Take a Breath, Steal Some Time

Introduction: What is a Haiku? (20 Minutes)

Tell the first half of a story (from Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the New Millenium).

Once there was a man named Chuang-tzu. He was the best artist in the land...
The king, who wanted a perfect everything, asked him to draw a perfect crab. Chuang-tzu said, “I can do that, but I will need five years, a house by the ocean, and twelve servants. Five years later the drawing was still not begun. “I need another five years,” said Chuang-tzu.

We’ll come back to the story in a minute. First, who can tell me what a haiku is? (Introduction or Review)

- Haiku originated in Japan, but has spread all over the world.
- Does anyone know what the rules of a haiku are? Talk about syllables - who can tell me what a syllable is? building block of words, how many “beats” in a word, vowels paired with consonants

Mini-Activity: Clap out syllables in choice words. Then clap out the syllables in the haiku.

Haiku example, by Basho.

Yellow rose petals
Drop one by one in silence:
Roar of waterfall.

-So, to sum up, haiku are tiny little poems, usually meditations (thought-poems), very small, but quietly implying something big.

Back to the story...

The king granted Chuang-tzu 5 more years. Finally, on the very last day of the ten years, Chuang-tzu took up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke, he drew a crab, the most perfect crab ever seen.

What do you think about this story? (Reactions, positive and negative.)
What can we tell about the society in which Chuang-tzu and the king live?
If you were the king, how would you react?
(In our society, we value things that happen fast. This is a story about a culture that valued meditation, thoughtfulness, art, most highly.)

In some ways, this story is what a haiku is all about. It is about taking a long time to think about something, in order to better understand it, and through it, perhaps we can understand the world a little better, too. (The object represents the world.)

Individual writing time (30 minutes)

Pass out objects.

I am going to give you each an object. First, take some time to observe your object and think about it. Write down on your chart (see attached) what you hear, see, feel, smell and what you think it might taste like - don’t actually taste it. Does it have a smell? Can you hear it thinking? Can it hear you? If it could talk, what would it say?

Take a few minutes to think about where your object came from. Write its story before it came to the classroom. How was it born? Where did it come from? Who were its friends? Does it have a name? Why is it here (on earth)?

Now, write a haiku about your object, 3 lines, no more than 17 syllables. If you don’t get the syllables quite right, that’s okay, but try for 5 -7 -5 lined syllables.

Closing (10 minutes)


Student Examples:

earthquakes happen fast
shaking rocks mad man starving
eating grass and dirt

- Deandre, 5th grade

I’m a little fruit
A growing pomegranate.
Now I’m on my death.

- David, 5th grade



Students will understand the form and philosophy behind haiku, will become familiar with haiku as literature, and use observation skills paired with imagination in order to write an original poem.

Education Level: 





Lesson Plan

Time Frame: 

60 minutes

Prior Knowledge/Skills: 

None required; familiarity with line breaks, syllables, and/or haiku form is helpful but not necessary.

Required Materials: 

The story of Chuang-tzu, from Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the New Millenium; object in nature; sample haiku; attached handout

Literary model: 

Basho and Issa, translated by Robert Hass and Sam Hamill

Lesson Plan: