Haiku Lessons With Feeling

Haiku, a form of Japanese poetry, can provide a way for students to tap into their creative abilities.

By Cathy Neushul


haiku writing lesson

Haiku writing may follow a basic formula, but the product can be beautiful and surprising. When students first see the standard haiku format, one line of seven syllables, the next five syllables, and the last seven syllables, they may think the lesson will be a cinch. But when they actually get down to writing haikus, they'll see it's not so easy to create images using just a few words. Creativity and imagination is a must when writing haikus.

The history of haiku writing may be the first thing you'd like to cover with your students.While there are several Japanese poets who became famous for their haikus, Basho is the most well known. Basho, who was born in 1644,  started writing haikus after years of soul searching, and trying to find a voice for his thoughts. It turned out that the haiku, with its simplicity, and serious tone, was perfect for Basho. Here is an example of one of his haikus which has been translated from Japanese to English, and, therefore, does not follow the standard syllable pattern:

               Ah, summer grasses! 
               All that remains 
               Of the warriors dreams.

When teaching students about haikus, you can give them the 17- syllable framework, but this is just a translation of the Japanese form. In Japanese, the haiku is formed using morae, which may be shorter than a syllable in English. Even with these differences in form, the spirit of the haiku is the same. This type of poetry is meant to express feelings, and evoke the five senses. Traditionally, they also depict a particular season. In Japanese haikus a kigo, or seasonal word, is included. If a student were describing winter, the words used might be snow, hail, or barren. In addition, there should be a moment in the poem in which it shifts from description to reflection - an epiphany of sorts. In Japanese haikus this is characterized by a "cutting word". In English haikus, the turning point is often signaled with punctuation.

I've included lessons below that offer a new take on the standard haiku lesson.

Can You Haiku: This lesson offers a detailed description of haikus, with links to helpful websites. This is a sort of one-stop-shop for an overview of haikus. It also gives a link to a publication that prints haikus in English.

A Journey to Japan Through Poetry: This lesson gives an overview of Japanese cultural, and several forms of poetry. While haikus are an important part of the lesson plans, there are many other interesting types of poetry covered. You may want to have your students write a tanka poem. This lesson plan would be a great way to start a unit on Japan.

How to Haiku: Poetry Reflecting the Feelings in Art: This lesson asks students to write a haiku after looking at a painting by Sotatsu, a Japanese artist. During the lesson, students learn about the format of haikus, and practice using descriptive language. They also draw a picture after they are done with their haiku. It provides a different way for students to generate haikus.

Oceans: A Fact Haiku: This is a lesson that uses the ocean as the subject of a haiku. It recommends playing a recording of ocean sounds to introduce the idea. I would also suggest using pictures of the ocean to spur descriptive thought.


Images and Sounds: City and Country: This lesson asks students to use works of art as an inspriation for their haikus. The works used are Franz Kline's painting called Orange Outline, and Richard Diebenkorn's Berkeley No. 8. There is also a link to an article about haiku writing.

Periodic Poetry: Who would have believed that the periodic table could inspire poetry? This lesson plan has students learn about the elements of the periodic table, and the haiku at the same time. If you want to use the haiku in a hybrid form, check out this lesson.

Writing Guide

Cathy resized 100x100 thumb

Cathy Neushul