Many teachers love the idea of teaching a haiku lesson because it can accomplish so many things at once. It’s a great way to build vocabulary, it reinforces what the students know about syllables, and it can serve as a marvelous introduction to poetry, image, and rhythm. Perhaps best of all, because haiku are so tiny, a student can create several in a single sitting, which is perfect for students with short attention spans and equally interesting to those who love to focus hard.
A great way to start a haiku lesson is with a discussion of what a syllable is. Some children seem to grasp this almost intuitively, while others find it nearly impossible. A trick to help drive the point home is to ask students to cup their chins with their palms and give them a multisyllabic word to say. Each time the chin drops is a syllable.
Next, ask the students to help brainstorm a huge list of words on the board. Make separate categories for one-syllable, two-syllable and three-syllable words. With older students, it’s fine for the haiku lesson to also include four- and five-syllable words. When the students have run out of words they remember, remind them to look around the room for words posted on the walls or inside their books for more ideas.
Now, show them that a haiku is permitted no more than five syllables in the first line, seven in the middle line, and five in the last line. You may have to remind them that this isn’t the same as five words, seven words, and five words. Create several haiku together, taking suggestions from several students for each haiku to get them all involved.
Here’s a tip that will help young writers understand that most successful haiku create images or pictures in the mind of the reader. Hand out photos clipped from magazines of a very wide range of things. A picture of a volcano, one of a pair of old lady’s shoes, and one of garbage spilling out of a dented trash can might each become the subject for a poem that is the result of your haiku lesson.
Haiku, originally a Japanese form of poetry, has infiltrated American poetry circles to the degree that it’s hard to find a poet who hasn’t written dozens of these charming gems. Traditionally, most haiku took nature as its setting and subject matter, using metaphor to simultaneously offer the beauty of the natural world and link it to a deeper meaning that revealed itself in the last line. While this fine point is beyond the ken of most elementary students, it is interesting just how often their own haiku creations reflect profound themes.