Easy Writing Composition: Look! Up in the air! It’s a limerick! It’s a haiku! It’s…. a cinquain?

Good Morning Class.A couple of weeks ago my landlord asked me if I could sit in front of one of his properties and wait for the gas utility truck to come and turn on the heat. No problem. I took a notepad and my dictionary and staked out my car in front of the property, ready to compose a limerick for my favorite blog site.  By the time the landlord cruised by to see what was going on, I had a draft limerick with several lines, but two rhymes I couldn’t quite get right. By the time the lady in the gas truck showed up (and she knew exactly how many thousand fires are started every year in Our Fair City by clear plastic dryer hoses) I had a respectable limerick ready.

The  informal limerick competitions were fun, but how often do we have enough free time just to sit and compose a limerick, with all its problems of rhyme and meter? Wouldn’t it be nice to jump straight into creativity and start expressing without a lot of technical details?

Well, help is on the way. I have unearthed the instructions for writing a cinquain poem. Like the haiku, the French cinquain (pronounced sah KAHN) is a sort of folk poem with a very structured framework. My Arab students loved it because they could be creative very quickly no matter what their level of English skill. The source for the exercise is Alice Omaggio Hadley’s Teaching Language in Context.

The cinquain is five lines:

Line 1: States a subject in one word (usually a noun)
Line 2: Describes the subject in two words (often a noun and an adjective or two adjectives)
Line 3: Describes an action about the subject in three words (often three infinitives, or a three word sentence)
Line 4: Expresses an emotion about the subject in four words.
Line 5: Restates the subject in another single word that reflects what has already been said (usually a noun)

Here is a cinquain in French and translated into English:

Optimiste perpetual
Attend son maitre
Il entend des pas…

Perpetual optimist
Waiting for his master
He hears steps

Okay, knock your socks off. This isn’t on the test, it’s for extra credit. Double extra credit for puns or metaphors.

Update: the writing and old comments were migrated from a different site.

3 Responses to “Look! Up in the air! It’s a limerick! It’s a haiku! It’s…. a cinquain?”

Christopher Says:
March 18th, 2006 at 2:10 am Thank you, thank you. I have a new exercise for my classes next semester (or, well…whenever). But it strikes me that line four isn’t really expressing an emotion about the subject, but rather describing an action of the subject, and the line following describes the subject’s response to the action, or something like that. I’m not kvetching, I’m still going to use it.
Anonymous Says:
March 18th, 2006 at 10:19 am Christopher, My students came up with MUCH better cinquains. I was laughing as they turned in the papers, and wanted to read them out loud. They finally agreed to let me read them to the class but without identification. But when they saw how much the rest of the class enjoyed it, they all admitted authorship and agreed to let me publish them in a little handout for the class. I suppose that’s something I could use for a portfolio.
I’ve never actually tried one myself, so here goes:
Illegal listening
Recording, transmitting, transcripting
Contemptuous disregard for law
J Says:
March 19th, 2006 at 7:57 am
Irrational Prompt
Hatred Usually Follows
Regret Follows Close Behind

One Response to “Easy Writing Composition: Look! Up in the air! It’s a limerick! It’s a haiku! It’s…. a cinquain?”

  1. Teacher Says:

    Hi, students,
    Here are some links for free games and lessons in English:

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