This exercise works especially well with beginning or young writers. It focuses on sensory images and how they work in poetry and prose. It asks students to experience their environment in a new way. Finally, it helps students find the precise words and phrases to express their feelings.
Send students on a poetry scavenger hunt to find images, using all of their senses. Have the students go outdoors (or even look around their own classroom) to collect tastes, smells, sounds, sights and tactile impressions. Ask them to be as precise as they can be.
When the scavenger hunt is over, have the students get together as a group to read their sensory images aloud to each other. Next, use these images to create a group poem, having each student write a line of poetry on a piece of paper as it circulates through the classroom. After each student writes a line, have that student fold the paper to hide their words, and then pass the page on to the next student. The next student writes a line of poetry without knowing what the student before them has written, and so on.
The result is a poem with unusual juxtapositions, where students are surprised at how different perceptions and sensory images can play off each other. Students enjoy sharing the results of their poetry scavenger hunt, hearing how another student might describe the same thing in a different way. They explore ways that sensory images can be used in creating exciting, detailed description and increase vocabulary.
This example is taken from Magpie Academy, a charter school for grades four through eight in Homer, Alaska. This was done during a creative writing workshop with all five grades present. Each student wrote a line after completing the Poetry Scavenger Hunt Exercise and looking for sensory images outside. No student knew what line was written before his or hers. The poem appears as it was written -- no lines have been moved or rearranged.
Don't Laugh At Mistakes
By Magpie Academy Students Ellen Bauer, Nikki Beck, Amanda Merchant, Kelsey Kleine, Owen Bauer, Jason McNatt, Kye Klamser, Lauren Bell, Megan Anderson, Lydia Kleine, Chelsey Nieman, Mackenzie Callis, Katie Bauer, Amelia Robertson, Claire Laukitis, Gillian Beran-Maryott, Miro Schaad, and George Gustafson.
A dog is soft and furry and wigwags
suck cold through brittle teeth as goosebumps tango
touch cold snow and air
whiffs of pine and coldness trickle through my nose
COLD WET ice
stacks with thin pieces of wood
disappear, bird seed holder
holds a swallow, almost dead from cold
snow on trees by ice blue bay
a boat grumbles in the far-off bay