennedy, X.J. and Kennedy, D. (1999) Knock At A Star. Boston: Little Brown.

This post is revised from an article that appeared in The Reading Instruction Journal.

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