Wallow in Wonder Poem 6: 1661: "Who Was the First Emperor of China?"

Apr 6, 2016

Paul W. Hankins


Today's wonder has me thinking about how a young writer could use a form of poetry to answer a question. There is an answer to the question posed by the wonder today. And it could be answered. Just. Like. This.

Ying Zheng.

Good. Now what? I wonder.

I wonder if this is how many assessments begin and end in the classroom. We know the answer to the question we ask of the students and they answer it. Or they don't. And maybe we employ some wait time. Maybe we don't. Maybe we answer the question again. For the student. The one from which we wanted the answer to a question to which we had already found an answer. Do you see where I am going?

Because I lost myself. And many young people get lost in a mode of assessment that separates those with the answers and those still seeking an answer. And that third group. . .the student seeking the better answer. There must be more to learning than this kind of academic dare/trade-off.

I think this is where poetry could shine all year long. Not just in the month of April. What if we asked the students to respond to a wonder like today's--one that has a set answer and surprise ourselves if we looked to the answer to the question poetically.

Cinquain is a form that might invite us to look a little more closely at not only the answer to the question, but the surprises that lie in wait when we explore a subject through poetic form.

The cinquain form takes on many different "looks" depending on the poet who adopts it. There is the basic form of one five-line stanza with a 2-4-6-8-2 syllable schematic. Or one can use word count to satisfy the counts for each line.

A crown cinquain is a series of five stanzas in that 2-4-6-8-2 modality. But a garland cinquain is what I want to show you today. The garland is created wherein one would have five stanzas with a sixth comprised of the lines from the previous five. Line one would come from stanza one, line one, and line two would come from stanza two, line two. You'll get the idea here.

What I really like about the garland is the surprise, the revelation that often comes of that sixth stanza when it comes out of the other five. It's not one that I might have thought of without the synthesis. You'll see what I mean at the end of the piece.

So. . .drafting on the screen (I want you to know that this piece was written on-the-fly in an effort to show how we are using poetic form to answer a question--in revision we might look at word play) and looking at today's wonder, here is Wallow in Wonder Poem 6:

"The First Emperor"

A boy,

born a royal

in Qin territory,

a place we call China today:

Ying Zheng.

The prince,

a king at thirteen,

rules with a regent's help

until he assumes full control:

a man.

He says,

"I'm Emperor!"

Declaring self as such

after he conquers the six states:

Shi Huang.

He leads

making changes--

necessary reforms--

binding separate together

the people.


for loyalty.

Makes demands of people

to include their own history:


A boy,

a king at thirteen.

Declaring self as such,

binding separate together:


See, now, how the sixth stanza in the garland becomes a sort of "surprise" response to the question posed by the wonder?

Beyond the response, "Qin Shi Huang," we now have "Qin Shi Huang, a boy king who at the age of thirteen began to make declarations for a unified China but did so under a tyrannical rule."

If you notice each of the stanzas were created from the paragraph of the wonder. In this way, we are able to work in comprehension level practice along with the ability to create a paraphrase. In the sixth stanza, we see the surprise finding that comes of synthesizing together the previous five stanzas. All of this with a poetic form that you could take into the classroom tomorrow.

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