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Teachers: Literacy: Text

Last Updated: Thursday September 08 2005 16:55 GMT

Hurricane Katrina poetry


Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina has left more than half a million people homeless and hundreds of thousands living in shelters.

Prompted by a news story and some dramatic photographs, students write poems about the effects of the storm, focussing on what it might be like to be evacuated.

Learning aims

By the end of the lesson, students should understand:

  • Some facts about the effects of Hurricane Katrina
  • How to construct a poem from words and phrases prompted by a picture
  • How to revise and re-draft their work

Rescue boats are still checking every house for survivors

News-story comprehension

Read out this story to the class.

The story and the following questions are available as a printable worksheet.

Ask students:

1. How many children from the US state of Louisiana have gone to live in Texas because of Hurricane Katrina? Around 10,000.

2. What kind of accommodation are they living in? Temporary homes.

3. How long will they be there? They are not sure. Until it is safe to go back to Louisiana.

4. Name some of the things children have lost in the storm? Homes, family members.

5. Why has the mayor of New Orleans ordered people to be forcibly removed? It's not safe for people to stay there. Floodwater has been contaminated with raw sewage, dead bodies, fuel and chemicals.

6. Who is allowed to remain in New Orleans? Anyone involved in the rescue operation.

7. How much of New Orleans is still underwater? Around 60 per cent of the city.

8. How long do some experts say it will take to clear the city of water? Up to 80 days.

Main activity

People are rescued in a boat

Poems from pictures

Print out these photographs of Katrina and the evacuation effort. Distribute them to the class, one per student. There are 19 pictures in the gallery so you may need more than one set.

Use this script and suggested timing to guide students through the poetry writing process.

This 16-minute exercise is best done in silence. The idea is to quicken the pace of the creative process with quantity taking precedence over quality.

    1 min. Look at your picture.

    2 min. Now turn it over so you can't see it. Write down everything you can remember about the picture. Jot down words and phrases randomly on a plain piece of paper. Try to remember objects in the picture and colours.

    1 min. Now look at the words. Can you link any together? Join them up with lines.

    1 min. Is there a theme or topic that emerges from the joined up words and phases? Use this as the title of your poem. Write it at the top of a new piece of lined paper. This is just a working title. You can change it later.

    2 min. Now turn the picture over again and take another look at it with the title of your poem in mind. Can you add any more words and phrases? Any words that describe a feeling, a sound, a smell or a texture? Anything from the news-story you read at the beginning of the lesson? Jot them down on the paper and add lines connecting them to other words and phrases.

    1 min. Pick out three words that go together. Make a sentence containing them. Write this underneath your working title.

    1 min. Repeat this for another group of three words. Write this sentence a third of the way down the page.

    1 min. Make a sentence from a final group of three connecting words. Write this two-thirds of the way down the page. These three sentences are now the opening lines of verses 1 2 and 3 of your poem.

    1 min. Put a red line through the words you have used.

    5 min. Use other words on the paper to complete the three verses of your poem, adding details about the subject mentioned in each of the opening lines. Cross out the words as you use them.

    British poet Benjamin Zephaniah

    1 min. If you want to, change your working title to something which better suits your finished poem.

Students can make their poem rhyme or they can use free verse. For more information on poetry and different forms, use this guide.

Extension activity

Students revise their poem, altering and adding phrases and verses.

They mount the photograph, word map and their first and final drafts of the poem on sugar paper, showing the creation process form start to finish. This makes a great wall display.


Students hold up their photograph and state their poem's working title before reading out their finished poem.

They explain reasons for any changes from the working title.

Teachers' background

For loads of information on the effects of Hurricane Katrina, including an animated guide to how hurricanes form and a clickable map of Katrina's path, click on the links on the right hand side.


Hurricane Katrina has left more than half a million people homeless and hundreds of thousands living in shelters.

An official state of emergency has been declared in 13 states in total.

States across America are taking in refugees, or making plans to do so in the coming days.

In addition the Red Cross is caring for more than 135,000 people at 470 shelters in 12 states.

The exodus has overwhelmed some areas. Hotel rooms are booked up for miles around, and state authorities have taken over stadiums, military barracks and other venues to provide shelter.

Texas has faced the largest volume of refugees, currently taking in more than 239,000. The state has been able to house thousands in large venues in the city of Houston but is also flying some evacuees to other states and. There are plans to accommodate 4,000 people on cruise ships to help to spread the load.

An estimated 50,000-100,000 people were left stranded in New Orleans for several days after Hurricane Katrina swept through.

These were people who either chose to stay or were unable to flee along with the 400,000 city residents who left as the storm advanced.

A massive airlift combined with huge bus convoys on Saturday 3 September moved thousands to safety. Many were taken to the Astrodome and other large venues in Houston.

Some residents have opened up their homes.

By Sunday 4 September, New Orleans was almost deserted.

Curriculum relevance

English / KS 2&3 / En2 Reading
1a. Choose form and content to suit a particular purpose.
2a. Plan - note and develop initial ideas.
2b. Draft - develop ideas from the plan into structured written text.
2c. Revise - change and improve the draft.
2d. Proofread - check the draft for spelling and punctuation errors, omissions and repetitions.
2e. Present - prepare a neat, correct and clear final copy.
2f. Discuss and evaluate their own and others' writing.
9a. Imagine and explore feelings and ideas, focusing on creative uses of language and how to interest the reader.
10. Use writing to help thinking, investigating, organising and learning.
12. Range should include poems.

The numbers refer to the KS2 National Curriculum Programme of Study for English.

For hundreds more news-based stories, click on Teachers on the left-hand side.

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