Millikin University Student Essay

Julie Weightman

Julie Weightman graduated with a B.A. in Elementary Education in May 2001.

Why Teach Haiku in Elementary School?

by Julie Weightman

When enrolling for a global studies course, I chose the haiku course because it was the only one that would fit into my schedule.  Over Christmas break, people would ask me what courses I would have for the upcoming semester.  When I told them that I would be taking a haiku class, I received several reactions ranging from surprise to confusion.  Many people did not know anything about haiku.  When asked what it is, the only answer that I had for them was that haiku is a form of poetry following a 5-7-5 structure.  With this reply, they quickly agreed with me, remembering their elementary school days of counting syllables.  Now I understand that haiku is much more than counting syllables.  Correctly teaching haiku to elementary students can provide them with valuable experiences and benefits.

Elementary school teachers need to complete their curriculum.  With everything that they need to fit into their schedules, they do not have time to cover material that does not fall within their curricula boundaries.  Some people may consider teaching haiku as a waste of time.  However, haiku can teach several language ideas.  Students tend to ramble about their experiences and other information.  They often lose track of their main ideas.  Haiku forces them to sum up their experiences in two to three lines.  Therefore, they need to pick out the points that are the most important to them.  Having this skill will help them throughout their lives.  For example, they will be able to focus in on main ideas while reading or be able to make clear and precise presentations while talking.  Their communication skills will improve since they will be able to speak more accurately about a situation (Higginson and Harter 253). 

A major part of writing haiku is that it is a  process.  It may involve pre-writing, thinking, editing, sharing, and publishing.  Students always need the practice of partaking in this process.  They should not think that a first writing attempt is a completed item.  Thinking about all aspects of the situation, sharing ideas with others, and changing parts that do not work are important steps toward a product.  Haiku can provide the practice that one needs to develop this process.

Haiku does not simply teach concepts of language and the writing process.  It also branches out to other areas of study.  Since haiku is a Japanese tradition of poetry, students can learn about Japanese culture by reading these haiku.  Many Japanese haiku include concepts of place, customs, etc.  throughout the lines.  When reading haiku with a class, a teacher can point out these words and describe how they reflect the Japanese culture.  Haiku has also spread to many other countries.  Therefore, students can compare cultures based on concepts appearing in haiku from Japan, Spain, Germany, The United States, etc.  They can see how a person's environment may affect how he or she describes certain situations. 

Teachers can also incorporate literature and art into haiku lessons.  For example, teachers can read a book and have students write haiku about the experiences of the characters.  Sometimes students open up better when they focus on characters instead of themselves.  Teachers can also use art to show how artwork and haiku can complement each other.  Religion is another subject that branches off of haiku.  Zen Buddhism is often associated with the Japanese culture and haiku.  It is important for elementary students to note different religions.  When I was in school, I did not become aware of other religions until I was out of elementary school.  Having students in elementary schools learn about religion can help then to become more accepting of the beliefs of others.

At a younger age, students have to deal with more and more problems than before.  Some of these problems include dealing with divorced parents, school violence, etc.  Life is fast paced, and people rarely have time to enjoy life.  Haiku can help people relax and notice small parts of life.  Haiku can become a nice outlet for students dealing with a fast paced and troublesome world.  Students are encouraged to use their senses.  Therefore, they will begin noticing things that have never occurred to them before (Higginson and Harter 255).  For example, they may notice a bird outside of their classroom window.  Students normally do not have the opportunity to sit back and perceive things.  They are usually so caught up in their clothes and popularity.  Haiku opens their visions, away from an entirely materialistic view.  Students may take a second look at nature or human conditions besides their own (Higginson and Harter 259).  In addition, writing about personal experiences is an aspect of haiku.  Students can dig into their own memories and experiences and learn to appreciate them.  Learning is also based on prior knowledge.  Students cannot learn new information unless they can connect it to prior knowledge or experiences.  Therefore, they may be able to connect new information from other subject areas to the personal experiences that they use in their haiku.

Along with having a deeper appreciation for life experiences, using haiku in the classroom can also increase students' self-confidence in school.  Traditional schools usually teach to fulfill the needs of only a small group of students.  Learning is usually teacher centered.  The teacher gives information, and the students take it all in.  Not all students do well in this typical classroom setting.  Some students do not deal well with so much structure.  Haiku is a topic that allows all students to succeed.  Haiku is based on the different images that people take from a haiku.  Therefore, students cannot be wrong (Higginson and Harter 154).  A teacher cannot tell a student that he or she cannot develop a certain image from a haiku.  As long as students are true to their senses, they will all develop images.  Students who usually have difficulties in school will notice their success with the haiku activities.  Their pride may stimulate motivation for more school-related activities.  It is also important that haiku allows them to use imagination.  School often does not provide enough opportunities for students to use their imaginations.  Work usually involves rote memory activities.  Haiku activities stimulate imagination that will help students move on to higher order thinking levels.

Finally, using haiku in the classroom can help build a friendly community.  Haiku can often be personal.  Students write about topics that are familiar to them.  As a teacher, I would probably teach my haiku unit near the beginning of the school year.  I would automatically be able to know more about my students and their interests by hearing their responses to haiku and by reading their own writing attempts.  It is important as a teacher to know the students' interests because students are more motivated to learn if they are interested in the material.  By knowing their interests, I could include bits and pieces of their interests in my lessons.  Another aspect of building a community is student interaction.  An important part of the haiku process is sharing haiku.  Students will discuss their haiku with each other.  Students will notice the experiences of others.  Hearing different experiences, students will learn to accept and respect differences in others.  The classroom will become an overall friendlier learning atmosphere in which students have a greater understanding for each other.

The following unit plan is one that I would want to carry out in my own classroom to help students benefit from haiku in the ways that I just finished discussing.  With my internship in a fourth grade classroom, however, I will only be teaching a few of the lessons due to the time constraints of my supervising teacher.  After teaching the lessons, I will evaluate my experience of actually teaching haiku to the fourth grade class.  I would hope that these students and my future students would be able to carry on ideas about haiku with them throughout their lives.  Years from now, they should not be simply reduced to the answer, "A haiku is a poem with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5."

Work Cited
Higginson, William J. and Penny Harter.  The Haiku Handbook.  New York:  Kodansha  International, 1985.

haiku conferences haiku courses at Millikin Modern Haiku magazine
speakers & readings haiku competitions at MU student renga
student haiku projects published haiku by students links to haiku web sites
student research on haiku haiku by Millikin students directory of haiku magazines


2001, Dr. Randy Brooks• Millikin University
last updated 8/16/01 • about this web site