BOOK-ku: Boost Summary Skills with Haiku


Do you want your students to read deeply and be accountable for what they’re read? 

Are you tired of lengthy book reports? 

Or book talks that drag on endlessly? 

When it comes to summarizing texts, students often have a hard time being brief. But the ability to summarize is an anchor reading skill for both fiction and nonfiction. No matter which ELA standards you look at, they all require students to identify central topics, ideas, or themes and retell key details. 


Enter Haiku

Haiku forces writers to be succinct. To choose only the best words in the best order. Rita Dove describes poetry as “language distilled.” Haiku is language ultra-concentrated. Haiku’s brevity is exactly what makes it a great tool for honing students’ summary skills.

In lieu of book reports or talks, have students write a BOOK-ku, or a haiku book summary. This activity works with a variety of age groups and types of reading: fairy tales, short stories, novels, a chapter in a novel, or even section in a nonfiction textbook. After reading a designated text, ask students to write a BOOK-ku that expresses the main idea or theme.  (For a highly structured introductory lesson and click here.)(For a more advanced lesson click here.)

Haiku Review:

This traditional Japanese poetry form is deceptively simple: three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Just seventeen beats in all. But anyone who has tried to capture the essence of moment with such tight parameters knows how challenging haiku can be. I wrote a haiku to express this challenge:

How Haiku Helps:

Wrestling with words is exactly what leads to deeper thinking. Instead of retelling every plot point or fact, writing BOOK-ku requires students to prioritize and distill. What are the most important ideas? What are the best words to express those ideas?

Here's an example of a BOOK-ku I wrote to summarize the main idea of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
And here's one that a student wrote for Newbery-winning Wolf Hollow. (An excellent book about compassion and accepting differences, by the way.)
More Haiku Ideas:
Consider displaying students’ haiku along with accompanying book covers in a “BOOK-ku” display. This will give others a sneak-peek at books they might want to read.

BOOK-ku: a way to cultivate a culture of readers and writers in your classroom in a mere seventeen syllables.

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