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Twitter haiku: 17 syllables and 140 characters through US history

You gotta love the Twitter. Seriously. Even you choose to not use it at a personal level, there’s just too much stuff you and students can do with it.

Historical re-creations. Tweets as historical characters. Exit card activities. Assign homework. Virtual study rooms. Question and answer sessions with students. Connect with parents. With other teachers. With other classrooms. Provide study tips. Ask questions. Share ideas. Real time chats. Follow breaking news and current events.

And now?

History as haiku.

H.W. Brands, well-known author of Andrew Jackson, is tweeting his way through the history of the United States. Which is cool enough – and not the simplest of tasks, by the way. But Brand is not just tweeting his way through centuries of American history but doing it in traditional 17 syllable Japanese haiku.

Yup. Haiku.

Apparently Brand has been preaching for years that history can be written in any format:

I’ve been saying this for some years when one semester a student said, ‘Well, Professor, have you ever done it?

His bluff called, Brands jumps in and does it. One or two tweets a day. For some historical events, one tweet will do. For others, it can take longer.

I covered 10,000 years in North American history in two or three haiku, but by the time I got to the Civil War, I found, in fact, that I was losing ground. It was taking me longer to write the haiku than it was for the events to roll out. The Battle of Gettysburg lasted only three days, but I wrote it in probably 10 or 15 haiku that were spread out over three weeks.

Recent tweets focus on the Homestead Strike:

history as haiku

I really like using this with students. For a couple of reasons. First, 17 syllables forces kids to focus on the Big Idea of the topic and provides a quick way to check for understanding. Use the haiku idea as an exit card activity. Ask different kids to create haiku from different perspectives. What is the Big Idea if we’re looking at events from a historian’s perspective a century later? What is the Big Idea if I’m Carnegie? If I’m a striker? If I’m a scab?

Second, the Twitter tool provides a broader audience for student tweets. And forces even more concentration of focus.

Extra bonus? Ask kids to make decisions about what events, people, places, topics should be addressed via the haiku slash Twitter strategy. Ask them to justify why they picked what they picked.

A quick reminder of haiku rules:

  • A haiku must be three lines
  • The lines must follow the 5-7-5 format
  • The first line contains five syllables
  • The second line contains seven syllables
  • The third line contains five syllables

Find out more about how Brands is creating his history via haiku (including a not to missed seven minute interview with PBS) here.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. An intriguing concept. I wish I had thought of “history in haiku” when I was teaching both English and history in a public high school.

    April 29, 2014

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