27 April 2006

Teaching Poetry: Lesson 4

The fourth graders and I traveled to Japan today. Well, not really. But, we worked with that classic poetic form from the land of the rising sun: haiku.

We returned to the oak grove circle and explored the concept of syllables. How do you count them? I had each of them clap their hands to the beat of their names. Three had monosyllabic names, most had disyllabic, a handful had trisyllabic, and one had a quadsyllabic name.

After establishing what syllables were and how to count them, we discussed Japan for awhile. We chatted about things that are signature to Japanese culture.

We heard about line drawings, sushi, and sumo wrestlers, before hitting on my segue. Martial Arts. I asked them what the first thing a sensei had a student do before beginning practice. Of course, most knew the answer: bow.

I hadn’t thought about that before I asked the question, but they were absolutely correct. So, I revised my question to inquire about the second thing. It took some cajoling, some working them into the word I sought: meditate. And, that’s exactly what we did.

Haiku is a meditation, a simple meditation that lends itself to poems about nature. Three lines of 5-7-5 syllabic construction.

Then I shared my online find with them. A single description about a burst of light through dark and foreboding trees. The teacher of this class read this to their students and had them write a haiku in response. Naturally, each of my pupils related to the different haikus the other class had written. One kid thought about heaven, so I read the one with the “halo of light”; another two were enamored with the dread of the trees, so I read the one that dripped with despair. And so on. Some even had haikus of their own in response to the online description, but I stopped them in their tracks, saving their creativity for the description I devised, a description more devoid of such leading adjectives.

I instructed them to all move to the grass below the trees, to lie on their backs and look into the sky through the branches, to breathe and clear their minds. I impressed on them the need for silence, shear and utter silence. And, I got it.

You lie on your back looking at the sky through the branches, when a crow swoops between you and the branches, something shiny in its beak.

I repeated the description several times. I repeated the structure of a haiku several times. Then I let them meditate on both, to write once the image solidified in their minds.

With this single exercise, they struggled. They had to work with a set form and it stumped those who shined with free verse. Some worked together to write one. Others used most of the words from my description. But one thing stuck out above all, the word “shiny.” Some kids saw it as gold, others as silver, another as a watch, and two as a coin. One student even told the others they were wrong, that the crow had something silver. I think this will become my starting point for next Tuesday’s lesson: word choice and its effect on the reader.


JacksonCountyNonprofits.org said...

I recently came across these two websites I thought you might be interested in:



Kyle Stich said...

Thanks for links, Robert.