Thursday, April 4, 2013

Writing Game: Haiku Riddles, Tanka Summaries

In keeping with the today's haiku theme. Although this exercise is not about writing poetry, per se, you can certainly use it that way, too. I was inspired by a slightly simpler activity in the amazing Games for Writing by Peggy Kaye.

Audience: None, apart from student and teacher.

Purpose: It's a short game, meant for practice and fun. Capture key details of an object or person so that your partner can guess what (or who) it is.

Also good to know: Haiku and Tanka are Japanese poetry forms that are meant to express the essential feeling or image of a season, an emotion, an event. They are very short, and demand concision and accuracy.

Haiku are three lines long, with only seventeen syllables in all:
5 syllables
7 syllables
5 syllables

Tanka give you a little more to work with: 5 lines, 31 syllables:
5 syllables
7 syllables
5 syllables
7 syllables
7 syllables

What I did:
  1. Sold it by calling it a riddle game: Haiku Riddles.
  2. Briefly explained what syllables are (break the word into sections: skate-board. Dis-ney-land. Clap once for each section as you say it. Fro-zen yo-gurt: clap-clap, clap-clap.).
  3. Then I talked about haiku, and we looked at an example. (They are a dime a dozen on the Internet.)
  4. Let's play a game! I'll pick a Star Wars character and I'll make up (and write) a haiku describing the character. You have to guess who I picked.
  5. Great! You got it! Now it's your turn.
  6. And so on for two or three more.

Examples (click here for a couple more):
He is a gangster.
He is based on Tatooine.
A big, stinky slug.

Who wears a Rader stick?
He works for the Republic.
Anikin is his main genral.

  • Tai started out with 5-7-5 words instead of syllables, which was totally okay with me.
  • I did not correct spelling. The point was to get him to think of the salient characteristics of his characters, to write about them, and to have fun.
  • I think it's important to do these together. This makes it a game instead of an assignment.
  • After we had done a couple of these, Tai wanted to do more—a good sign.

  • For an added challenge, you can start with a list of characters and forbid certain words: don't allow green and short for Yoda, for example. 
  • Use this game with household objects, places, famous people, books, movies. For books and movies, it doesn't have to be a summary. The Hobbit could be something like

Bilbo Baggins and 
A lot of dwarves and Gandalf
Goblins, trolls and Wargs*
  • Or do make the game into a summary game. See if you can condense a familiar story down to a haiku or tanka—a fairy tale, a fable? Say that the poem should cover the major ideas, events, or settings in a piece of text. Here's Tai's tanka, using words instead of syllables, about the hardships of the overland passage during the Gold Rush. We brainstormed a few details first, and then he wrote:
The 40-Mile Desert was horrible.
There was tons of dead animals everywhere.
The sun was scorching hot.
There was cholera constantly, deaths were commen
Towns were scarce and food was scarce.

Would he have written a paragraph about the hardships of the overland passage? No way. But he didn't mind writing the tanka. Because I set a limit on the number of words, he thought he was getting away with something. Also, I didn't say the dirty word, “paragraph”.

Questions, comments, or improvements, please.

*Yes, we are total geeks in our family.

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