Animal, May I Borrow ...?

 Ocean, May I Borrow Your Tears?      

At a fundraiser for Kore Press, writer Kimi Eisele offered the audience a prompt that she had recently blogged in a time of stress: Whale, may I borrow your heart?  Mine is too small to hold it all. 

I’m drawn to writing exercises that encourage emotional interaction with the natural world. As the adult audience responded deeply, I thought Kimi’s prompt would work well with a writer of any age. 

Introducing the concept and warming up (20 minutes )

With a group of fifth graders, I initiated a discussion of unique abilities certain animals had.  I’d throw out a type of animal (giraffe) and they would name various qualities they associated with it (tall, long legs, long neck, the ability to reach).  "Why do you think the animal developed this trait?" I asked, "What would you like to borrow from this animal and why?" (In the excitement of the borrow, it’s easy to forget to say why you desire this trait.)  

Giraffe, can I borrow your legs, for I am too short to dunk my ball in the basket.  

We discussed biological processes that plants and animals possess, and then the class expanded the discussion to dirt and air and fire and water.  They began to come up with their own “borrows”:  

Miguel: Turtle can I borrow your patience, for I am always rushing in life.  

Lola: Stingray, may I borrow your sense of wonder, for I too want to take flight and explore.  

Writing (20 minutes)  

Once the class was warmed up, I gave them 20 minutes to write their own borrowings.  As they wrote I walked around the class and read individual lines out loud.   I enjoy reading lines that don’t exactly conform to the format, so students understand they can improvise. (Roadrunner, speed me away from the sadness, let me run toward happiness.)  

Younger students might find this template helpful for the first few lines:      

_____________ , may I borrow your __________________   for I am ___________________________________________.      

Sharing (20 minutes)

Students were eager to share at least one line from their poems, and many wanted to read all of them. I asked what they appreciated in other writers’ poems.  What were they surprised by?  Was there anything they did not understand?  

After prompting responses to the first readers, I was silent, and students stepped into that invitation and responded to their peers.  After everybody had read we talked about if their feelings about animals had changed after borrowing from them.  Could they learn from an animal’s example? Could they imagine incorporating their animals strengths into their own lives?    


Example of Student Work:    


Water, can I borrow your strength

for I am too weak

to flow through obstacles  


Praying Mantis,

can I borrow your invisibility

for I am too exposed  


Desert Tortoise can I borrow your slowness

For I am speeding like a jack rabbit

to win the race of life  


Regal Horned Lizard

can I borrow your spiky defense

and your tears of blood

to convince my mom

to buy me a new computer  


Golden Eagle,

can I borrow your supreme eyes

So I can see my future life

-Luckaz V.  



Students will humbly consider abilities on display in the natural world, and incorporate them into their poems, and perhaps their lives.

Education Level: 

Junior High
High School




Lesson Plan

Time Frame: 

60 minutes

Prior Knowledge/Skills: 


Required Materials: 

Paper and pens, sample poem

Literary model: 

"Cobra, Can I?" by 5th graders at Manzo Elementary (see lesson plan .pdf)

Lesson Plan: