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How We Haiku — Teaching Stories 5

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, “Three Haiku Picture Books to Use with Kids”, is from The Haiku Foundation’s co-chair of the Education Committee, Brad Bennett.

Three Haiku Picture Books to Use with Kids


As many teachers and parents know, one very effective means of instructing and inspiring kids is through the use of literature. Picture books in particular are very attractive to little kids and big kids alike. Teachers use picture books all the time as introductions to particular topics. So if you want to teach children about haiku and get them inspired to write, you may want to start with a haiku picture book. I have been very fortunate to be able to teach haiku to third and fourth graders for twenty years. Here are three books that I’ve used with my students that have been very effective.

The first, Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa, is written by Matthew Gollub and illustrated by Kazuko G. Stone (Lee and Low Books, 1998). Gollub tells the story of Issa’s life, accompanied by translations of thirty-three of Issa’s poems. Kids are very attracted to Issa’s poems because he often focuses on small creatures. They are also intrigued by the fact that Issa continued to write beautiful poems despite losing many loved ones during his lifetime. I use one passage in this book as a launch for a “Haiku Afternoon.” Gollub writes “despite the sadness that shadowed his life, [Issa] brought cheer to his many friends and inspiration to students. One night, during a party his students gave him, Issa composed a hundred haiku!” After reading and discussing the book, we hold our own class haiku writing party. Kids write inside and outside (with parent volunteers to help) and then we tape them the haiku on the walls of the classroom and celebrate by reading some of them aloud together.

Another book that kids love is If Not for the Cat, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Ted Rand (Greenwillow Books, 2004). Prelutsky, a former national Children’s Poet Laureate, uses the 5-7-5 structure for animal riddle haiku. I like to read each one aloud without showing the illustrations and the kids love to guess the animal to which it refers. Here’s one that reads well aloud: Boneless, translucent, / We undulate, undulate, / Gelatinously. This book inspires kids to write their own animal riddle haiku. It serves as a very useful entry into a quick and easy writing lesson.

While Prelutsky’s haiku are fun and effective and the kids love them, if we want kids to move away from the traditional 5-7-5 structure, we need to find books that feature English language haiku written in a more contemporary style. Edward J. Rielly’s Spring Rain Winter Snow (Shanti Arts Publishing, 2014) contains twenty-nine strong examples of contemporary haiku accompanied by lovely illustrations by Angelina Buonaiuto. I’ve used this book as a “master text” for kids to give them a sense of the kind of haiku that many of us write. Showing models of excellence is one of the most effective ways to inspire kids to write excellent haiku.

If you are interested in exploring other kids’ haiku picture books, you might want to take a look at my article “Children’s Haiku Picture Books: An Annotated Bibliography”. There you can learn more about these three books and many more.

—Brad Bennett

This Post Has One Comment

  1. This is very informative. I am a retired high school English teacher, but still do poetry workshops in April. Getting high school students to partake in haiku means having them engage in consciousness and test each sense in isolation . This is usually more effective outside the classroom – in the park or bush. Touch the bark , the grass , the snow, smell the air. Of course, feelings and memories, and learning ladders all come into consciousness . After they have written, they share if willing. Then a haiku anthology is created. Students may also illustrate their haiku.

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