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Whittling Out Haiku



  • Language Arts


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

Students brainstorm a list of words to describe a picture of their own choosing. Then they eliminate words to "find" a haiku poem.


  • brainstorm a list of words and make good word choices.
  • understand the haiku form.
  • create meaningful poems.


brainstorm, haiku, word choice, poetry, poetry forms, poem

Materials Needed

  • magazines (Choose magazines that are grade appropriate. If you teach high school students, you might select magazines such as Smithsonian. If you teach younger students, you might emphasize nature magazines and news magazines that are heavy with pictures.)
  • paper and pens/pencils
  • imagination!

The Lesson

Before the Lesson
Collect a variety of magazines. Magazines that emphasize pictures (such as news magazines or nature magazines) might work best. Be sure you have at least one magazine per student. Before students enter the classroom, distribute the magazines; place one magazine on each student's desk.

The Lesson
As they enter the classroom, instruct students to begin looking through their magazines for a picture they like -- one that intrigues them in some way.

Brainstorm. When students have had a few minutes to look through the magazine, introduce the next part of the lesson. When they have discovered a picture they like, they should begin to brainstorm a list of 100 words that describe that picture. (Setting a goal of 100 words will motivate thinking and get students writing. Of course not every student will achieve that goal in the allotted time.)

Word Choice. After the students have brainstormed a list of words that describe their pictures, instruct them to read over their lists and choose a percentage of the words (I use 10 percent) that best describe the picture. They should choose the most descriptive, near-perfect words.

Organization. Next, instruct students to organize those ten or so words into three sentences that best describe the picture.

Whittling. Instruct students to whittle their sentences by striking articles (a, an, the), "being" verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been), and other unnecessary words (there, here, it, what). Then have them rearrange/edit the words in an order that makes the sentences still "work." Finally, have students whittle the sentences further to the requisite number of syllables for a haiku:

A haiku comprises three lines of text and a total of 17 syllables arranged in the following order:
  • First line: 5 syllables
  • Second line: 7 syllables
  • Third line: 5 syllables
  • The students are always very surprised at how good --even professional! -- their haiku sound.


    Create a bulletin board. Display the pictures students used on one side of the bulletin board and their haiku on the other. Can students match each picture to the haiku that describes it?

    Set aside a time for students to share their haiku with classmates. Students who are listening should be counting syllables to verify that their peers have used the proper format.

    Submitted By

    Elizabeth Jackson, Sweetwater High School in Sweetwater, Texas

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