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How We Haiku — Teaching Stories 1

Teaching and Learning Haiku in Community and Classroom: Stories, Challenges, Adventures

Do you teach haiku? In a classroom? An arts foundation? Community education? We want to hear about it. Want some new ideas? A place to vet an old idea before you try it “live”? Community support? How We Haiku — Teaching Stories is a monthly feature debuting today wherein we will share the many diverse and interesting ways you bring our favorite genre to your audience. Each month Brad Bennett and Jeannie Martin, co-chairs of The Haiku Foundation Education Committee, will host your stories of how you make haiku come alive for your students, and create an environment where educators can discuss the many challenges faced in bringing a fuller sense of haiku to a culture that knows little more than the stereotypes. Contact us to share your teaching stories, to ask your questions, and to find fellowship with your peers and the rest of the haiku community.

“We cannot teach a person directly, we can only facilitate his or her learning.”
— Carl Rogers

We welcome your comments (scroll down to the bottom of the page). And don’t forget about all the other fine education resources the Foundation has to offer.


Our first column, “Teaching Haiku in a Nursing Home”, comes from THF Education Co-Chair Jeannie Martin.

Teaching Haiku in a Nursing Home

As a sort of merger of my geriatric social work and my love of haiku, I have begun to bring haiku into nursing homes. This is daunting at best, but I love doing it and want to continue through increasing my haiku teaching skills in this somewhat chaotic and not completely friendly atmosphere. Nursing home staff, as we know, are overworked, underpaid, and often not very appreciated by the higher ups. So the staff too have become potential recipients of haiku as they certainly need the calm and clarity that a good poem can render.

In addition, the nursing home environment is usually (but not always) based on the medical model so there is a definite sense of entering a hospital-like environment complete with heat, smell and winding, impersonal corridors.

Over the past few year I have worked out a model of teaching in a nursing home setting, and would love any comments or suggestions you may have:

I call ahead of course to remind the activities coordinator of my arrival, all the time acting quite positive and upbeat. I figure they are already skeptical (what is this haiku thing?) so I try to put on a positive tone — this will be fun!

When I arrive, I make sure that the residents are seated in a circle. I set up my flip chart and easel, find my markers, and make sure my prompts are ready to go. I also work on modulating my voice as I have to speak loudly for those with hearing loss, but do not want to sound like I am yelling. I walk around the circle and personally greet each person.

Usually we have about an hour.

I begin by briefly introducing myself and haiku, and what we will be covering during our time together. I remind myself that most of the people in the room are in the present moment, and that we are doing something that evokes beauty and memory and makes the day a better day for them.

We then go around and I ask each person to share one thing about the present season that they enjoy. I do not ask names, as this can be uncomfortable. Name are not important.

I pass around prompts to evoke memory and images they enjoy and are drawn to. Examples are flowers, seashells, stones, and other items. Sometimes I also bring in photographs of nature scenes, taken from old calendars.

Then I with my newsprint put up a few easy to understand and hopefully appealing haiku. We read these together and from there create group poems that I write down on the newsprint. As we write these poems together I ask for stories or recollections based on the poems. These are usually seasonal: trips to the beach, customs during holidays, favorite places they have known and treasured. As we end the session I write each poem on a 8½ x 11 inch sheet of paper to give to the activities director to post or to put in the nursing home newsletter. It is my hope that these poems will find a home there, to be used for art projects, story telling, or other forms of expression. Sometimes that is true, and sometimes not, but I do find that haiku is something that the residents like, find delight in, and once again points to the deep engagement we all have with the natural world.

I have two questions:

How can I make this more meaningful and engaging?

How can I do this without exhausting myself?

— Jeannie Martin

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Great idea and great first story. I have taught the elderly as well and find they get even more excited than children! I look forward to reading more haiku teaching adventures!

    1. Hi Terri

      I agree! In what setting have you worked with elderly? They have so much to offer and are not afraid to say what they think. Hope I am like that when I am older…

      thanks for being in touch


  2. Thank you all for this new feature, and for this insightful post to kick it off. Jeannie Martin, your generosity shines through your story.

    I enjoy sharing haiku with students and always delight in what they come up with. I’m about to hit the road this afternoon to do so with third graders as part of a more general school visit tomorrow. Looking forward to the wisdom shared here!

    1. Thank you for commenting, Robyn. I thoroughly enjoy the haiku that third graders and other young children can produce. They are still so full of wonder and awe that they are natural haijin. Anybody else teaching haiku to kids?


    2. would love to hear how it went – take care and enjoy these teaching moments


  3. Thank you to Brad Bennett and Jeannie Martin for serving as the Education co-chairs at The Haiku Foundation.

    Jeannie, I spent a lot of time in two nursing homes in Wisconsin, as my mother’s daughter and then as a volunteer with a church. My mother volunteered weekly for 11 years, at the home that cared for her during her last illness. Her service was remembered and honored. Both places had a good atmosphere, though I know settings can vary – and volunteers make a big difference!


    I look forward to learning more about your methods for teaching haiku, and I have your book, Clear Water (2013, Red Moon Publications).


    At first reading of this post, I see some things in common with the elementary lessons I wrote with Jim Kacian. The poems are mostly from Montage, and so would be age-appropriate for your students. Some of the lessons may work, or could be adapted, depending on the needs of the nursing home residents. The poems are a part of the lessons, as we wanted teachers to be able to print them (for free) and teach with their basic materials. I only mention in case they would be useful, save you some time. My career was in special education and the lessons have adaptations.


    I’m retired from teaching, and very much look forward to seeing how you, Brad, and Jim work with education at THF. I look forward to everyone’s stories.

    Many blessings, and thank you,

    1. Hi Ellen,

      Thanks for commenting. I think those lessons that you and Jim wrote are very useful for many populations.


    2. Thank you so much Ellen

      So great you are volunteering in nursing homes. They can vary a lot. So many residents do not have visitors. I find much of what I do depends on the mood and vagaries of the Activity Directors, and sometimes feel like I have to charm my way in… Once I am with the elders it is all fine. How about you?

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