I forgot the peaceful silence of early morning December moonlight.
Everything is still. No one is stirring. This morning, I took a moment to enjoy the clear of daybreak; the chill of the air whistling at my face, gently waking me up. My breath was warm from a few morning miles on the pavement. I enjoy running, but I much prefer the moment the run is finished. My ears are acutely aware of the silence that can only be heard at this hour. My eyes laser focus on the dark sky; and I can see the extended arms of a barren tree. Somehow, the chill doesn’t bother me. Especially when I see this:
There are moments when I want to try my hand at another sport. And then, I have these moments when I realize that running has given me every opportunity to see things from an entirely new perspective. It forces me to step outside at 5 a.m. and appreciate the beauty that I would otherwise overlook. In these moments, I realize that I don’t want to take up any other sport. I don’t want to be inside the walls of a gym. I would much rather be able to take this in every single workout.
I say all of this to point to the fact that the outdoors is one of the greatest teaching tools when used in moderation. Students spend entirely too much time sitting behind a desk, looking at a board, writing notes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. As a recent study suggests, traditional teaching methods are the most effective methods.
And yet, as an English teacher, if you don’t allow your students to explore the outdoors the way that many authors have to gather their inspiration, you’ll likely end up with the same essay 150 times.
Not to mention, it will become difficult to understand inspiration. I don’t know of many great authors who began their greatest work inside a classroom. Many were outside; some were in their home, reflecting on the wake of warfare, heartbreak, or social injustice.
In my opinion, sensory language is best taught while students get a chance to experience the elements.
Every year, I begin my poetry unit by teaching sensory language. It is a great segue into tying poetic language into prose. I take all of my classes outside. In some schools, I was able to walk them under an awning, as students watched raindrops and traffic passing by. Last year, my students got an opportunity to walk around the track, while eating a snack. #intentional rhyme.
It is a simple lesson plan, but it works. For about five (silent) minutes, students record what they see. The next five, students record what they hear (most of the time it is environmental noise, although, when students whisper, it is fun to read the exacerbation of the students who really wanted to enjoy the activity). The next five, students record what they feel (is it cold? warm? dry?). The next five minutes, students recorded what they smelled. Some of my track walkers got pretty creative with this one…they knelt to the ground and sniffed the football grass. They were ninth graders, after all. The final five minutes, the students got to eat a snack and record vivid adjectives about what they were eating.
The remainder of the class period, students recorded their notes into a poem of a specified length. I believe last year I assigned a minimum ten line poem (two lines of each sense).
Sensory language is best taught by having a sensory experience. When students were able to experience the elements, they began to understand the power of sensory language.