Monday, August 12, 2013

A sample Common Core discussion using Grapes of Wrath

Our community and school always participates in The Big Read.  
It's a really cool endeavor, and the community members get super into it by organizing 10-15 activities each fall that coincide with the book or author the committee chose to study that year. At the high school, we try to study the work in some capacity at various grade levels.

This year, the committee in town chose the works of John Steinbeck from The Big Read. I am teaching 3 sections of juniors again this year, and while we don't have time to study a second entire novel (we already do Gatsby first semester), I decided to start the year with a little mini-unit incorporating the first chapter of Grapes of Wrath, as well as some supplemental materials.

I have to admit; I've never read GOW before! So today, I sat down and read chapter 1 (it's only three pages). Shorter is better for going in-depth like CC wants, anyhow. As I went through, I picked out 4-5 Tier 2 words  that my students would work with that week and put in their word journals. I also circled tier 3 words, which are words that are not used often in conversation and are content-specific, but ones that they need definitions for in order to understand the passage. These I will just provide definitions for.

Common Core is big on tier 2, or cross-curricular, common vocabulary, higher-level thinking and providing textual evidence as support. The way I am structuring the lesson is as follows:

-Distribute the book GOW and assign students to read chapter 1 for homework.
-The next day, I plan to read an excerpt aloud (CC actually suggest always reading the selection aloud after the students read it silently, but I just don't think that is feasible for everything we do, and may not encourage students to actually do the assignment of silent reading if they know I will always read it to them anyways).
-I will pass out a worksheet that has the following on it. Notice I define tier 3 words for them at the top already. The tier 2 words they are putting in their journals and that will go on my Word Wall and that we'll do activities and play games with are incorporated as questions.


Rivulet: a small, quick-flowing stream of something
Bayonet: a blade that can be attached to the end of a rifle and used for stabbing
Avalanches: a rapid downhill flow of a large mass of something dislodged from a mountainside, especially snow or     ice
Emulsion: a suspension of one liquid in another, e.g. oil in water or fat in milk
Bemused: to be confused or puzzled

Vocab. words to be added to your vocab. spiral:  dissipated, sluggish, cunningly, perplexity

1. What is the definition of the word “dissipated” (page 1)?

2. What is the definition of the word “sluggish” (page 2)?

3. Why was “sluggish” the best way to describe the smoke? What other things do you think of when you hear the word “sluggish”?

4. What does “cunningly” mean (page 2)?

5. Why do you think the author described the wind as digging cunningly? Why is that a better choice than one of its synonyms, such as cleverly or resourcefully?

6. What does “perplexity” mean (page 3)?

7. Make an inference: How would the conditions described in chapter 1 affect the livelihood of the men and women living during this time?

8. Quote material from the chapter to support your answer in #7. Please include page numbers.

9. What was the relationship between women and men like during this period?

10. How do you know this? Quote material from the chapter as support.


For every "content" question I ask, I also ask for support from the text to back up their responses. I also don't ask simple comprehension questions. This is the way Common Core is moving. Much of this I used to do anyway, but now I am working on going this in-depth with all the selections we read (within reason).

So I will have students work on these questions in small groups or individually, depending. Then we'll go over as a large group.

The next day, I am having them read an informational non-fiction piece from Smithsonian magazine entitled " Are We Headed for Another Dust Bowl?"

For this one, I think I will hand it out and have them silently read right in class. After, I plan to have some questions similar to the types I have on the worksheet above, but this time displayed in a PP presentation on my Smart Board. I don't want to just always give worksheets (though I am not opposed to worksheets as a whole, like some people are. Maybe that discussion will be for another day).

I picked up a discussion technique at a CC conference last May. I went in and numbered all my desks 1-4. I will post a question up on my Smart Board and let all students have time to think about it. Then I will randomly call a number, and all students with that number on their desk stand up. This encourages ALL students to participate (we all know we have 3 or 4 kids in class who would gladly lead every discussion, but then many others who are content never saying anything). Sometimes, I will have them share with a partner before this step or write down a response before this step as well.

So, let's say I have 4 kids with #1 and they stand up. Then I will ask them and only them to respond to the question. Sometimes I'll ask all four, sometimes I won't. It's meant to keep all students on their toes (there is always a chance their number will be called), BUT they can feel safe because they are not put on the spot (they can see the question ahead of time and have time to think/write/share with a partner before sharing out loud).

On the last day of this mini-unit, I am showing a clip from the Ken Burns film entitled The Dust Bowl. Below, I have included the preview to the film on PBS (you should be able to also find the entire film on YouTube).


Then we'll bring it altogether and discuss its implications today. The article I posted above from Smithsonian discusses how it was partially caused by humans and how it's very possible something like that could happen again in our lifetime. I don't think my students know a whole lot about the Dust Bowl past that it happened, so it'll be interesting to discuss some of the lesser-known causes and if we are headed in that direction again today.

Do you have any other cool resources you use with Grapes of Wrath? What about with the Dust Bowl? Or have you come up with any cool CC-aligned units?

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