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How We Haiku — Teaching Stories 11

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 wherein we will share the many diverse and interesting ways your 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.


This month Julie Warther, Midwest Regional Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America, tailors a teaching method to a unique circumstance.

Walking and Talking: A Fun Way to Teach and Learn Haiku

As every teacher knows, some of the best teachable moments don’t take place in a classroom. Although I’ve taught haiku lessons for various grade levels in the schools, led workshops at the public library and worked one-on-one in a mentoring capacity, I recently had a teaching experience that caught me by surprise. It occurred while giving tours of the Forest Haiku Walk, a path containing thirty haiku stones located on the grounds of The Inn at Honey Run in Millersburg, Ohio. I hadn’t planned to “teach,” but the situation lent itself naturally to just that. My first group consisted of my friends (none of which had a particular interest in haiku) and guests at the Inn (again, most of which had only a vague idea of what haiku was.) I thought I would lead the hike, read each haiku stone and answer questions as they came up (if they came up.) But each poem illustrated and provided an opportunity to discuss some aspect of haiku: brevity, objectivity, seasonality, line breaks, pivot lines, the use of lower case letters and minimal punctuation, synesthesia, juxtaposition of the two parts of the poem as well as between the poem and its surrounding. (For example, why did I choose to place this haiku in this location?)

The hike provided a natural and non-threatening environment to learn something new as we paused a short while to read the poem, then moved on, discussing as we went. Soon, others were offering observations and asking questions. Many times, just as visitors to the path thought they knew haiku, we would encounter a different way haiku can work. (An excellent time to mention that while haiku can be learned very quickly, poets will work a lifetime toward “mastery.”)

Obviously, not everyone has a haiku path. But the experience can easily be simulated. In the attached document, I created a page for each haiku on the Forest Haiku Walk (with permission from the poets). Now readers can create their own “haiku path.” Simply print the pages on cardstock, laminate if desired, and tape each one to a paint stirrer or dowel rod. Then place the stake in the ground along a prearranged nature path before leading a walk. (Remember to get permission from the landowner or park director first.) Afterwards, collect the signs to store for another use or recycle.

Of course, lesson plans can and should be adapted to meet your specific needs. Here are a few suggestions. Use your own poems in a path-like format in place of a traditional reading or book launching. Select and feature poems by a well-known haiku poet to discuss his/her particular style and contributions to haiku. Use this exercise as a culminating event to a unit on haiku by placing student-written haiku on the path and allowing each student to read their haiku to the group in turn.

And here are the poems:

the liquid notes
of a robin’s song
— Michele Root-Bernstein, East Lansing MI

nearly spring
the flick of a deer’s tail
at meadow’s edge
— Michele Root-Bernstein, East Lansing MI

first raindrop –
a ruffle of new mushrooms
circles the stump
— Sharon Hammer Baker, Findlay IH

bird songs
through the branches
a rainbow
— Joe McKeon, Strongsville OH

budding branch
the red-winged blackbird’s perch
— Jeanne Allison, St. Louis MO

sun after rain . . .
feather of a songbird
drifting from the tree
— Bill Pauly, Asbury IA

rising creek
the murmur of shifting rocks
in conversation
— Marsh Muirhead, Bemidji MN

resting beneath
last year’s leaves
spring salamander
— Ben Moeller-Gaa, St. Louis MO

You Are Here
a rising chorus
of tree frogs
— Christopher Patchel, Libertyville IL

midnight –
killdeer calling on the way
to the river
— Patti Niehoff, Cincinnati OH

early light
pulling fog
from the lake
— Jill Lange, Cleveland Heights OH

waiting for you
I find a turtle
in the clouds
— Phyllis Lee, Sebring OH

deep in the old growth
a downy woodpecker drums
to the warbler’s trill
— Charlotte Digregorio, Winnetka IL

wildflowers color
the hilltop meadows . .
open air art
— S.M. Kozubek, Chicago IL

summer sun
each spoonful
a taste of cayenne
— Marilyn Fleming, Pewaukee WI

plump blackberries
wet with rain
the whole family
— Randy Brooks, Decatur IL

church bells at dusk
how slowly the fireflies
— Chase Gagnon, Detroit MI

in moonlight
a spider web connects the stars
— Valorie Broadhurst Woerdehoff, Dubuque IA

maple leaves
in a stream
whispers of autumn
— Meik Blöttenberger, Hanover PA

morning hike
woodpeckers set
the pace
— Joe McKeon, Strongsville OH

autumn light
spider thread in the maple
changing color
— Tim Happel, Iowa City IA

against a rock
held by rushing water
a yellow leaf
— Donald Fulmer, Akron OH

autumn leaves
a flock of wood ducks
turning home
— Michele Root-Bernstein, East Lansing MI

autumn wind
the colors within
changing too
— Brent Goodman, Rhinelander WI

woodland walk
beyond our footfalls
. . . silence
— Amelia Cotter, Chicago IL

first snow
together we guess
where the path goes
— Melissa Allen, Madison WI

the dark
— Jo Balistreri, Genesee Depot WI

in an icicle –
a sky full of stars
— Julie Warther, Dover OH

heavy snow
the cardinal’s song
fades to white
— Steve Hodge, White Lake MI

finding our way
through falling snow
light from the Inn
— Brent Goodman, Rhinelander WI

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. How wonderful that you were open to joining an unplanned “teaching moment” to the invitation of a “haiku moment” – terrific post. And these poems are gorgeous.

    1. Thanks, Robyn! (Sorry for the slow response!) I tend to overplan, and sometimes supply way more information than an audience can take in. This was a great opportunity to mention just one aspect of haiku at each stone and allow the walk-time between stones for it to be absorbed.

  2. Thanks Julie
    I could picture your haiku stone walk as you told the story. Love that it began with friends and other guests at the inn, all who did not know much about haiku.
    I will try this sometime.

    1. Thanks Jeannie! Yes, it was a very receptive, teachable audience. Very fun! If you try it, let me know. I’d love to hear about your experience!

    1. Thanks, Ellen.
      Yes, placement was a major consideration when placing the stones and ordering the poems. Interesting to consider yet another component of these little poems and their big impact!

    1. Thanks, Charlotte! I can’t wait until you make it to Millersburg to see The Forest Haiku Walk in person!

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