I was asked to teach 4 poetry workshops to the 4 second grade classes at Mann School in Oak Park, District 97. This is part of the Art Start program, funded by the Oak Park Education Foundation. I've never taught poetry workshops for Art Start before, never done a series of poetry workshops, and never taught poetry without first using art as an entry into the creative process.
I decided to ask for some advice. Debbie Creticos is a second grade teacher at Longfellow School. We've worked together on Art Start (art) projects for at least 4, maybe more years. And sometimes we've introduced poetry to go with the art. Debbie invited another second grade teacher to join us and we brainstormed poetry and second graders together. At the end of the session Debbie said, "You'll be fine. They'll love you."
I reread Gooney Bird Is So Absurd, by Lois Lowry. This is a book Debbie introduced me to several years ago. Gooney Bird Green is a fabulous second grade character who likes to be in the middle of things and who wears the most flamboyant outfits imaginable. And each of the books in the series focuses on different aspects of writing and story-telling. In Gooney Bird Is So Absurd, the class is studying poetry. Following Lois Lowry's lead, I decided to begin with Haiku for my first Art Start workshop.
I turned to another great book, Haiku (Asian Arts and Crafts For Creative Kids) by Patricia Donegan. In this book the author provides a real understanding of traditional Japanese haiku, provides 7 keys to writing haiku, and includes many examples of both traditional Japanese haiku and haiku written by contemporary poets including children from all around the world.
Since my workshops are only 30 minutes long, the teachers follow up after I leave and help the students continue writing. I made a poster for each class with examples of haiku poems and a page spread from the proofs for my own book, The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound: A Birder's Journal. Each season opens with a bird list, a sketch of a white oak tree in that season, a few bird sketches, and a haiku appropriate to the season. I also included a sheet of tips for writing haiku (basically taken from Donegan's Haiku book. Here's a copy of that sheet:
How to Write Haiku:
Haiku poems are made up of very few words, maybe six to ten, broken into three short lines. If you are trying to count syllables, the pattern is:
It is not necessary to count syllables.
Describe a moment in time—something that actually happened to you, that you actually saw. Choose your words carefully to paint a picture in your mind. Use descriptive words—not just “flower” but what kind of flower, what color flower, what about that flower is special and unique?
Create a snapshot, a picture, using words. Use your senses to get in touch with the world around you.
What do you see?
What do you hear?
What do you smell?
What do you taste?
What do you feel?
At recess, at lunch, on your way to and from school, pay attention to the world around you. Watch with “haiku eyes,” keep an open mind. Prepare to be surprised and find your haiku moment.
I left each class with a poster, a stack of magazines for cutting up, and nice blue card stock for the kids to write out their finished poems on and illustrate, perhaps using the page proofs from my book as inspiration. Here's a list of the books I left each class:
Lois Lowry, Gooney Bird Is So Absurd
Jack Prelutsky, If Not For The Cat
Bob Raczka, Guyku
Sallie Wolf, The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound: A Birder's Journal