Aim for the Heart: Using Haiku to Identify Theme
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Less can often be more—especially as students explore the theme of a work of literature through analytical writing. Writing haiku offers a student in the final draft stages of a paper an innovative way to determine if the paper says what he/she means it to say. Students can “lose their way” when writing analytical papers, resulting in wordy, tangled papers with the thesis obscured. To alleviate this problem, students create haiku that, in seventeen syllables, encapsulate the heart of the paper. Because of its brevity, haiku promotes clarity of thought. It further challenges students to work on focused revision.
The Haiku Society of America
This site offers a wealth of information on haiku, including samples of haiku and specific resources for teachers.
From Theory to Practice
Barbara Simons Smith describes how haiku can help enrich the study of literature. “Haiku deserves a fair shot in the language arts classroom. When it is introduced with care, haiku has the potential to become the virtual jack-of-all teaching tools. Haiku’s concise three-line framework can serve as a blueprint for introducing, identifying, and applying literary elements such as alliteration and symbolism. Those sweet 17 syllables can provide opportunity for students to practice old-fashioned, pencil, scratch-out revision in a short, manageable piece of writing. And best of all, when introduced in just the right way, students learn to love it!” Taken one step further, writing haiku helps students express theme clearly and concisely and, in the process, improves their own analytical writing.
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.
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
- 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
- Internet-connected computers or other devices for accessing the Haiku Poem Interactive or Haiku Mobile App
- Sample Haiku Sheet
- Teachers may want to share some samples of student written haiku. The No Way Out Sample Haiku, Compassion Sample Haiku, and Innocence Sample Haiku were created by individual students after reading three of J.D. Salinger’s war related stories from Nine Stories and writing a paper analyzing Salinger’s feelings about war, based on the three stories. The stories were “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” and “For Esme – With Love and Squalor.”
- Reflection Sheet
The Haiku Foundation describes itself as “a non-profit organization that archives and explores haiku in English” and offers resources for teaching about haiku.
This Web site offers background information on Jack Kerouac as a writer of haiku and includes a sampling of his haiku.
- This lesson assumes that students have been writing analytical papers based on a work(s) of literature. Such papers generally challenge students to examine a theme or central idea that the work expresses. This lesson is introduced when papers are in late draft stages. Here student samples are based on papers written about J.D. Salinger’sNine Stories; however the lesson can work effectively with any novel, short story, or play.
- Familiarize yourself with the ReadWriteThink Haiku Poem Interactive and Haiku Mobile App.
- Collect samples of traditional haiku and contemporary haiku to share with students.
- Make copies of the Sample Haiku Sheet, as well as the No Way Out Sample Haiku, Compassion Sample Haiku, and Innocence Sample Haiku sheets.
- Make copies of the Reflection Sheet, if applicable.
- review the structure and characteristics of haiku.
- compare and contrast traditional Japanese haiku with contemporary Western haiku.
- create haiku to reflect the central point/thesis of their analytical papers.
- practice focused revision.
- use technology to create artistic presentations of their haiku.
- experience the process approach to writing through the use of prewriting, response, revision, and publication.
- Direct students to come to class with a “close to final” rough draft. Ask students to take a few minutes in class to reread their drafts, marking key lines, phrases, and words that best articulate what they consider to be the central point of the paper.
- Ask students what they know about haiku. Review the structure of the haiku, which students will recognize as consisting of 17 syllables in lines of 5-7-5 syllables, and explain that this is a Western-world adaptation. Discuss the essential characteristics of haiku including the juxtaposition of two ideas, a sense of immediacy, a connection with nature, the use of sensory detail to capture a feeling, and the “aha moment.”
- Share with students examples of traditional and non-traditional haiku, including those on the Sample Haiku Sheet, as well as the No Way Out Sample Haiku, Compassion Sample Haiku, and Innocence Sample Haiku sheets. Students often enjoy haiku by Jack Kerouac, and this haiku allows them to see striking differences between Western haiku and traditional Japanese haiku. Ask students to reflect on these differences.
- Tell students that they will now create haiku that expresses the central point/thesis of their own papers. Tell them that they must adhere to the 5-7-5 syllable format and that the poem should have a particular moment of impact. Explain that because this is a non-traditional haiku, it does not have to make reference to nature. Emphasize that the content of the haiku should express the thesis of the paper.
- Introduce students to ReadWriteThink’s Haiku Poem Interactive. Walk students through the brainstorming and composing portions of the interactive; save the design feature for the final draft of the haiku. Give students ten to twelve minutes to individually create a first draft of a haiku that expresses the central theme/thesis of the student’s analytical paper. Students can also access this interactive through the Haiku Mobile App.
- When students have completed their first drafts, ask for three or four volunteers to share their haiku with the entire class. Encourage the class to function as a response group, offering feedback to the writers. Guide students to focus first on the content of the haiku, reflecting back to the writer what they understand as the thesis and how it might be developed in the analytical paper. Ask them to also offer suggestions for possible changes in phrasing, word choice, and so forth, in order to strengthen the power of the haiku.
- Direct all students to then work in small response groups of 3-4 people in order to receive feedback on their haiku. Circulate around the room, encouraging both positive feedback and constructive suggestions for revision. Tell students to also pay particular attention to the connection between the thesis of the paper and the idea expressed in the haiku.
- For homework, ask students to revise their haiku. Suggest that some students may want to start from scratch if necessary. Encourage students to use the haiku as a way to continue to assess the expression of their paper’s central point and to revise the paper accordingly. Tell students to bring all revised work to the next class session. If students are not able to access the RWT interactives at home, revision work can easily be done on paper.
- Ask students to again meet in response groups to share their revisions and to make all final changes to the haiku. Remind students that at this stage writers and responders need to be looking at each word of the haiku to be sure that each word is the best possible choice.
- Allow students time to access the design feature of the Haiku Poem Interactive and to customize their poems. Some students might also decide to create their own artwork by hand. Display printed copies of the haiku in the classroom.
- Conduct a “circle read around” where each student, one after another, reads his/her haiku. This allows students the opportunity to share their work and offers an overall review of the literature.
- Use the haiku activity as a small group activity to get students talking about broader ideas and concepts. For example, students studying a particular period of literature and/or group of writers (such as the Romantic poets, the Transcendentalists, or the Minimalists) can write group haiku that characterizes that time and style of work.
- In a social studies classroom, students can write haiku to describe a particular time period.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- The teacher can choose to grade the haiku as a complete writing assignment; however, because of its brevity, this can be a somewhat difficult task. A better approach is to instruct students to include the haiku with the final completed analytical paper and to consider it a portion of the overall grade.
- Students can assess their own work and learning by completing the Reflection Sheet that they hand in with the final paper. The Reflection Sheet includes questions that make the writer think about the strengths and weaknesses of the piece and the process that led to its creation. The haiku can be part of this reflection with the student discussing how the writing of the haiku contributed to the development of the paper.