Creative Arts for High School Students: Haiku, Small Books and Prayer Flags


Haiku is a Japanese literary form that has been around for centuries. A haiku is trying to capture a wonderful moment, a moment that is crafted by juxtaposing images through comparison, contrast or association. It is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience. It tells what is happening “now.” Who better to write about the “now” than adolescents. With their preoccupation with the present, teens are positioned to write some of the best haiku on the planet!


In Japanese, haiku consists of seventeen morae (or on) written on one line. English language haiku are written on three lines or less, and are usually less than seventeen syllables. A haiku attempts to capture the aha! moment. The moment, not the syllables, is what matters most.

a face
in the darkness —
cell phone glow

Melanie Noll

In this haiku, the poet is juxtaposing the face in the darkness and the glow from the cell phone, a moment that could have come from an outdoor concert, a walk in the park or waiting for a ride. The poet is transfixed by a moment that captures humanity and technology. Ask your students to think of such a moment: the human and the technical. Think of images that represent these two worlds. Try the juxtaposition with two lines and then an added one line, or one line and then the added two lines.

The language of haiku is concrete. Avoid words that are judgmental such as wonderful or gorgeous. Avoid words that are abstract: love, courage, loyalty. Haiku is written in the present tense. Some haiku have no verbs. There are no capital letters.

signs of spring:
tanktop revealing
her butterfly tattoo

Dani De Caro

In this haiku, the first line gives the “setting.” The poet is watching, listening, waiting for some “signs of spring.” Have your students use this first line, and add their own memory in the following two lines. There should be a pause at the end of either the first line or the second line, but not both. Sometimes a comma, a colon, a dash or ellipsis is used to separate the two parts of the haiku. However, it is not absolutely necessary to use punctuation. Some three-lined haiku contain no punctuation at all. This is a student’s choice.

The haiku’s close cousin is the senryu: writing about human nature. Again, the juxtaposition of images; again, comparison or contrast of images.

gelled hair
perfectly in place —
his anarchy t-shirt

Angela Leuck

In this senryu, the poet is making a wry comment on the gelled hair and the theme of the t-shirt. The haiku poet is constantly surprised by street signs, t-shirt logos, restaurant misspellings, movie ads, the whole nine yards. Ask students to contrast two images that result in a humourous glimpse of the human condition.

A few more examples for contemplation, discussion and then modeling. Borrow a first line and have students compose their own two lines, or borrow two lines and have students add one.

first date —
her dog
likes me

Scott Splinter

in the dead fox’s fur …
first snow

Grant Savage

Another technique for composing haiku and senryu is called “narrowing the focus.” Basically the student starts with a wide angled lens on the world in the first line, switches to a normal lens in the second line, and zooms in for a close up in the third line.

in the meadow
the cow’s lips
wet with grass

Penny Harter

inside the box
sits a doll

Noelle Egan

The opposite of this approach also renders an interesting poem. Start with a small image, go wider in the second line and full out in the third.

tattooed neck
of the stranger next to me —
bridge graffiti

Terry Ann Carter


Some of my most rewarding experiences with teaching haiku in a classroom setting were followed up by extending the haiku as text for small books. There are many styles of small books: flutter books (made with one page of paper and some witty origami folding (mountain folds and valley folds are all you need), accordion books, match box books, fan books, origami books. Later, with more practice, there are pop-up books, spiral books, and books using all kinds of architectural designs. The opportunities are endless—I once made a small book from the two halves of a walnut shell that I drilled and wired together. Recycled materials can also be used for interesting books. Hand sewn folio books (3” x 5” and 4” x 6”) need waxed thread for binding, while more intricate Japanese “stab binding” may be used for larger books. Bindings can appear on the left side of the book (Western design) or the right side (Asian design), or in the middle, creating a diagonal design that allows pages to “open” from the top and the bottom. Tibetan books have no binding at all: sheaves of papers are simply tied with raffia, ribbon, or wire; scroll books roll their way across a tabletop. Small scroll books can be made from rolls of paper used for adding machines (inexpensive and available at office supply stores).

The easiest book to make is the Japanese flutter book which uses only one sheet of paper.

Materials Needed

  • one sheet of photocopy paper
  • scissors or craft knife


  1. Fold the paper in half lengthwise.
  2. Keeping the paper folded, fold in half crosswise and then again in half. This will make eight sections when the paper is unfolded.
  3. Cut on the fold across the second and third sections with a craft knife or scissors.
  4. Hold the folded paper at the ends (fold at the top) and gently push toward the middle to make the shape of a cross.
  5. Fold crosswise to make an 8-page book.


The most delightful follow-up to a lesson on haiku is the prayer flag or “banner.” A roll of adding machine paper is unfurled for about a foot and then torn in a diagonal line. The paper is flattened under a heavy book or ironed flat. After writing one, two, or three haiku (usually on a related theme) on the paper, pierce the top with a wooden bamboo skewer. The white paper should be in the middle of the skewer, with bits of raffia, long narrow strips of tissue paper, wool, or handmade Japanese papers that “fly” alongside the haiku. These charming banners or prayer flags may be hung indoors, with a bit of string at the top of the skewer, or outdoors when the weather is suitable. In time the outdoor banners will fade with the sun and rain, and eventually the haiku itself will disappear. I like to think that the haiku has gone back into the cosmos from where it came.


Terry Ann Carter
Terry Ann Carter is the president of Haiku Canada and the author of Lighting the Global Lantern: A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Haiku and Related Literary Forms (Wintergreen Studios Press, 2011). She is also the author of five collections of longer poetry. Terry Ann travels the world with a small spiraled bound notebook, just large enough for composing haiku.

This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2013 issue.

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