Teacher’s File Drawer: End of the School Year Tanka Project

A few years ago, I encountered the Tanka, a poetic form that has flourished since the 700’s in Japan

Like Haiku, the Tanka is constructed of a fixed number of syllables per line (Line 1—five syllables or fewer; Line 2—seven syllables or fewer; Line 3—five syllables or fewer; Line 4—seven syllables or fewer; Line 5—seven syllables or fewer).

The traditional subject matter for Tanka is less restricted than that for Haiku. However, Tanka were frequently addressed the subject of love.

For this assignment, your students will capture things they have loved from this school year to preserve in the form of a Tanka.

Set: Ask your students if they have heard of Haiku. Call on several students to share what they know about Haiku.

Now introduce the Tanka form:

  • Line 1—five syllables or fewer
  • Line 2—seven syllables or fewer
  • Line 3—five syllables or fewer
  • Line 4—seven syllables or fewer
  • Line 5—seven syllables or fewer

Tell students that by the end of the period they will have written several Tanka.

Pre-write: As a group brainstorm all the categories of activities students have encountered through the school year. Keep a running list, the bigger the list the better.

Tell your students to select three items from the list and write them across the top of a page. Below each category of activity, instruct the students to list words, feelings, actions, and sensory imagery they associate with it.

Rough Draft: Instruct your students to draft a Tanka for each of their three categories.

Revision and Editing: Have students spend a few minutes revising each of their Tanka. Tell them to ask themselves if they can change out hum drum words and phrases for more vivid, descriptive words and words and phrases.

Now instruct them to read all three of their Tanka and choose one to polish up as a contribution to a class collection.

Have students divide into pairs or groups of three and share their chosen Tanka with each other. Ask them to praise strong, specific word choices and vivid images in each others work. Instruct them to point out any areas that are confusing or unclear in their partners’ work. Require them to write down their partners’ feedback.

Suggest they help each other with spelling and punctuation.

Publish: Ask each student to make a clean final copy of their chosen Tanka to turn in.

Collect:

  1. The students’ brainstorm sheet for their three chosen categories.
  2. The rough drafts of all three Tankas.
  3. The final copy of their chosen Tanka

The Scoring Criteria for this project are as follows:

Brainstorm Sheet:

  • 3 categories with lists 1 point  (.8 pts. for two lists, .6 pts. for one list, 0 lists=0 pts.)
  • effort composing lists 1 point (10 items each list—1pt., 5-9 items each–.8 pts., 1-4 items each–.6.pts., 0 items=0 points)

Rough Drafts of 3 Tankas:

  • Three Tankas 1 point  (.8 pts. for two Tankas, .6 pts. for one Tanka, 0 Tankas=0 pts.)
  • Fidelity to the format 1 point (-.2 pts. for each line that exceeds its limit)
  • Partner comments for the selected Tanka 1 point  (Recorded feedback=1 pt. Did not record feedback=0pts)

Final Tanka:

  • Ideas and Content 1 point  (The Tanka has a topic and the writer uses strong details. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Organization 1 point  (The ideas in the Tanka are presented in an order that facilitates understanding. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Word Choice 2 points–Two points because word choice is so significant in condensed writing.  (The writer uses specific nouns, strong verbs, and vivid imagery. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Fluency 1 point  (The writing has a nice flow. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Voice 1 point  (This Tanka sounds like it was written by an individual and that he or she sounds committed to the poem being created. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Conventions 1 point  (The writer demonstrates mastery over writing conventions. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)

Total: ______/12 pts.

Gather or display: I created mini-posters using word processing software, matted them, and posted them for my eighth graders at graduation. You could do this and post in the classroom or on display until the end of the year.

Or, you can collect the poems into a book and give each student a copy as keepsake for remembering the year.

And try writing some Tanka yourself. It’s quite addicting. For my mother’s seventieth birthday I made my mom a book of poems. Most of them were Tanka.

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