Take A Poetry Hike! (And Boost Sensory Detail Use)

Ah, Autumn. The leaves are coloring, the air is crisping. So many delights to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. It's the perfect time of year to zoom in on sensory details. As a writing teacher, I preach the power of sensory details, or using the five senses to describe observations.  Sensory details make writing more memorable because they recreate moments in a tangible, multidimensional way. Sensory details are especially potent when writing poetry.

My favorite way to introduce students to using sensory details is by taking them on a sensory hike. Whether we walk through a park, forest, or neighborhood, students love escaping the classroom and exploring the outdoors. As a bonus, this activity also encourages students to slow down and practice mindfulness.  

Before we head outside, I tell students the goal of our hike is to write sensory poems. Then I share this quote by Francisco X. Alarcón:

"To write poetry we must first touch, smell, and taste every word." 

We discuss how important it is for writers to be observers, not just of what we see, but also what we touch, smell, hear, and taste. If we want to truly capture a moment in words, we need to engage all of our senses. To help students become more sensory aware as we hike, I give them these directions:

Find a space away from others. Let quietness settle. 
Open your eyes wide. Look up. Look down. To the left and right. 
Take in the smells and sounds. Notice textures. 
Zoom in on the smallest details, from the tip of a blade of grass to the way a branch curves. 

Then I invite students to write their observations on this SENSORY HIKE NOTES form. (I purposefully left "taste" off the form. While taste is definitely an important sense, I don't want to encourage students to put potentially harmful things in their mouths!) At first, students are a little squirmy with the excitement and freedom of being outside, but they soon settle into the task of paying attention to their senses.  

Sensory Hike Notes

After the students have plenty of time to write a few ideas down on each section of the form, we return to the class, rosy cheeked and ready to write some poetry. I ask students to take the best ideas from their notes and write a poem, using this SENSORY POEM PLANNER. I encourage student to enlist a variety of senses to describe the different items they observed. 

Here is an example poem, created by a student using the SENSORY POEM PLANNER:


smelling brown.
A fungus tree
that wrinkles like an old lady.
An airplane
loud and annoying.
soaring through a cool breeze
finally reaching me.

-Anjali, Grade 3

I hope this post has inspired you to take a poetry hike with your students and soak in all of those wonderful and powerful sensory details.

About Michelle Schaub

Michelle Schaub is a language arts teacher and award-winning children's poet. She is the author of the picture book poetry collections Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market  and Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections. She is also the author of two picture books in verse, Dream Big, Little Scientists and Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy. Her poems appear in several anthologies, including  Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud.  Michelle loves visiting schools and speaking at conferences on the power of poetry to boost literacy. Find out more at:  https://www.michelleschaub.com/


  1. Love this idea! I've actually done this as an adult in a class for teachers. And on my own of course.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I agree. It's such a wonderful way to reset and be mindful. (And come up with some great sensory descriptions!)


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