Haiku for Creative Expression and Communication

Matthew Apple, Himeji Dokkyo University

Quick Guide

  • Key words: English rhythm, creative imagery, awareness of word usage
  • Learner English Level: False beginners and above
  • Learner Maturity: High school, university, or adult
  • Activity Time: 90 minutes
  • Materials: Dictionaries that show the syllable breaks in English words. The instructor may also want to provide some samples of haiku in English.

Pre-Teaching: What is a Haiku?

Traditional Japanese haiku had three requirements: 1) a nature or seasonal theme, 2) imagery that connects the world of humans and the world of nature, 3) the phrasal structure of 5-7-5 written in a single line (Ross, 2002, p. 19). English haiku, on the other hand, have normally been written as three separate lines, the first and third line having 5 syllables and the second line with 7. Most English high school textbooks and many second language texts have examples of this three-line style. However, because English 5-7-5 haiku are nearly twice as long as the Japanese version due to differences in syllable length between the two languages, modern English haiku often follow a 3-4-3 structure, or sometimes even no structure at all, in an attempt to more accurately reflect the spirit of the original Japanese form.

For this lesson, instructors should give students the three-line patterns of 5-7-5 and 3-4-3 as two basic patterns to choose from. At the same time, instructors should remind students that the final product does not need to be so rigid. The point here is to give students a basic model but to allow for freedom within the model. In this lesson plan, students create a haiku starting with the name of one of the four seasons. This haiku creation process follows the same writing process as normal essays: brainstorming, first draft, peer editing, and final draft.


Step 1: The instructor gives students examples of English haiku. 5-7-5 patterns can be found in commercial texts such as Impact Intro and Get Ready to Write; 3-4-3 patterns can be found in the Daily Yomiuri English haiku page or online at World Haiku Club (see Internet resources for this URL).

Step 2: Students choose and write the name of one of the four seasons (i.e., Winter).

Step 3: The instructor models the technique of word association on the board: winter, snow, icicles, snowmen, sledding, hot chocolate, sweater, cold, fire, sleep, spring.

Step 4: Students brainstorm in a time limit of 2 to 3 minutes, writing words related to their chosen season in a list one word at a time, until reaching 10 words or more.

Step 5: Students choose one pattern (either 5-7-5 or 3-4-3) and construct the first draft of the haiku roughly following the pattern, using all, some, or just a few of the words from the word association. Students should be allowed to add any additional words needed, such as verbs, prepositions, etc. At this stage students should focus on the idea being conveyed rather than the number of syllables.

Step 6: Students make pairs and read each other's poems.

Step 7: Give students a peer review sheet and ask them to answer a few questions about the content of their partner's poem (see Appendix 1).

Step 8: Students return the poems and peer review sheets to their partners and read the comments.

Step 9: In the final draft stage, students make any revisions inspired by the peer review and try to make the syllables fit the pattern chosen in Step 4.

Step 10: When students complete their final drafts, have students read them out loud in small groups of three or four.

Follow-Up Activities

Students can record a private reading onto a cassette tape or write short essays about their classmates' or their own haiku and discuss in groups in a later class. Ambitious instructors can also publish a class newsletter containing at least one haiku from every student. Newsletters are a good way to encourage students to share ideas about writing English both inside and outside the classroom.

Final Notes

Even when informing students about the 5-7-5 or 3-4-3 syllabic structures, it is important for instructors to note that in recent years the English haiku has all but abandoned set syllable counts of any kind. Carley (2001) notes that alternate forms in both Japanese and English include one-line, two-line, three-line, four-line, visual (photos), and free form, among others. By concentrating on the content rather than the form of the poem, students are encouraged to be more expressive and also to share their ideas. Form makes the poem a haiku, but the imagery it contains makes it art.

Internet Resources:

For further information regarding haiku in English, please visit the following WWW sites:

Appendix 1: Peer review questions

Please read your partner's haiku and answer the following in short sentences:

  • Where do you think the poem takes place? Is it a room, a building, a village, a city?
  • What emotion do you feel? Why do you think you feel like that?
  • When you read the poem, what memory of your own can you see?
  • What message is your partner trying to say in the poem?
  • Do you have any ideas to tell your partner? Please write a suggestion or two in either English or Japanese:


Carley, J. (2001). ZIP: Form, freedom and phonics: An alternative approach to the haiku in English. World Haiku Review, 1(1) [online]. [URL www.worldhaikureview.org/pages/whcessay1.shtml].
Ross, B. (2002). How to haiku: A writer's guide to haiku and related forms. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing.