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Starting the Year with Haiku and Poetry in Sixth-Grade English

For Peck sixth graders, the return to their English classes after winter break brought an unexpected surprise—they’d begin incorporating haiku into their usual class routine.
This is the first time Sixth Grade English Teacher Sarah Chan began a new year this way, after finding inspiration from a New York Times article about a teacher who writes daily haikus. This traditional Japanese form of poetry, which is written in three lines comprising a 5-7-5 syllable pattern, can be a powerful way to simply reflect upon and illuminate an idea, a thought, or an emotion in a functionally simple way. 
“This is a new way for us to start the year,” said Chan, “I told my students we would take the first 10 minutes of every class to create something - I asked them to capture a specific moment or feeling from their day.  We would experiment with this for a month and see how we feel.”

After a very basic introduction to haiku (including poetry from Bashō, a 17th-century Japanese master of haiku, as well as contemporary haiku), students got to work connecting a specific event or thought to time.
“It was a no judgment zone,” said Chan. “They soon discovered they could incorporate humor, explore deeper feelings, and use their imagination.  By the end of the month, all of my classes were asking to continue.”

Though Chan moved on from haiku beginning in February, she did not depart from exploring and understanding the beauty of poetry from a different angle.  She began a preview to their poetry unit with a number of poems from Black authors—connecting Black History Month to their usual class routine.

“Students practice reading closely and making observations about a poem’s structure and voice,” said Chan. “This gets their feet wet so that when we get to the poetry unit they will feel comfortable and confident talking about a poem instead of feeling afraid or nervous exploring an unfamiliar genre.”

Students read Ishmael Reed’s “Beware: Do Not Read this Poem,” Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” Nikki Giovanni’s “Legacies,” Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” and Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook.”

“They were a little disappointed when we stopped writing and sharing our haiku, but what I noticed is that they quickly became adept at making observations,” said Chan. “These past two months gave them an opportunity to write and create and think about a writer’s intent.”



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