Tanka Poem Activity

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Updated on Jun 22, 2012

Most of us are familiar with haiku, but the tanka is an even older form of Japanese poetry. The tanka poem is 5 lines long with a fixed number of syllables. Because so many Japanese poems are about nature, help your 4th grader create a poem about the outdoors.

What You Need:

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Imagination

What You Do:

  1. Explain to your child that you are both going to write a Japanese poem called a tanka. It is similar to a haiku because there are a fixed number of lines and specific number of syllables per line.

    Line 1: 5 syllables

    Line 2: 7 syllables

    Line 3: 5 syllables

    Line 4: 7 syllables

    Line 5: 7 syllables

  2. Many Japanese poems are about nature. Help your daughter brainstorm nature topics for her tanka. Maybe there is someplace you’ve recently visited as a family that she would like to write about.
  3. Once your daughter has picked a topic, have her make up a word list. What words come to mind when she thinks about her topic? These words will help her choose what she wants to include in her poem.
  4. Time to write! Each line can contain a separate thought or one thought can be split between two or more lines. Be ready for some serious rewriting as she tries to achieve the right number of syllables per line.

For extra inspiration, try printing off pictures of your favorite natural places and ask each person in the family to write a tanka. You’ll be surprised how different each poem is. Display each poem with the photo that inspired it!

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