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Lesson Plan, Persuasive Essays

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Hope you had a restful and scrumptious Thanksgiving holiday. Now that I’ve had a heaping portion of family conversations, music, home cooking, and a hearty dose of museum perusing – my contingent made it to the Saint Louis Art Museum, the City Museum, the Pulitzer Arts Museum, and Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis in the span of two days — I’m ready to start the push toward Winter Break. A little less than four weeks…

Here’s Monday’s lesson for Writing Workshop, where my students are working on persuasive essays. They are five to six page papers on a topic of each student’s choice, requiring at least five credible sources (all internet-based is okay). Last class, students wrote down their subtopics on a handout and were supposed to finish drafting their introduction and first subtopic on Google Docs.

I learned a couple of things from reading their subtopic handouts and commenting on their Google Docs:

  • Many of my students are wasting class time – the majority of students didn’t meet the goal of intro + one subtopic. (I sent a friendly e-mail to parents and students today reminding them that the rough draft was due for 200 points on Friday, December 2nd, urging students who don’t have their intro + one subtopic completed to work on the paper over the weekend. Maybe that will help? Maybe not?)
  • Students need a refresher on how to organize their introduction (my rationale behind the multiple choice warm up with recall questions).
  • Identifying subtopics is a deceptively complex task – it’s really about organizing large quantities of research — and I need to model the thought process more in-depth.

Warm Up (5 min)

Present students with a handout with the following multiple-choice questions asking them to recall the structure of the introduction, as presented earlier in the unit

I put the questions in multiple-choice format to jog students’ memory more quickly and to make the process of reviewing the correct answer clearer and smoother:

  1. The intro to my persuasive essay should be at least how long?

a) two half-page length paragraphs, double spaced, 12 point font
b) one half-page length paragraph, double spaced, 12 point font
c) one page-length paragraph, double spaced, 12 point font

  1. The first paragraph of my intro should cover what topic?

    a) my argument
    b) the counterargument to mine
    c) background information on my topic

  1. Should the first paragraph of my intro include in-text citations?

    a) Yes
    b) No

  1. The second paragraph of my intro should cover what topic?

    a) my argument
    b) the counterargument to mine
    c) background information on my topic

  1. Should the second paragraph of my intro include in-text citations?

    a) Yes
    b) No

  1. The last sentence of my second paragraph should be…

    a) a transition sentence into my first subtopic
    b) my thesis statement
    c) a quote supporting my argument

  1. It is okay to use the word “I” in my persuasive essay.

    a) Yes
    b) No

  1. My introduction should have a subtopic heading.

    a) Yes
    b) No

  1. When drafting my introduction, I need my research doc/notes open.

    a) Yes
    b) No

  1. The reason I follow this introduction structure is because

    a) it surprises my reader by taking a turn and therefore engages my reader
    b) it builds my credibility and the persuasiveness of my argument
    c) both a and b

Discuss Warm Up/Take Questions (5-10 min) 10 total

(I find with this particular class it’s very difficult to sustain their attention when I do direct instruction, so I am attempting to make DI more interactive by having them answer very guided questions/discuss the answers…)

Answer & Discuss MC Questions About Subtopic Headings (15 min) 25 total

  1. “Facts of Sex Education” is NOT a good subtopic heading for what reason?

    a) this is not a factual essay
    b) it doesn’t explicitly further the writer’s argument
    c) the capitalization of the words is incorrect

  1. Does the following subtopic heading make an argument that supports the argument, “We Need More Sex Education in Schools”?

“Sex Education Is Not Just About Sex, But About Overall Health and Well-being”

a) Yes
b) No

  1. In a persuasive essay, a subtopic heading should articulate a sub-argument that supports your larger argument.

    a) True
    b) False

  1. Given our discussion, is “History of the Black Nation” a good subtopic heading for a persuasive essay about why Americans should use the term “black” instead of “African-American”?

    a) Yes
    b) No

  1. When you listed your subtopics last class, did you refer to your research notes?

    a) Yes
    b) No

(Teacher will write the steps on the board and students will copy them onto their handout)

Handout looks like this:

How To Identify Appropriate Subtopics

  1. _____________________________________________________________
  1. _____________________________________________________________
  1. _____________________________________________________________
  1. _____________________________________________________________
  1. _____________________________________________________________
  1. Subtopics are hard because you are ________________________________ information.
  1. Definition of synthesize: ____________________________________________________________

Board looks like this:

How To Identify Appropriate Subtopics

  1. Go back to each source on research notes doc
  2. Skim each source or simply your notes, if they are detailed enough
  3. Notice where similar sub-arguments pop up among sources
  4. Draft subtopics and guess how much you can write for that topic
  5. If you don’t think you have 4-5 pages of subtopic (sub-argument) material, DO MORE RESEARCH
  1. Subtopics are hard because you are synthesizing
  1. Definition of synthesize: Combine a number of things into a coherent whole

Transition to Chrome Books/Independent Work Time (5 min) 30 total

Write the following on the board:

  1. Names of students who need to share their Google Doc draft with the teacher
  2. Reminder, login to computers
  3. Goal today: 1-2 more subtopics
  4. Reminder deadline: Friday, December 2nd

Independent Work Time (60 min)

As students are drafting their essays, teacher does the following:

  1. Helps students who haven’t yet shared their documents to do so
  2. Works one-on-one with pre-identified students who have IEPs or who are doing poorly in the class
  3. Redirects students and answers questions

Hook, The Crucible

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This lesson is for the beginning of the second week of my school year. It’s the “hook” to get students interested in the play, The Crucible. (The first week of school will be spent building rapport, practicing policies and procedures, including this lesson on Growth vs. Fixed Mindset).  I introduced the book this way last year, and for the most part it was successful… except for one student whose phone I took away in the first couple days of school and who proceeded to write that I was her personal crucible. Yup, except for that 🙂 I’ve made a few tweaks to the order of things. If you’re interested in a copy of the PowerPoint I use, comment or contact me at gingerodonnell.com.  This lesson runs about 90 minutes.

 

  1. Students google the definition of the word, crucible. There are multiple definitions. They should write all of the definitions. (5 min)
  2. As a class, analyze the different definitions. How are they connected? How can we take these different, connected definitions and create a new definition in our own words? (5 min)
  3. Tell students that they will write a paragraph (or more) about a personal crucible they have experienced, or someone they are close to has experienced, based on the definition of crucible we have created. Model this first by reading your own (this activity continues to build rapport in the beginning of the year) — I am planning to write about my sister-in-law’s first few months on a remote Pacific island in the Peace Corps (also a convenient way to plant the Peace Corps seed in my students’ minds). (15 min)
  4. Students pair up with the person sitting next to them (all my classes have seating charts, alphabetical order in the beginning of the year) and share what they wrote. (7 min)
  5. Call on four partners to share out with the class what their partner wrote. In the beginning of the year, popsicle sticks come in handy to randomly select sharers, or you can take volunteers if students are eager to share. (10 min)
  6. Explain to students that there are really two crucibles taking place in the play, The Crucible: one that forms the action of the plot, and one that is subtext. Project the definition of subtext on the board and have students write it down: an underlying meaning in a literary or dramatic work, sub meaning under, text meaning text, in other words, the meaning you find when you read between the lines. 
  7. Define Crucible #1 in The Crucible: a bunch of teenage girls and older women are falsely accused of witchcraft and the justice system doesn’t protect them. 
  8. Explain to students that a mnemonic device helps you remember something. In this case, we’re using the song “Witchy Woman” by the Eagles to remember Crucible #1 that we just defined. Play the song and provide students with a copy of the lyrics, either on the projector or on a handout.

“Witchy Woman”
The Eagles 1970s

Raven hair and ruby lips
sparks fly from her finger tips
Echoed voices in the night
she’s a restless spirit on an endless flight
wooo hooo witchy woman, see how
high she flies
woo hoo witchy woman she got
the moon in her eye
She held me spellbound in the night
dancing shadows and firelight
crazy laughter in another
room and she drove herself to madness
with a silver spoon
woo hoo witchy woman see how high she flies
woo hoo witchy woman she got the moon in her eye
Well I know you want a lover,
let me tell your brother, she’s been sleeping
in the Devil’s bed.
And there’s some rumors going round
someone’s underground
she can rock you in the nighttime
’til your skin turns red
woo hoo witchy woman
see how high she flies
woo hoo witchy woman
she got the moon in her eye

9. Define Crucible #2 (Subtext): in the 1950s, there was a witch hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy to hunt down communists. Professors and leaders in higher education, Hollywood, theatre, radio, and television were especially targeted. In this situation, too, the justice system didn’t protect them. 

10. Play “Get That Communist Joe” to remember Crucible #2. (20 min)

“Get That Communist, Joe”
The Kavaliers 1954

Joe, come here a minute
I get a red hot tip for you, Joe

See that guy with the red suspenders
Driving that car with the bright red fenders
I know he’s one of those heavy spenders
Get that Communist Joe

He’s fillin’ my gal with propaganda
And I’m scared she will meander
Don’t want to take a chance that he’ll land her
Get that Communist Joe

He’s a most revolting character
And the fellas hate him so
But with the girls this character
Is a Comrade Romeo

Since my love he’s sabotaging
And the law he has been dodging
Give him what he deserves, jailhouse lodging
Get that Communist Joe (Get that Shmo, Joe)

11. Students take notes on 12 PowerPoint slides, expounding on four key points (30 min)

  • Puritanism
  • Witchcraft
  • McCarthyism
  • Arthur Miller

12. HW: Read “The Great Fear” by J. Ronald Oakley (about 20 pages), a “related reading” from The Crucible and Related Readings; provide students with a bookmark defining target vocabulary words as they read and inform them that there will be a brief 5 question reading quiz next class

Turning the Page

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 4.37.10 AM‘Tis the season for list-making! I recently shared a fantasy smorgasbord of Christmas cookies (one down, four to go), and today I feel compelled to share a few books on my shortlist, an homage to that other, all-consuming winter pastime: curling up on the couch with a good read. From literary criticism to historical fiction to memoir to spy novel to a book lover’s self-help manual, Forrest Gump might liken my selection to a box of chocolates, as in, “you never know what you’re gonna get.” I’m cool with that — it aptly describes the pleasure I derive from bookstore browsing. Here are some of my far-flung finds:

Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 4.38.41 AMAt least once before on this blog, I have tried to put my finger on what is so doggone compelling about Henry James, going so far as to cite Zadie Smith’s insights and dignifying the ridiculously overwrought The Golden Bowl with a detailed book review. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that my desire to understand James — how he crafts such highly sympathetic, surprisingly tragic characters — is still burning. It’s a nerdy fixation, but one that evidently plagues other members of his fan club, including Michael Gorra, author of Portrait of a Novel, which I discovered in a September 2012 issue ofThe New Yorker. In essence, Gorra’s book distills James’s literary genius into an analysis of his most famous and critically acclaimed novel. Reviewer Anthony Lane is another ebullient fan, and points out the dramatic potential of a “book about a book” by emphasizing how James’s poised, understated prose somehow left “the equilibrium of [its] readers shaken,” all starting with this innocuous opening line: “‘Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.’” For obvious reasons, Lane reserves his recommendation of Portrait of a Novel — part biography, part textual analysis, part literary criticism — for those with an established attachment to Portrait of a Lady. However, he ends his review with a message for less ardent fans, saying we “need him [Henry James] more than ever,” referencing Gorra’s assertion that Portrait of a Lady’s greatest accomplishment is exposing the “limits of self-sufficiency.” Yes, I’m wholeheartedly onboard — Isabel’s misplaced trust in her own bright and promising future, with such an all-American commitment to her own destiny, is what makes the failure of her choices “shake our equilibrium” as cock-eyed, optimistic Americans. If the current state of our economy has made many people more open to the fallacy of the American dream, if TV shows like “Girls” garner accolades for depicting modern-day Isabel Archers on their hapless journeys toward self-actualization, then perhaps there’s never been a better moment to explore the coming-of-age story of the twenty-something author who called us out on our false pretenses circa 1880.

The Paris Wife

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 4.39.29 AMA few months ago, I spent some time perusing this 2011 historical fiction novel in a bookstore. It seemed like a light diversion, telling the story of a 28-year-old midwestern woman, Hadley Richardson, and her whirlwind relationship with Ernest Hemingway. Rich with references, it contains a glamorous cast of real-life legends — Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, in addition to Hemingway — a fabled setting — Chicago and Paris circa the roaring twenties — and the intensity of a love affair in which wife equals literary muse. According to Janet Maslin of The New York Times, The Paris Wife is addled with clichés and clumsy pastiches of the characters that populate its pages, but who really cares? I have a feeling that much like Woody Allen’s disjointed film, Midnight in Paris, this book earned its popularity for more sentimental reasons, serving as a wistful ride back in time and across the atlantic.

A Story Lately Told

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 4.39.53 AMI enjoy the fact that memoirs are a kind of inclusive, “bottomline” writing endeavor, concerned with honestly sharing the writer’s experience rather than word-smithing. More than other genres, the art of writing a memoir (and the pleasure of reading one) seems to be purely about the transfer of information, about illuminating the myriad layers contained in a single life. I’m drawn to Angelica Houston’s recently published memoir as a way to glimpse into pop culture history. She touches on the marital dynamics between her flamboyant, self-absorbed film director father and her young, beautiful, ballet dancer mother, her pastoral upbringing in Galway, Ireland, her power couple status vis-a-vis Jack Nicholson, even her unapologetic embracement of fashion as a source of aesthetic pleasure and self-expression. It cracks the surface of a life mostly known through images, whatever your generation.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 4.40.56 AMI’ve never read anything by acclaimed crime writer John Le Carré, but he’s been on my radar via book reviews and recommended reading lists since the publication of his 2008 novel, A Most Wanted Man. His name seems to pop up with increasing frequency, from film adaptations (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011) to new works (A Delicate Truth in 2013) to the increasing relevance of espionage in our culture (the NSA, Edward Snowden, the popular TV show, Homeland, to name a few examples). Touted in Anthony Boucher’s 1964 New York Times review as “a novel of significance, while losing none of the excitement of the tale of sheer adventure,” The Spy Who Came in from the Cold seems like a good place to start within Le Carré’s formidable oeuvre. The protaganist, Alec Leamas is disillusioned with espionage work, undertaking one last assignment before quitting the field. The story doubles as a suspenseful account of his assignment and a deeper, psychological portrait of a man “permanently isolated in his deceit.” Having just finished season two of Homeland, this description sounds eerily like Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody, and their mutual experience of being “isolated in deceit.”

How Proust Can Change Your Life

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 4.41.39 AMI read de Botton’s The Art of Travel last summer, which I have written about at length on this site. After confiscating the book from my husband during our road trip down Highway 1, I quickly became smitten with de Botton’s ability to expound upon broad, timeless topics in a manner both original and unexpectedly practical. De Botton has a singular focus on essay writing, and rather impressively sticks to large, universal subjects, such as Art as Therapy, Status Anxiety, and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. If the measure of a good cook is their most basic dish, the same test applies to writers — the best ones can take on well-worn topics head-on, infusing them with flavor. The Art of Travel mustered a lot of flavor, and from what I’ve read, How Proust Can Change Your Life contains the same mixture of insight and practicality. According to de Botton’s website, the book developed out of the notion that literature is a transformational thing, a belief widely proselityzed by English teachers but rarely examined in-depth. So de Botton examines Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, characterized as “a byword for obscurity and irrelevance,” to demonstrate some of the ways in which literature can literally be a guide to real life. I have never read any of Proust’s books, which may speak to the unsubstantiated claims of English teachers, but why not start easy, with “a self-help book like few others”?

[Photos: “Turn the Pages,” Krissy.Venosdale’s photo stream via Creative Commons, and photos of the books’ front covers]

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