Experiencing Haiku Through Mindfulness, Movement & Music

5 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Nine 50-minute sessions
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Through haiku, students learn to slow down and become mindful of their natural surroundings, enabling them to capture experiences vividly through description.  In this unit, students read and listen to examples of haiku, and learn about the history and structure behind this Japanese poetic form. They engage in both outdoor and classroom activities that encourage mindfulness and the exploration of sensory imagery. After writing, illustrating, and pairing their haiku with instrumental music, students collaborate with classmates in creating movements to their poems. The final project is a student compilation of choreographed haiku performances put to movement and music.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Matthew Cheney discusses that haiku is more about capturing sensory images and being mindful of our surroundings than it is about writing a three lined poem with a 5, 7, 5 syllable arrangement.  Additionally, bringing movement to daily classroom activities helps struggling writers and students who learn kinesthetically, connect to verbal and written language in a more meaningful way. Movement in the classroom also enhances creativity, attention, and mindfulness (Griss).

This lesson allows students to become "in touch" with their senses and open with their hearts, stumbling upon “haiku moments.”  As a result, their writing comes from a place that is more genuine and uninhibited rather than critical and censoring.   These moments of mindfulness help students create connections, as well as generate feelings of compassion and peace.

Further Reading

Griss, Susan.  “Creative Movement: A Physical Language for Learning,” Educational Leadership (February 1994).

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computer & Projector
  • Chart Paper or White Board
  • CD player
  • Construction Paper or Cardstock
  • Watercolors, Markers, Crayons, Colored Pencils
  • Clipboards for outdoor use
  • Sample haiku with illustrations (those referenced in this lesson come from Cool Melons Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa, Story and Haiku Translations by Matthew Gollub and Kazuko Stone [Lee & Low Books, 1998])
  • Optional: “Sharing the Seven Keys to Writing Haiku”: excerpt from Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids by Patricia Donegan



This site from poet Bruce Lansky offers tips for teaching and writing haiku, as well as some sample haiku he has written.

This Website gives more information on mindfulness and how it can be helpful to educators, including research on the benefits of mindfulness in schools.

This Website focuses on Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and his research on how students best learn.  It includes a brief biography of Howard Gardner and a summary of his research.

This Website covers the work of Susan Griss, an artist-in-residence and writer who is a strong proponent of teaching kinesthetically.  It includes some theory and practical ideas on how to incorporate kinesthetic activities into language arts, social studies, science, and math classes.

This Website offers a collection of haiku by one of its most celebrated writers, each paired with an illustration.  The site also includes biographical information on Basho and links to other collections of haiku.


  1. Read several different examples of haiku (Websites and resources included above).
  2. Become familiar with the Seven Keys to Writing Haiku from Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids, Haiku by Patricia Donegan or the Helpful Haiku Hints handout.
  3. Arrange for a nature walk field trip or use of outdoor/playground space.
  4. Create a wall chart of the student handout using either poster paper or create a chart on the computer that can be projected onto the wall.
  5. Experiment with moving your body to the meaning, sound, or emotion of certain words.  Remember that there is no right or wrong movement.  Movements are simply creative expressions of an individual's own interpretation of the words and phrases.
  6. Try the following exercises to become comfortable with a few movements.  It is not necessary to perform these movements in front of students, but to give them an idea of how one might choreograph movement to words, feel free to demonstrate movements as an example.  The students will be engaging in similar activities; therefore, it is recommended to become familiar with at least a few movements, so that you are prepared and confident in leading your students through some of the movement-related aspects of the unit.
    • Move your body to become or imitate the following nouns: tree, stone, rainbow, bird, tiger, joy, anger,     mountain.
    • Create different movements for the following adjectives: pretty, fluffy, soft, hard.
    • Create different movements for the following verbs: swaying, swirling, raining, blooming, soaring.
    • Create different movements for the following phrases: tree swaying, flower blooming, waterfall crashing, bird fluttering, raindrop dripping from a leaf.
  7. Have easy access to art supplies, computer, and CD player.
  8. Become familiar with the Haiku Poem Interactive and/or Haiku Poem App if students will be using one of these technologies in Session Six.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • understand the background and origin of haiku, and the different techniques and methods used in writing haiku.
  • practice mindfulness, and explore being in the present moment while on a nature walk.
  • develop their sensory descriptions by observing and recording sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch and emotion while on a nature walk.
  • learn to distinguish between different parts of speech and explore nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in a kinesthetic way.
  • collaborate with other students to put their illustrated haiku to movement and music.

Session One

  1. Generate a discussion on haiku by asking students what they think it is and what they think some of the characteristics and components of haiku are.  Students may respond by saying haiku is a poem written with a specified syllable pattern.  Explain to them that creating syllable patterns is only one way to write haiku, and that its structure is not all that defines it as a poem. Rather, its content and style matter as well.
  2. Based on other student responses, continue the discussion by briefly telling students about haiku, how it originated in Japan, and that it is a short poem that is meant to be created in the present moment by capturing the images, emotions, and experiences of being in nature.  Try to make comparisons between haiku and other forms of poetry, and ask students what their thoughts are about the use of words (Does a longer poem mean that it is better?  How can fewer words be more powerful than the use of many?).  Conclude the discussion by asking students what they already know about traditional Japanese culture, and then explain how haiku reflects different aspects of the culture.
  3. Distribute the Haiku Images handout and supply students with colored pencils or crayons.  Read three haiku aloud to students and then ask them to draw pictures, jot down any images, or thoughts and feelings associated with the poem.  Repeat for the second and third haiku.  (Suggested haiku inlclude "Lillies Blooming," "Horse in Field," and "Snow Falling" from The Life and Poems of Issa, Story and Haiku Translations, but other poems with illustrations work as well.)
  4. Ask students what they saw, heard, and felt, as they listened to the haiku.   Write down or project the five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) and emotion on the board  as a guide for discussion of what students experienced.  When students say they saw a horse or flowers blooming, you can follow up with more specific questions such as “What colors did you see?”  “Did you see anything else in addition to the lilies blooming?” “What sounds did you hear while the horse was in the field?”  “How did the snowflakes taste on your tongue?”  When responding, students will begin to refer to the senses written on the board, and notice which senses they used more than others.
  5. Students will have a variety of responses and interpretations of the poems.  Some students may even create stories based on the poems and explain why the skylark could be lonely or ask you if the horse has died because it is “motionless in a field.”
  6. Depending on the age level, some words may be unfamiliar.  This is a good opportunity to introduce vocabulary words such as skylark and lily.  If students ask for clarification, share what these words mean before they work on their illustrations or give them an opportunity to use their imaginations first and then explain these words after they complete their illustrations. Ask for volunteers to share their drawings /pictures of the three haiku.
  7. After students share their interpretations and ideas about the poems, show them the illustrations from the book, explaining that the illustrator perceived and interpreted the poems in a certain way.  Again, emphasize that there isn’t a right or wrong illustration of the poems, and that all student illustrations reflect individual understanding of the poems. Showing the illustrator’s pictures is just another interpretation of the three haiku read aloud.  (Optional: Students can save their own illustrations for later if they wish to write their own haiku to match their pictures.)
  8. Debrief the activity by asking students to summarize their experiences of using art to illustrate words, and reference the different senses that students used throughout the process.  (Which senses were stronger than others?  Why were you able to see, hear and feel more than just the words written in the poem?  For the same poem, why were all the illustrations you created different from each other? )
  9. Conclude the session with a brief mention of how words create pictures or images in indivdual's minds, and that not only are each person's mental images different from each other, but there are also different ways to capture our own mental images.   For example, in this session students transferred their thoughts and ideas about words into colorful illustrations.  In the next session, they will explore other ways to capture sensory imagery.

Session Two

  1. Ask students to recall some of the key points of haiku discussed in Session One.  Also engage students in a brief review of the five senses and emotion and a discussion on how the words in the three poems inspired them to draw pictures. Then transition to a discussion about movement and ask students how they think movement can reflect language as well.
  2. For instance, ask students: “How can body movement tell a story or relay an emotion?”  Students may want to respond to this question through example and by using their own bodies. They are likely to come up with their own examples of how body movement mirrors emotions or you can assist them by asking them to move in their seats to certain emotions.
  3. Ask students, while still seated, to move into a position of someone who is bored, and then shift to someone who just learns that they failed their math test, and finally move into a position where they cheer themselves up by eating an ice cream cone.”  Students will move in their seats in a variety of ways.  Connect the small movements they make to the idea that they are in fact telling a story through movement.
  4. Continue to guide students through a series of movement exercises.  Choose from the suggestions below, or make up phrases that students can experiment with.  Depending on the students and how familiar they are with movement in the classroom, consider establishing some parameters and prepare them by doing the following:
    • Model one of the movement exercises for the students,emphasizing that they are not acting out the words, but rather moving their bodies to the feelings and experiences that the words evoke.
    • Try a mirror activity as a warm-up to having students experiment with movement. A mirror activity is where two students face each other and one student leads in the movement while the other mirrors and follows the leader’s movements.  Playing music in the background, and explaining to students to move in slow motion so that their partner can easily follow them, will enhance the activity and experience.
    • Have students separate from each other and not face anyone or the front of the room when doing these exercises.  Also, have students understand where their designated “movement space” is so that they are clear on the space they can explore. Usually an imaginary box that allows students to take one step in each direction is a sufficient amount of space for students to explore without moving into the space of other students.  Encourage students to be quiet during the movement activities despite their natural urge to be verbally expressive and excitable when moving.
    • Use a bell or other signal to signify time for movement and exploration, and time for silence and attention to instructions.
    • If at any time a student is uncomfortable with movement, he or she should feel free to move out of the “movement space” and back to their seat or another area where they can still participate in the activity, but on a smaller scale or simply through drawing/sketching similar to Session One.
  5. Movement Exercises:
    • Use your body to become or imitate the following nouns: (tree, stone, rainbow, bird, tiger, joy, anger, mountain)
    • Create different movements for the following adjectives:(pretty, fluffy, soft, hard)
    • Create different movements for the following verbs: (swaying, swirling, raining, blooming, soaring)
    • Create different movements for the following phrases: (tree swaying, flower blooming, waterfall crashing, bird fluttering, raindrop dripping from a leaf) You can create your own phrases if you’d like or take words and phrases from the haiku shared in Session One.
    • For phrases, have the students first move to one word and then add movements to additional words.  For the example of “tree swaying”, say the word, “tree” first, and have students use their bodies to become the tree, and then add “tree swaying”. Students will create new movements as words are added and the meaning changes.
    • Once students practice enough and become comfortable with their own movements, re-read the haiku, "Lilies Blooming" or another poem.  Guide students in putting together movements to this haiku.
    • Optional: Play some instrumental music in the background while  the haiku are read aloud and students are moving.
  6. If students are comfortable, some of them may wish to share their movements in front of the class.  Rather than select one student to present at a time, groups of students can present at the same time while staying in their respective spaces.  This will allow the audience to view many performers at once, as well as take the pressure off all eyes on one student.
  7. Upon conclusion of the movement exercises, ask students what they thought about the activity and how it felt to move their own bodies to the sound of words.  Ask them how the experience of movement compared to the illustrations they created in Session One.  If you used instrumental music in this section, ask students how the music affected their movements:  “How was the movement to Lilies Blooming either similar or different to the drawings and sensory images shared in Session One?”
  8. Explain to students that drawing illustrations and moving their bodies to words are both forms of expression.  Transition students to a discussion of the history, content and structure of haiku by reading either Sharing the Seven Keys to Writing Haiku: excerpt from Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids, Haiku by Patricia Donegan or the Helpful Haiku Hints handout.
  9. Explain the different techniques used in writing haiku and share a variety of examples.  For more examples, see Helpful Haiku Hints.
  10. In class discussion, focus on the following questions:
    • Why is nature important to you?  What can we learn from nature?
    • What does it mean to slow down and notice things around you?
    • Why is it particularly important for us to slow down and notice what’s around us?  Why might this be difficult for us to do?
    • When do you feel most peaceful?  What are you doing?  When do you feel least peaceful?  What are you doing?
    • How does haiku reflect nature?  Why is it important to be “in the moment” or mindful when writing haiku?
  11. Share with students that they will be going on a nature walk in the next session so that they can “experience” haiku, and then eventually write their own.

Session Three

  1. Before going outside, give students a vague phrase such as “leaves falling,” “birds flying,” or “loud noise,” and ask them for ideas on how to better capture these images through language. For example, what color or shape are the leaves and how are they falling?  What kind of birds are flying overhead and where are they going?  What is the loud noise, and can you think of another adjective to replace the word, “loud”?
  2. Gather clipboards for students, and distribute the Nature Walk Sensory Brainstorm and Haiku Moments. Explain to students that when jotting down their experiences, they should try to use as many descriptive adjectives and adverbs as possible.  For touch and taste senses, encourage them to feel the bark of a tree or sit in the spikey green grass.  For the taste sense, you can ask students to use their imaginations, or they can place certain objects such as a blade of grass or leaf on their tongue.
  3. Since students have seen several examples of haiku in the previous sessions and have learned about the different ways in writing haiku (examples- using the breath, lines of short-long-short, or syllables of 5-7-5 or three lines with a total of 17 syllables), they should feel free to use their Haiku Moments handout and write their haiku in the moment if an idea comes to them while on the nature walk. Some students will write haiku on the spot while most will focus on writing words for the images experienced.  Therefore, writing a haiku on the Haiku Moment sheet should be optional at this point.
  4. While outside (before the nature walk), partner students up and play the Human Camera game, where one student is the photographer and another is the camera. The student who is the camera closes his/her eyes, and is led around by the photographer whose hands rest upon the shoulders of the student who is the camera.  The photographer leads the camera to different spots in a select area outdoors, and then gently moves the camera’s head either up, down, or sideways when ready to take a photo. The photographer will then say “click,” and the student who is the camera will open their eyes, and see what their partner wanted them to notice.
  5. Ask the photographers to lead their partners to three things in nature (one small, medium and large).
  6. After finding three things, the students switch roles and search for new things.
  7. Upon completion of the camera game, assemble students in a circle and ask them to share one thing that they saw in nature.
  8. For the second half of the session, ask students to grab their clipboards with their Nature Walk Sensory Brainstorm handout and the Haiku Moments sheet to complete while walking quietly around the designated area for approximately ten minutes.
  9. After the nature walk, debrief with students about their experience in nature.  What did they experience?  What did they notice?
  10. Ask students to bring their Nature Walk Sensory Brainstorm and Haiku Moments handouts to the next session. Mention that your assessment of their work on the Nature Walk Sensory Brainstorm and Haiku Moments sheets will be based upon completion and effort.

Session Four

  1. Engage students in a brief discussion about the nature walk and their experience in capturing the five senses and emotion.  Ask students if there were any senses that were either easier or more difficult to capture.  Students can refer to their Nature Walk Sensory Brainstorm and Haiku Moments sheets from Session Three.
  2. Create a sensory brainstorm wall chart or a blank chart on the computer, and project the image of the chart onto the wall.
  3. Have students refer to their Nature Walk Sensory Brainstorm sheet that they completed in Session Three and ask them either to use markers to help fill in the wall chart or to share their observations aloud so that they can be added to the chart on the computer.  See an example of the wall chart below.
    Sights Sounds Smells Touch Emotion
    Bird sitting in tree Buzzing bees Woodsy Wet grass Peaceful
    Puffy clouds in sky Wind blowing Perfume scent of flowers Bumpy sidewalk Sleepy
  4. After creating the wall chart and discussing some of the similarities and differences of each students’ experiences, begin a discussion on the power of descriptive language and imagery.  Circle or highlight a few of the examples on the wall chart that are particularly descriptive, especially words and phrases that may lend themselves easily to movement.
  5. Similar to the set-up of the movement exercises in Session Two, guide students through movement of the descriptive phrases circled or highlighted on the wall chart:
    • For example, have students move to the word bird.  Some students may just stand still depending on what their bird is doing.  Then add on the words “sitting in tree”.  Students will then experiment with this movement.  Then ask the students what the bird might do next—fly away, chirp, swoop down to the ground in search of food.
    • Depending on the ideas, select one idea and ask students to add that movement to their previous movements. For example: Bird sitting in tree, swoops down to the ground in search of food
    • Consider continuing to ask students more detailed questions about the bird, so that new movements will evolve, and that ultimately a spontaneous haiku will be created.
      Example: Bird sitting in tree
      Swoops down
      In search of food
  6. Repeat these steps so that students are effortlessly creating haiku and putting movements to them.

Session Five

  1. After experimenting with movement and creating several haiku, use the sensory brainstorm to create a class haiku together.  Students will give a variety of suggestions.  Emphasize the key elements of haiku: imagery, emotion, descriptive language, season word, and element of surprise.
  2. Post the finished class haiku on the wall or the class Website.  Ask for volunteers to illustrate the haiku if it is posted on the wall on poster paper.
  3. Distribute Writing Haiku: Assignment Directions and part one of the Writing Haiku Guide.  Students will practice writing four haiku in different variations.  The writing assignment focuses mostly on writing haiku using the breath, short-long-short, and having a kigo word and element of surprise at the end.  However, students can also write syllable haiku although counting syllables is not stressed in this exercise.
  4. Have students hand in their rough draft of haiku for teacher comments and suggestions.  On their rough draft paper, ask students to indicate with a star the two haiku that they like the best.
  5. In this exercise, assessment can be based on how well students followed the directions of the assignment.
  6. Explain to students that in the next session, they will be illustrating the two haiku that they indicated with a star, and then conferring with the teacher regarding content, style, and spelling.

Session Six

  1. Supply students with cardstock/construction paper, and watercolors, paints, markers, crayons or colored pencils.  Instruct students to begin working on illustrations for the two haiku that they indicated with a star on the rough draft paper they turned in at the end of the previous session.  Alternately, this session can be supported with the Haiku Poem Interactive or Haiku Poem App.
  2. While students are at their seats working on illustrations, confer with students individually on their haiku, showing them your comments and suggestions.
  3. After conferring, students should continue their illustrations and either handwrite or use the computer to type up their final draft poems with correct spelling and format.
  4. For homework, have students complete the second part of the Writing Haiku Guide, where students will finish their two haiku and illustrations, and then compose their own music or find instrumental music to accompany their poems.
  5. Mention to students that they should bring a copy of the instrumental music on a tape, CD, iPod or laptop.  In the next class, they will be sharing their haiku in small groups along with the instrumental music they have chosen.
  6. Students will be assessed on this assignment for completion and following directions.

Session Seven

  1. Students will read one of their two haiku in front of the class or in small groups, along with their selection of music playing in the background.  (If students share in small groups, they can use computers or extra CD players to play their music if needed).  Also, if they are sharing their haiku in groups, specify your expectations for listening and then respond to the presentations.  Refer to the Group Performance Rubric, for specifics to relay to your students.
  2. For a different effect, students can first read their poems aloud, then read them to the class showing their illustration, and then read them with their selection of music in the background.  In small groups or as whole class, debrief the experience of putting music to poetry.  Ask questions such as
    • How did the music affect the reading of the poem?
    • What images and emotions were conveyed through the poetry and music?
    • How did it feel to share your haiku in front of the class or in small groups?
  3. Focus most on the last bullet point, and engage students in a lengthier discussion about the experience of sharing poetry and working in groups.
  4. Explain to students that in the next session, they will be working in small groups to create a story of haiku using each group member’s haiku.

Session Eight

  1. Distribute the Haiku Groups: Checklist.
  2. Place students in small groups of three or four, and assign one student the role of Group Advisor. The Group Advisor will keep group members on task and focused, as well as ensure that the group follows the guidelines outlined on the Haiku Groups: Checklist.
  3. Students will read their haiku aloud, and then discuss similarities and differences between the poems. They will also share any patterns that they see in their group’s poems (for example, all poems focus on seasons) and then put all the haiku together in some kind of order or story format to create a “haiku series.”
  4. From the music selections shared, the group will then select the music that best fits their “haiku series.” The group can choose completely different music from their original selections if they like.
  5. Students should follow the guidelines on experimenting with putting movements to the words in the haiku.  The instructions are similar to the movement exercises in previous sessions.
  6. After discussion and some debate over which movements accurately reflect the image and mood conveyed by the poems, students will refine their movements and begin choreography of the final performance.
  7. Share with students beforehand how you will be evaluating on their performance.  Refer to the Group Performance Rubric.
  8. Optional: Students may want to practice their movements outside of class time or enhance their presentations with the use of props and costumes.

Session Nine

  1. Students continue refining movements and choreography for final the final performance.
  2. In the final performance, the group haiku or “haiku series” should be read aloud.  The group haiku should be memorized, and either recited by one student or alternate between performers.  Encourage all students to take part in the performance of the movements. However, if a student is uncomfortable with the movements, you may suggest they take on another role such as narrating poem, filming the performance, handling the music, or creating a backdrop for the performance.
  3. After the final performance, students should hand in their two final draft haiku with illustrations for evaluation.  See the Haiku Rubric for criteria.


  • Students can film the final performance and then create a DVD cover using the ReadWriteThink CD/DVD Cover Creator.
  • Students can scan their poems and illustrations into a PowerPoint as a backdrop to their movement performace.
  • Plan a field trip to visit a local Japanese Garden or teahouse and have students write and share haiku within the garden setting. Students can create a movie slideshow of their haiku by taking photos in the garden and then posting their haiku alongside the photos.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Assess the four rough draft haiku for complete/not complete
  • Using the Haiku Rubric, assess the two final haiku with Illustrations or following instructions, using descriptive language, and for using as many haiku elements in the final haiku.  For example, a student who uses a kigo and includes an element of surprise in the last line has used more haiku elements than a student who creates a haiku using syllables.
  • Assess the music to accompany haiku for complete/incomplete
  • Use the Group Performance Rubric to assess how well students work together and cooperate, the way in which they connect their haiku and create the “haiku series”, and the creativity of their final performance/movements, as well as any extensions or optional activities that their group may have done to enhance their presentation.
  • Use the Student Self-Evaluation of Group Performance to facilitate students' evaluation of themselves and reflection on their own process.

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