The Declaration of Independence Rhetoric Unit

One of my favorite units of the year is one I just finished–where I use the Declaration of Independence to teach about rhetoric, along with reading, writing, and speaking skills.

I start with the text, asking why exactly this document was written and for whom. Nobody ever knows. Then we read it looking for answers (attachment 1 below). I point out aspects of persuasion in it, then we go back to the big questions. That’s about half a day, on a block schedule. The other half day I use to go over this rhetorical analysis worksheet that I like with them (attachment 2). I really want them to understand this as an argument–we look for ethos, pathos, and logos in the declaration, for example (use this video if those concepts are new to students).

Putting this color-coded version on the projector to immediately review also reinforces the most salient points.

Another day we look at the handout that compares drafts (attachment 3), and we talk about the writing and revision process–what changes were made and why, and if they’re better or not. We relate this to their own work. I also tell them about the anti-slavery paragraph that the southern colonies made Jefferson take out–none of them have heard that before, so I put it on the projector and read it to them. Fun! That’s just a small part of a day.

I also make sure to point out that it’s the FINAL draft of the declaration that has the treasure map on the back. That always elicits a few giggles from the group.

A third day is to give them the speech outline (attachment 4), so they can see how the four parts work together and practice using these tools for something useful and realistic.

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“Secondary Literacy Instruction Non-Negotiables”

I got this handout at a training several years ago, and it’s one of the very few that I’ve ever liked. I keep this with a handful of other useful such things for when I do lesson planning. Everything on here is pretty sound. I recommend it for any middle or high school teacher looking for a firm curricular foundation for big picture planning.

The bit at the beginning about “70% non-fiction to 30% fiction” has always been controversial, but that’s meant to be understood as covering a student’s entire schedule, meaning that the burden does not fall on an English teacher to strike that balance–the readings in history and science classes, for example, will comprise a lot of that 70%.

That part about quarterly research projects is a tad ambitious, too, but I try to have smaller research-based assignments and mini-units throughout the year (source evaluation, internal citation, etc.), with one big project towards the end of the year. Right now, in fact!

Non negotiables

Non negotiables

How I Do A Semester Review

Last week my school district had semester exams–we’re halfway through the year! The week before, my classes spent a day doing this review of the semester’s units.

I put up six poster-sized sheets of butcher paper around the room, one for each of the major units we’ve done so far. In the center of each, I wrote the theme (Romanticism, logical fallacies, Revolutionary rhetoric, literary analysis, etc.).

I broke the students into groups of 4 or 5, assigned them to a poster, and gave them ten minutes to create a mind map on the poster, using markers I’d asked them to bring. They could use our textbook, online notes, whatever.

After ten minutes, I spot checked each poster, gave some quick editing advice as needed, and checked off that they were all contributing seriously (I’d told them that relevant illustrations were fine, but random nonsense like “buy my mix tape” was not).

Then they rotated to the next station, where they could edit what was there and add on more. Each team cycled to each station accordingly. Each student in each group had to contribute to at least one poster as a “scribe.”

By the end of class, they had produced mind maps like these below. I also posted these to our class web pages to help them study for the test.

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Lesson Plan For Teaching Evaluation Writing

I tried this with my English 101 class last week to great success.  After reviewing the criteria for writing a good evaluative essay (including, ironically, establishing criteria), they read a copy of a review of something (one day I had them bring in reviews of things they liked–I saw reviews of movies, music, cameras, and a Snuggie–the next day I gave them positive and negative book reviews of Catcher In the Rye, as Salinger had just passed away). 

After they studied their piece, I asked them to write a paragraph or two on the back, evaluating the review.  How effective was it?  Was it crafted suitably for the intended audience?  Did it give sufficient background information (or too much) on the item being reviewed?  Etc.

Then I had them exchange papers with another student, who then read their review of the original item’s review.  I then had them write a paragraph reviewing the review that had just been written by their peer, using the same criteria. 

Then I had them trade papers with someone else, who then read everything written so far, and who then wrote a review of the most recent review (which itself, remember, was reviewing a review).  By this time, they were adequately cognizant of writing with the requirements for good evaluation in mind.  I thought about extending this exercise to further rounds, but decided that this was silly enough.  But it worked!

Visual aids for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I taught this great play last week for a few reasons: students tend to be exposed to Shakespeare’s tragedies to the exclusion of the comedies, it’s short and accessible, and it’s timely (check the title against the calendar).  It was a big hit, but I noticed that kids got a little lost with the names and plot pretty quickly, so we worked out the following charts for each act.  The charts show who loves whom.  Looking at them now, I think these might make good advertisements for the play–doesn’t looking at these make you want read the actual story in the play (or re-read it)?  Actually, looking at these reminds me of Melrose Place.

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An Idea For Teacher Evaluation

Based on some reading I’ve done (such as that covered in some posts a couple of weeks ago), and my nine years of teaching experience, I’d like to suggest a way of more effectively measuring teacher competence.

Traditionally, administrators observe bits and pieces of a few classes, and spot check the teacher’s lesson plan book, basing their evaluations largely on criteria related to how the lesson plan book demonstrates cohesion with school district standards and syllabi. 

This really doesn’t work.  Lesson plan books are better at recording what has already happened than at committing to what will happen–in a good classroom, there is so much flexibility and adaptation as teachers respond to immediate needs that any lesson planned more then a few days in advance is essentially worthless, anyway.

What I suggest is evaluating teachers based on their grade booksContinue reading