So, after some contemplation, I decided that I will use this blog as my scribble pad. I knew in the back of my mind what I wanted this to be, but when it was time to type the first entry, I experienced serious writer’s block. However, the best way to cure this very common ailment is to just write. Once I started putting the pieces together, I realized that what I really want this blog to be is my notepad to keep track of how I go about planning a unit and bringing it to life.
With all of that said, my notes will not always be clean and organized, because like I just prefaced at the beginning, this is just a space to share my progress, reflections, and ideas. More than that, I want to note what I plan and then compare it to what I accomplish in the classroom with my students. Sometimes we, the teachers, make these really elaborate plans; however, they don’t always work out the way we anticipated. We generally start on a course with good intentions, but then we end up going in a completely different direction. (And this is not always a bad thing either.)
For new teachers, my advice is always to keep the main objective(s) in focus each day you teach any unit. We often have more objectives, lessons, ideas than we have time. For example, I want my middle school students to distinguish between exposition and argumentation and then write an argumentative essay. My students never really had to write argumentative essays before. They’ve written reports, narratives, and opinion essays; however, they have never really had to write an argument. So, even if I don’t “get everything in” as I had planned, what matters the most is that my students achieve the objective of writing a well-supported argument. This means that I may have to omit some “nice-to-haves” from my list, which I will explain in another entry.
Anyway, just for the sake of starting somewhere, I will begin with the questions that I plan to pose to my students to prepare them for our upcoming expository and argumentative writing unit:
- Why do people protest?
- What forms of communication have people used to express their discontent?
- What are some human rights issues and how are these ideas expressed in our law?
- What claims do human rights leaders make? How do they support their ideas?
- How do leaders who have fought against injustice use their words to influence their audience?
Why did I choose these questions in the first place?
Well, human rights make up the backdrop for this unit. Each student will eventually have to develop a thesis that falls under this category. Their thesis will be the basis for their argument. The hope is that as they read the various texts, they will discover the authors’ theses and identify how they support their claims. With exposure to different models of argument and some exploration of a topic that interests them the most, I want each student to develop her own claim. Hopefully the students will see the importance of reading as a way to prepare for writing–especially an argument. Another way to look at this is that writing an argument just means that we are joining a conversation that is already in progress.
Question 1 – Why do people protest?
This is important, because protest comes from the disapproval of something someone said or has done. The objection is generally rooted in some strongly held belief system.
Question 2 – What forms of communication have people used to express their discontent?
People generally protest in different ways. One is to protest by marching. Another is to give a speech. People also write letters, organize boycotts, and gather at town hall meetings.
Question 3 – What are some human rights issues and how are these ideas expressed in our law?
This is where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United States Constitution, with an emphasis on The Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence come in. Students will define “human rights”, identify some examples using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and examine how ideas of universal human rights have been expressed in our country.
Note: There is a kid-friendly version of the Declaration of Human Rights.
Moreover, laws generally form out of protest. These laws come to life when many citizens can support why they believe a law should or should not be in place.
Question 4 – What claims do human rights leaders make? How do they support their ideas?
Students will read excerpts from thinkers such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Malala, Gandhi, Pope Francis, and Martin Luther King, Jr.; poets, such as Elma Stuckey, and other authors including W.E.B. Du Bois, George Orwell, Harper Lee, Anne Frank, Alex Haley, and Aldous Huxley will also be explored. The students will not only identify their claims, but they will look for the evidence that these influential people have used to support them. In addition, they will evaluate and assess the evidence. This is particularly important for 8th graders to begin doing before they start high school.
*Note: According to the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, this is the biggest difference between the 7th and 8th grade expectations for writing an argument. Seventh graders must use relevant evidence while 8th graders must use well-chosen, relevant evidence. Eighth graders will evaluate and assess the evidence of other writers and begin to strategically select evidence to include in their writing.
Question 5 – How do leaders who have fought against injustice use their words to influence their audience?
In addition to analyzing, evaluating, and assessing the supporting evidence of the protestors, students will discuss the authors’ use of words and statements. Again, like the evidence, the students will assess the authors’ word choices as they relate to their audiences.
We will revisit and answer these questions during our quest to understand the most pressing human rights issues of our time. Moreover, as we read the words of prominent proponents of social justice, we will examine how selected authors have used words to express their ideas regarding the issues that are most important to them. The students will use the 6+1 Traits for Good Writing as a guide to analyze the texts.
After the students have read, examined, and discussed the texts from multiple authors, they should have some idea about which human rights subtopic they want to explore for their paper. I should also note that they will be fully aware from the beginning that the main point of this entire unit is for them to develop a basic understanding of argument and to write their own. Moreover, the students will be reintroduced to the writing process, so they can see how the readings contribute to the planning stage of their project.