Reprint ~ Nan
L. McDonald, Haiku: Active Learning with and Through the Arts
and the various forms of poems are often not identified by students
as a favorite genre.
may be many reasons for this, but certainly one
possibility is the way in which poetry is traditionally taught. Unfortunately,
haiku poetry is one of the poetic forms that is most vulnerable to rote
memorization and not active engagement. Many teachers may read aloud various
haiku in an expressive way; others ask the same of their students. The syllabic
construction of the three lines of Japanese haiku usually winds its way
into the discussion. In other classrooms, students may then write their
own haiku. Still, even with the best of intentions, we know that our students’ understanding
of haiku may be limited and less than memorable, to say the least. The question
becomes, “What can we do to make haiku come alive for our students?”
The arts (music, dance,
theatre, visual arts) can provide powerful avenues for students to actively
about haiku (McDonald & Fisher, 2002). When students
are asked to expressively read aloud, illustrate, dramatize, and creatively move
to poetic text, their learning is enhanced through personal interactions and
total body involvement with the text meanings at hand (Cox, 1992, 1998; Jacobs,
1989, 1997; Hancock, 2000; Lapp & Flood, 1992; McDonald & Fisher, 1999,
2002; Rosenblatt, 1978, 1995; Vygotsky, 1962, 1978). Simply put, students need
to be provided with opportunities to actively “do” and creatively
respond to haiku in order to understand its meaning.
The remainder of this
article will provide a three-stage curriculum model focused on haiku.
lesson activities are designed for use in fourth
eighth grade classrooms and may be taught within three or more consecutive
lessons. Connections to children’s literature about haiku poets and
poetry are included. Opportunities for small group/cooperative learning projects
and shared performances
are offered as well as resources and suggestions for further activities.
Background on Haiku
Japanese haiku offers
space for the reader’s own thoughts, interpretations,
and designs. Within the traditional form’s three non-rhyming lines of text
(and seventeen syllables), one can sense a season or setting—a
moment in which delicate outlines of action and reflection are offered
to the reader. Typically,
the action within a haiku seems to be unending or unresolved, leaving
the reader wondering about an outcome.
Episode #1: Setting the Scene: Haiku in Motion
Play a CD recording of traditional music of Japan. Slow-tempo music of
the koto (harp-like string instrument) and the shakuhachi (Japanese
the best musical background for focus, mood, and movement.
Students silently mirror
the very smooth and connected model movements of the teacher. Use very
arm movements (as if moving through
students to mirror. Then ask the students to find a partner and
decide who will lead first. Encourage students to mirror the leader exactly,
takes the movement to floor level or travels across the room. The
music continues. Stress that the movement be connected and slow,
as if underwater.
During their movements, give your class quiet cues (i.e., “Now
move in a low space,” “Move with your partner across
the room,” and “Change
to the other person as leader now.”)
As the music continues, show pictures of classic Japanese watercolor
paintings, watercolors with Japanese writing on them (poetry),
arrangements, Zen gardens, etc. Discuss the simplicity and beauty
of the designs. Explain
to your students that Japanese poets were often also artists
Keep the music playing. Next, model a selected traditional haiku
of a great master poet, Issa, from the book Cool Melons—Turn
to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa By Matthew Gollub
(Lee & Low, 1998). One poem you could use is:
Asleep on the ocean—
A folding fan
shades me from the moon.
The teacher models a selected haiku by Issa in three distinct ways:
1. Speaking only ~
Use highly expressive/dramatic speech that varies the tempo (speed and
(softs and louds) according to the feeling
and meaning of the haiku. Invite students to echo each line in the
style you model.
2. Dramatic speech
with movement ~ Repeat the haiku, but this time add simple movements to
the mood of the
For instance, “asleep” might
be a nodded head movement rested on its side within opened
cupped hands. “A
folding fan” may be a fan shape created with both
hands in an opening movement above the head and eyes. “Moon” might
be a change in movement to a whole body movement creating
a large round shape, etc. Invite the students
to try the movement sequence (line by line) with you
using expressive speech as they do so.
3. Movement only ~
Think the words, actually mouth the words if necessary, while performing
the students to
try the movement sequence with you.
Now create small (5-7
students) cooperative groups. Each group should be assigned a different
a 3-part model (see above).
Say to the students, “Read your haiku aloud together several times. Then
create a haiku scene by using the 3-part model you see on the board. (List this
on the board: 1. expressive speech only; 2. expressive speech and movement; 3.
movement only (think the words.) Once everyone has memorized your haiku, practice
your three ways of performing it.” This task will
take most groups about 10-15 minutes.
Invite students to get paper and art supplies from you
(oil pastels, crayons, colored markers, chalk pastels,
draw a large
scene or backdrop
(on butcher paper) for their haiku performance. (Artwork
will take an additional 15-20 minutes.
Because of this time demand, you might consider completing
artwork on another day)
Finally, gather the
class together to let them know they will be performing their haiku for
each other. They
to “revisit” their
movement/speech sequences. Let them know that each haiku group will unroll their “scenery” and
will perform their haiku in 3 ways (point to the list
on the board). End the performance with all the haiku
groups performing their movement-only sequence
all at the same time. Use recorded music throughout the
performance (adjusting volume during each group) and
fade at the very end. Encourage the students to
wait until the end of the performance to applaud.
Episode #2: Biography: The Life and Poems of the Master
Haiku Poet Issa
Read aloud Cool
to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa by Matthew
Gollub. The text is the poignant story of Issa’s
life (1763-1827) interspersed with 33 examples of his
haiku. The beautifully illustrated haiku examples therefore
become a central part of the storyline of the book. If
students prepared their
performance (Episode #1) using one of Issa’s haiku
found within this book, let them say their particular
haiku as it occurs in the story.
Script this book as
a simple, dramatic reader’s theatre presentation where
several student narrators read the text of the story. Incorporate some of the
student haiku performances (scenery and 3 part speech/movement sequence) during
several points in the dramatized reader’s theatre.
Perform for another class at your school.
Episode #3: We are Haiku Poets: Extension Projects for
Extensions for this unit could include the following
- Write, illustrate, and perform original student haiku using the three-part
- Create scenery and costumes for each haiku
- Create a photo-essay to an original or traditional haiku
- Use student-created music compositions coordinated with haiku movements
- Create a Haiku Art Gallery--Display oil pastel or water-color illustrations
of student-created or traditional Japanese haiku
- Students write in their journals about their haiku experiences
When our students are
actively engaged in purposeful and expressive learning contexts which
can and do provide,
haiku and other poetry comes
alive in our classrooms. More importantly, both students
and teachers become excited
and re-charged about the prospect of learning more
poetry through these and other kinds of integrated activities.
In my work
within the San
City Heights Educational Collaborative’s three
urban schools (K-12), hundreds of students, teachers
and future teachers have been engaged in this successful
Young students had
much to say about what they learned. One student said, “We
made the haiku come to life with what we saw in the
poem.” Another student
seemed immersed in her haiku text and wrote, “In
my haiku, I imagined that the water was so high up
on my door that frogs were swimming. I made my haiku
come to life by showing the frogs swimming. I also
showed the rain pouring down.
That’s how I made my haiku, but I also used expression.”
The many future teachers
participating in the haiku study offered interesting perspectives about
reflected, “The words floated
through the bodies of others like the haiku’s
spell had taken over them. I could see the words moving
and taking shape before me.” Another
wrote, "Haiku is more than poetic words on a page.
something much deeper than simple, profound language.
The spirit of
the author comes
our imaginations take hold. We were able to not only
hear the words, but also see
the performers' interpretations and reactions. What
a wonderful exercise to make poetry come alive."
Veteran classroom teachers
also offered feedback. One teacher described her class’ experiences
by adding, "I imagine that this was the first
opportunity most of my students have had to visualize
poetry by using
art. What a
The students learned not only about Japanese culture
haiku, but also how to work in cooperative groups to
to use leadership skills, be willing to try something
new, and perform in front of others despite any anxiety.
to synthesize their own poem to create art and vocal
effects. They also used their visualization skills
to make it come
alive on paper
Finally, while providing
creative, active learning opportunities for students within their study
we may be empowering
meaning within poetic texts of all kinds. As Eric Jensen
writes in Arts with the
Brain in Mind (2001), “What we pay attention
to increases our likelihood of remembering it” (p.
40). Let’s continue to make haiku and other poetry
memorable for all our students!
Cox, C. (1998). "Children’s
stance towards literature: A longitudinal study, K-5." Paper presented
at the 1998 American Educational Research Association, San
Cox, C., & Many, J. E. (1992). "Stance toward a literary work: Applying
the transactional theory to children’s responses." Reading
Psychology, 13, 37-72.
Demi. (1992). In
the Eyes of the Cat. New York: Henry
Demi. (1993). Demi’s
Secret Garden. New York: Henry Holt
Gollub, M. (1998).
Cool Melons—Turn into Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa.
New York: Lee & Low.
Hancock, M. (2000). A
Celebration of Literature and Response: Children, Books, and Teachers
Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Prentice Hall.
Jacobs, H. H. (1989). Interdisciplinary
Curriculum: Design and Implementation. Alexandria, VA: Association
Jacobs, H. H. (1997). Mapping
the Big Picture: Integrating Curriculum and Assessment K-12. Alexandria,
Jenson, E. (2001). Arts
with the Brain in Mind.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and
Lapp, D., & Flood,
J. (1992). Teaching Reading to Every Child (3rd ed.). New York:
McDonald, N., & Fisher, D. (1999). "Living Haiku: Scenes of Sound in
Motion." In S. Totten, C. Johnson, L. R. Morrow & T.
Sills-Briegel (Eds.), Practicing What we Preach:
Preparing Middle Level Educators (pp. 273-275),
McDonald, N., & Fisher,
D. (2002). Developing Arts-loving Leaders: Top 10 Questions Teachers
Are asking about Integrated Arts Education. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow
Rosenblatt, L. M. (1978). The
Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary
Rosenblatt, L. M. (1995). Literature
New York: Modern Language Association.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind
in Society: The Development of Higher Mental Psychological
Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
Additional Resources for the Haiku Unit:
Cassedy, S. (1992). Red
Dragonfly on my Shoulder.
New York: Harper Collins.
Janeczko. P. (Ed.) (2000). Stone
Bench in an Empty Park. New York: Orchard.
Hoobler, D. (1994). Images
across the Ages: Japanese Portraits. Austin:
Livingston, M. (1997). Cricket
Never Does: A Collection of Haiku and
Tanka. New York: McElderry.
Spivak, D. (1997). Grass
Sandals: The Travels of Basho. New York: Antheneum.
California Reader Magazine.
McDonald, Ed D, is currently an Associate Professor and Coordinator of
Music Education at San Diego State University's School of Music and Dance.
With over 30 years of teaching experience in preschool / K-University
Level Music Education, Integrated Arts for Classroom Teachers, Music and
Early Literacy Development and Classroom Discipline and Management, she
is actively involved in the education of future arts specialists and classroom
teachers. She leads ongoing Integrated Arts and English Language Development
professional growth for teachers within 3 urban schools within the City
Heights/ SDSU Educational Pilot Project (Rosa Parks Elementary School,
Monroe Clark Middle School, Hoover High School). She is the author of
numerous articles in national and international Arts Education publications,
a Program Author for Scott Foresman/ Silver Burdett Music K-8 national
text series in music (2002 and 2005 editions of Making Music). Nan recently
authored, with Douglas Fisher, another book, Developing Arts Loving
Readers: Top 10 Questions Teachers are asking about Integrated Arts Education (Scarecrow,