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How We Haiku — Teaching Stories 3

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 week’s column, “What Students Have to Say”, is a recounting of actual teaching experiences by longtime haiku advocate Tom Painting.

What Students Have to Say

My story is best told through the words of the junior high students with whom I have had the pleasure of working and sharing a love for haiku.

The key to becoming a haiku poet is to stop, look and listen. In the words of eighth grader Emma,

Haiku is like a sculpture; a piece of art. If you sculpt it carefully, you can make a thing of beauty. Haiku is a big part of my life. It has come to define poetry for me. It’s amazing how in such few words, you can express your thoughts and feelings. You can’t sit down and just write a haiku whenever you want to. In order to write haiku, you have to be observant in every day. I was taught to observe through the five senses in everyday life. This helped me not only write poetry, but enjoy life more.

Freshman Grace composed the following about her father when asked how she knew autumn was really here.

late autumn
his callused hands
feed the line

As a seventh grader, Liana had all of the pieces to her haiku, but it was not until she discovered the perfect verb that her poem achieved this splendid representation of childhood innocence:

a crack
in the parking lot
I tightrope to the car

It is often the artful juxtaposition of concrete images that make a good haiku, one that is able to delight and surprise. The trick is to show, not tell, and when the poet achieves this her or his words resonate with meaning.

Tenth grade student Olivia achieves a wonderful juxtaposition of concrete images:

autumn wind
the spool
feeding thread

Virtually all holidays and cultural traditions are represented in haiku. Addison composed this poem when he was in the eighth grade.

through the teeth
of the jack-o-lantern
the wind

Students are encouraged to be alert to human moments- both serious and humorous- where the essence of being human is revealed.

Abby captures one such moment here:

public library
the shy boy
wipes dust off a book

In the next haiku, freshman Danielle reveals inner growth and awareness through the subtlety she observes in her home life.

family dinner
the lights
too dim

Along the way, students read hundreds of haiku by accomplished haiku poets in order to discover “what works.” As confidence grows, students often feel compelled to experiment. There is plenty of room.

Eighth grade student Emma has this to say about haiku and the writing process:

I like watching a haiku form. The original idea may change throughout the revision process. After chipping away unnecessary words and switching around the lines I often find myself with a new version that may or may not look how I originally intended it to be. Since haiku are written with so few words it has made me think about each word in all of my writing. Sometimes haiku is written about the smallest and seemingly unimportant moments in life. Writing and reading haiku has made me seek out these moments and grasp their importance and elegance, to write about or just appreciate.

— Tom Painting

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hi Tom – Thanks for sharing your students’ reflections with us. I’m about ready to step into a creative writing circle with my students where we’ll be talking about and writing haiku. I plan to quote some of your students today!

  2. Thank you so much Tom. Wise and true words, helpful for all of us. Must be fun to be in your classroom. Wonder what happens to haiku poets as they grow up…,is that us?

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