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Writing Haikus

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(Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @SugarJo, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/)

I love writing Haikus in class! They are simple, fun and almost everyone can write a good haiku. They are also an interesting way of talking  about syllables and word stress. I have had success in using them from elementary to advanced students.

For those unfamiliar with the form, Haikus are traditional Japanese poems that consist of three lines. The first line has 5 syllables, the second 7 and the third 5. They are often concerned with nature (Haikus are much more complicated than this and there are lots of different ideas and rules about them but this is the simplest way to explain them when using in the EFL classroom!)

Aim: For students to write at least one haiku and to practise the pronunciation of it.

Level: A2+

1. Write the following two haikus on the board, but don’t tell your students what they are yet. You may need to teach some vocabulary, particularly icicles, spirals and chimney from the second haiku, I suggest simple drawings.

New life all around,

Birds singing, flowers blooming.

The Earth stirs again.

 

Icicles drop down,

Breath spirals like chimney smoke,

Chilly silence falls.

 

2. Ask the students what they think the two ‘poems’ have in common. They may come up with ideas such as: They are both 3 lines, they are both about weather/nature/seasons (you can ask them to identify the seasons: the first is spring, the second winter), they are both poems, they are both short, etc.

3. If nobody has noticed they both have the same syllable pattern, elicit this by reading the poems slowly and counting the syllables clearly on your fingers. Write the number of syllables next to the lines of the haikus.

4. Explain to the class that these are Haikus and talk to them about the background (as explained above). Elicit the other two seasons (summer and autumn) and write these on the board. Tell them that Haikus are often concerned with nature and elicit some other ideas of topics and write them in a list or brainstorm cloud on the board. Some ideas might be: animals, the sea, trees, plants, woods, rivers, mountains, etc.

5. Tell the class they are now going to write their own haiku and it must follow the following rules:

  • It must be three lines long
  • It must be 17 syllables in the pattern 5-7-5
  • It must be about nature (you don’t have to include this one if you think your class would rather write about another topic)

6. Monitor as the students write their haikus and help with counting syllables. If some students finish quickly ask them to write another haiku and wait until all the class has at least one before moving on the next step.

7. Divide the class into pairs and ask them to swap haikus and check that they are happy that their partner’s haiku follows the three rules.

8. Read the ‘spring’ haiku that is on the board to your students. When you have finished just read the first line. Ask them where the stress is on ‘around’ (the second syllable). If they are unsure say it with the stress on the first syllable and ask them if that is correct. Ask them where the stress is on ‘new’ and elicit that as it is only 1 syllable the stress is on this one syllable (ie. the whole word). Go through the haikus and mark the stresses on until you have something like this:

                              ●

New life all around,

           ●            ●                ●

Birds singing, flowers blooming.

                               ●

The Earth stirs again.

 

Icicles drop down,

              ●                  ●

Breath spirals like chimney smoke,

●          ●

Chilly silence falls.

9. Drill the haikus line by line with the class, concentrating on the word stresses. If your students are willing, ask for volunteers to read them to the class.

10. Ask the students to look at their own haikus (if they have written more than one they can choose their favourite) and to mark the word stresses on the words of more than 1 syllable. If they are unsure about where the stress is, they can use an English-English dictionary (paper or digital). Show how the stress is marked in by an apostrophe in the pronunciation.

11. When the students have finished marking the stresses, ask them to practice reading their haikus aloud to their partner. Monitor and check pronunciation and stress.

12. Ask each student to read their haiku to the class. You could ask the other class members to guess which the topic each one is about.

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