Transforming Haikus into FUN-kus

When I was a kid, I used to love playing with GO-Bots.  I mean, who wouldn’t love transforming a car or truck into a robot?  C’mon now.  They were so cool.  I thought for sure that they were going to be the biggest toy to hit the market since Legos.  Sadly, Transformers were released a year later, and put the kibosh on any success the GO-Bots might have seen.  While I did thoroughly enjoy Transformers, as they were much more complex in terms of their transformations, compared to the GO-Bots, I tend to be a sucker for things that come before.  My heart will always be with the fearless GO-Bots.

Like the GO-Bots did with a little human help, I did a little transforming of my own today in the sixth grade classroom.  You see, I have found over the years that students begin a lesson on Haiku poetry with a very fixed mindset.  They either love the Haiku form of poetry because it provides them with a clear format and equation for how to create one, or, they hate it because it’s too structured or confining.  Today was certainly no exception to that fact.  As we began discussing Haikus, I heard some groans and saw a few sad faces.  The boys were upset that they would have to craft boring and challenging Haiku poems today in class.  As the lesson progressed, however, the atmosphere in the classroom seemed to be transforming.

Here’s a little play-by-play of the major highlights from today’s lesson on Haiku poetry that helped my students to see Haikus in a new light.

  • As disengagement began to fill my classroom, I had the students examine three different examples of Haiku poetry as an active way for me to introduce the poetic form to the class.  I had student volunteers read each Haiku aloud before asking students to make observations and noticings.  What did you notice about these three Haikus?  What do they have in common?  The students noticed that Haikus have three lines, the second line is the longest, Haikus are focused on one topic or object that readers will be able to easily identify or relate to, and the meter is 5-7-5.  I was impressed that they were able to pick up on all of this just from simply studying some sample Haikus.  As they shared their noticings with the class, I added some footnotes in the form of questions: Does a Haiku have to contain exactly five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third?  Does it have to rhyme?  Can it be funny?  These questions allowed the students to begin to realize that what they thought was a constrictive form of poetry, is actually a bit more open and flexible.
  • As the students started to wrap their minds around the syllable requirement of a Haiku, I asked them why teachers often incorporate Haiku into a unit on poetry if it tends to be greatly disliked by the students.  The first young man I called upon said, “Word choice.”  Being able to choose the right word means that you must increase your vocabulary as you learn new synonyms and vocabulary words.  Learning to be selective with the words one uses in one’s writing, helps one grow and develop as a writer.  At this point, despite liking the Haiku form of poetry or not, the students started to see the relevance in why they should learn about this form of poetry.
  • After fielding the few questions posed by my students about Haiku poetry, I called on three volunteers, at random, to generate a class Haiku based on a topic suggested by another member of my class.  The topic was family.  The first student shared his opening line, “Family is a warm group,” which happened to be seven syllables in length instead of the suggested five.  So, I called on another student to revise the line, transforming it into a line containing only five syllables.  He subtracted the powerless words “is” and “a.”  The second student shared his brilliant line, which contained exactly seven syllables.  The final student had his line ready to go before I even called upon him.  His line formed the perfect closing to a wonderful poem on family.  The students seemed to really understand this form of poetry once we crafted a class Haiku.
  • The students had 12 minutes to begin crafting their own Haiku poems in class.  As they wrote, I walked around, observing the students.  I read their lines and provided them positive feedback on what they had constructed.  I was amazed with what they were writing.  More than anything, though, I was impressed by how engaged and excited they were during this process.  Every student began typing right away.  They seemed invested in crafting wonderful works of art.

By empowering my students to determine the format of a Haiku based on examples we read together as a class, they felt in control.  I wasn’t telling them how to write a Haiku.  Instead, I was asking them how to write a Haiku.  This turning of the tables, so to speak, provided the students with the ownership they needed to feel invested in the task of crafting three Haikus.  By also broadening the requirements of a Haiku, the students felt as though they had more options in how they could write their own Haikus.  I was no longer limiting them by saying, “Your first line MUST include only five syllables.”  I transformed this controlling language into something more engaging, “While I’d like you to work towards including only five syllables in the first line, if you can’t, for whatever reason, don’t worry about it.  The syllable formula is a suggestion and not a rule.  Take a risk, try new things, and if you mess up, keep persevering, looking for just the right word.”  The boys really liked this new explanation of the syllable count suggestion, as it provided them with options and flexibility.  Unlike how Billy Corgan felt in his epic song Bullet with Butterfly Wings, my students did not feel like “just a rat in a cage” as they crafted their Haikus in class today.  They felt empowered to take risks, choose words they like, and craft Haikus that spoke to who they are as individuals and not some confining format.  Transforming how I taught the Haiku form of poetry to my students today helped them to see the fun in writing short poems, much like I saw the fun and simplicity in playing with GO-Bots.  Changing one’s perspective can really have a powerful impact.

Perspective

Opening one’s mind

generates new perspective,

and changes the world.

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