Writing Haiku

Writing Haiku

Working together on our haiku unit in the spring is one of my favorite writer’s circle activities.  By the time students are in third grade, they are at least familiar with, if not adept, at counting the number of syllables present in words. Accuracy in counting syllabic parts of words is an essential part of writing a traditional Japanese Haiku Poem. The pattern of syllables that should be represented by the words in a haiku is five-seven-five. This means, five syllables on the first line, seven syllables on the second line, and five syllables on the last line.  Most students can write using this pattern without difficulty.

However, problems arise when every word needs to count, as in the case with haiku.  Connecting words like a, the, that, and the like, are not needed and really should not be used. It is difficult for some students to get rid of them. Likewise, some students have trouble letting go of the need for the syllabic lines in haiku to form complete sentences. To me this reluctance to write without conventions is understandable when we start insisting that everything needs to be a written using complete sentences as early as first grade. But, sentences have no place in haiku.

An issue compounding the ability to write haiku with the correct pattern is that we have become lazy in our speech. Many words are not correctly or clearly enunciated. This makes it extremely difficult to determine the number of syllables in a word and whether it fits the desired line placement in the haiku the student is writing. An example I use regularly is the word Niagara. I ask the students how many syllables they think this word has in it. Invariably, they say three. Actually, there are four. We work through this together, until we all can hear the four parts. I tell them what parts have been “slurred” together by our lazy speech patterns. I show them the dictionary phonetic break down for Niagara.  Four syllables. Sometimes, it is the first time students are shown how to use a dictionary for this purpose.

I do not do this to make the students miserable or to be a stickler about the number of syllables or to have a perfect 5-7-5 haiku. I do it to make several points in a mini lesson that fits perfectly in our brief thirty minute writer’s circle block.

  1. We all get sloppy. I thought Niagara had three syllables, too. It came from years of slurring the word while growing up in Western New York.  This was the case until I wanted to use it in a haiku I was writing for an example and looked it up. Four!
  2. You can always look up the syllable count of a word in the dictionary. This mini-lesson on Niagara gives us a good chance to do that. This encourages the students to look up the words they cannot sound out or clap out to hear the number of syllables.  Knowing what reference to use, and when to use it, is a huge part of being a skilled writer.
  3. I think this activity helps the students pick strong adjectives and add to their vocabulary, as well as make a more descriptive haiku.
  4. The lesson shows that we all write from our own experience. Niagara Falls is a place I have been to many, many times in my life. It made for a good example of a haiku.

The third and last essential piece I ask of my writer’s when we work on haiku is to create a picture in the reader’s mind by carefully choosing each of the words in the haiku. Each word needs to be there for a reason, to contribute to the mental image for the reader. When the students imaginations are unleashed, and they are unencumbered by conventions or restrictive guidelines, I find they can come up with some wonderful haiku. More importantly, in this supportive but minimally restrictive writing group, the students can further their love of writing by experiencing both fun and joy while crafting their haiku.

I do not have a classroom but I did have 37 students write haiku with me last spring. Almost all of those haiku were published last month in a national poetry compilation. We wrote about bees, the seasons, and other amazing things found in our natural world.

What Joy!

Inspired by the book Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher, recommended to me by a fellow SOL Tuesday participant from the TwoWritingTeachers Blog.



Daily Slice to Keep on Slicing

Daily Slice to Keep on Slicing

Since participating this past March in the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by TwoWritingTeachers, I have continued to write daily, or pretty close to it.  I think I have only missed writing a handful of days. This has been despite a busy schedule of taking graduate courses,  attending three sports for two boys (Varsity Tennis, Varsity Track, and Summer Traveling Soccer League that starts in April),  starting yard work, running garden club, leading writer’s circle,  and more. I am busy but am sure to take the time to write. It is important to me. I have found the reflection to be healthy, assisting me in processing life events.

Although continuing to write daily is key to my improvement as a blogger, sometimes, my educational posts do not fall on Tuesdays anymore. For example, this past week I wrote about summer enrichment opportunities in mathematics for students,  a poem about garden club ending, a student’s gift, the music of memorial day, and a photo journal of the island of Kauai. All of these were or are slices of my life, past and present. Admittedly, some posts are more interesting that others, both to read and to write. Still, the feedback I have received helps me to push forward, putting more and more ideas into words, and words on the page.

The school year comes to a close here this week for my boys and just as it winds down for them, another graduate course has started for me. It will be fast and furious, three credits over five weeks, with a digital media project due on July 5th. Besides the class, there will be other topics to slice about as both my boys will be pursuing some work in math, one will attend summer camp for Badger Boys State, colleges will be visited, and, jobs will be done, both at home and at places of employment. The summer will end just as fast as it starts. I hope to keep slicing through it all.

Humiliation? Never.

Humiliation? Never.

Recently, my social media feed offered a repost of an edutopia blog article I had read last year. It is one of those articles worthy of re-reading, re-posting, and re-sharing. Previously, I had shared the article with an administrator in our school district.  The reason being is that we experienced some long-lasting effects of student humiliation.  A humiliating incident in a math class last year, early in the semester, in which a teacher called my son “stupid” in front of his peers basically caused him to “shut down”.  Consequently, he did not get much out of the class he was taking, had no interest in going to this very sarcastic teacher for help, and resulted in a year-long bout of lowered self-confidence, periodic anger, and self-doubt.

Last month, I thought we were “over the hurdle” as it had been almost a year since the incident and my son seemed to be “holding his own” in his subsequent, but now current, math class. However, after having to speak to the guidance counselor about changing  an elective, the past experience with this teacher was broached again, bringing about more tears, and a renewed sense of anxiety.  I think my son was thinking, “will they ever remember me for anything other than what happened last year?” Well, the  answer to that is they have and they will, as some other very nice opportunities have been sent his way by the same guidance office. In addition, the teacher he has for this year’s class in the same subject area projects a much different attitude, has gotten to know my son, and has taken steps to individualize his instruction. It appears he is a conceptual learner and approaches new information from a big picture vantage point, rather than spiraling up with details to understand the concept in the way most students learn. It is unusual, but can be worked with by a compassionate, knowledgeable educator.

So, why do I write about this today? There are several reasons. First, it needs to be said that as parents, we are very supportive of our childrens’ education. Academics come first in our house and our boys know that. However, with that said, we also believe that our teachers must get to know their students.  This was one of the most grevous errors leading to the experience of last year. Assumptions about our student were made. They were incorrect. This particular teacher taught one way, in a manner that was not conducive to our son’s learning style. However, instead of finding ways that might help him, she used sarcasm and humiliation. This was not acceptable. I do believe she might have been willing to help him by reinforcing what she had gone over in class, but would have not done so by using a different demeanor or by approaching him without sarcasm.  He was unwilling to approach her for help because of the way he had been treated in class – with humiliation.  It is due to the inappropriate use of humiliation in the classroom that I write about this subject today.

Finally, I will leave you with a few thoughts to consider as you teach.

  1. Do not humiliate your students, for any reason.
  2. Use a variety of teaching models/styles in your presentation of material.
  3. Connect with your students. Get to know them.
  4. Think about whether your teaching style is meeting the learning styles of your students. Work to reach as many students as you can using various models.
  5. As a parent, speak up if you find something does not seem right, using the chain of command, if at all possible.
  6. Do not be afraid to remove your student from a situation in which he/she is not learning, if you feel that would be best. We did not do this, as my son did not want to be removed from this class. In hind sight, we should have, as we have seen that he did not absorb much because he could not get past his feelings toward this teacher and her classroom style. However, our district policies state the a student will receive an “F” if the class is dropped after the first two days of the term. This was also a consideration in our decision.
  7. Work to change district policy to enable fair and reasonable choices for students, not only teachers, regarding course changes.

Thanks for the opportunity to share blog posts on Slice of Life Tuesday: TwoWritingTeachers!

Color Revisited: Pink

Color Revisited: Pink

Ah, Tuesday! You are here! I am so glad to be able to reconnect with other Slicer’s today!  I have missed the community over the last few days. Tuesdays definintely have a feel for it has been writer’s circle day for me since January.

Today, my writer’s circle students should come to our meeting with their color poems finished. We have been working on them for two weeks now. All six of them had a great start to their poem last week.  Today, we will work on transferring their work to a final copy after a quick proof-read and edit. Then, the students will work on illustrating their work. I am hoping to be able to share a few of their poems in the near future.

Today, I will share with you and my students the finished “Pink” poem I wrote while they were working on their pieces. If you haven’t tried color poems, you should – it is always a great exercise!


Frilly, pink tutus made of tulle floating by on stage, all the while

dainty tea roses fill the air with their heavenly scent.

Fuchsia painted lips smile at me through the theater darkness as

usherettes sell sticky, sweet cotton candy in a glowing pink hue.

Pink sugar melts quickly on the changing color of my tongue, only to

be washed down with pink lemonade when the performance is done.

Pink is the sand on the famous Bermuda Beach, so soft and warm on my toes.

  Pink is the sunset on the same beach at dusk,  the world aglow as darkness deepens.

Pink in the palest of shades are the cherry blossoms opening in early

spring, or the raised skin where your finger touched the hot oven.

The color of a ribbon no woman wants is pink. Yet, pink is hope

for your sister and mine as we join in support to win this fight.

Pink is laughter floating freely across a crowd, contagious as the light

lacey rash on your forearm in the spring.

Pink is the rose milkweed blossom, planted behind our barn to beckon

the monarchs to stop awhile to visit on their journey South.

Pink, the color of femininity and spring, babies and tutus, bubble gum and lemonade.

Laughter in the sunsets on the pink sand beach.

Pink makes me warm, the foretelling of anger, embarrassment, or

pride.  Its hue deepening with the intensity of my emotion.



Well, I did it! I have written 31 days (actually 32 days) in a row to complete the Slice of Live Blog Challenge! I am grateful for Two Writing Teachers for sponsoring this event and writing community! And, what a community it is!  I have found a voice and the generous support of gracious people in the community to support that voice! Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! The feedback received has been enlightening and welcomed! I have not only honed my writing skill but also learned from others how to give positive feedback as well as several formats for blog posting.  I cannot say enough about this experience! What luck I must have had to have chosen such a wonderful, supportive community of writers. Thank you, all!

If you’ve followed my blog,  there are updates that will be coming. My orchid is blooming! My Meyer Lemon tree has new buds! It is almost time to visit the garden supply stores for plants.   And, my writer’s circle students are in the process of finishing their color poems. I know many of you wanted to read some of the results.  School will end.  There is only one more term here, a mere eight weeks of student learning and the rollercoaster ride that comes with it. Soon, I will have a college graduate in the field of mathematics! My pride is beyond telling!  Where that time has gone is beyond me!  There are tennis matches to play, track meets to watch, art to be made, and a new driver to train.  Yes, the writing challenge ends today, but life goes on.

Finding myself hooked on the daily writing process, I plan to continue. I hope you do, too. Or that you start! Find your voice, find what you have to say, and say it. There will be listeners, of that I am sure!