Catalog of Lessons by Subject > English > Class Discussion & Debates

Catalog of Lessons by Subject > English > Class Discussion & Debates 2017-10-05T01:59:08+00:00
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One of the lessons during the year in English 9 that always provokes engaged and active response happens during our unit on the Bible as Literature. Students read from a textbook that pairs excerpts from the Bible with great works of art and literature that allude to those passages. This unit tests their ability to identify and analyze allusions, but is also a challenging one for students with religious backgrounds who have never thought critically about the stories they have been taught since childhood. In our discussion of Exodus, students read the relevant passages that show the Hebrews escaping Egypt after the Plagues have been visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians through the intercession of God, via his messenger, Moses. On the first day of this two-part lesson, we do close readings of these passages. For homework, the students read the passage of Exodus that includes the Ten Commandments, as well as a poem in the textbook.

In the second day, we begin with a free-write that asks students to reflect on whether they break any of the commandments in their personal lives. After discussing, students review the homework poem, The Latest Decalogue, by Arthur Hugh Clough. The poem consists of twenty lines, with roughly two lines discussing each commandment in a satirical way that asks students to think carefully about where the commandments are flawed, giving reasons to obey them that have nothing to do with actual morals. We explicate this poem aloud, while prompting students to add to the annotations they are expected to complete whenever reading for homework. This provokes further discussion on why and how we actually follow the commandments in modern life.

This is followed by an activity in small groups where students must choose a commandment and decide whether to keep, modify or discard it in today’s world. If they choose to keep, they must justify their choice, and if they choose to modify, they must write their adapted commandment. Discarded commandments must be replaced with a new commandment, suitable for the modern world. Finally, students write up their findings and submit as their wrap-up.
I prefaced the study of Oedipus the King by Sophocles with a short lesson on riddles (the Riddle of the Sphinx is a cultural icon and a key to the plot's action/character). I began by asking questions: What do you think of when I say the word "riddle"? How many of you liked to play riddles as a child? What is a riddle? I fielded questions. I then explained that the riddle is an ancient and universal art. Riddle games are motifs in much of literature. I then played a game with them. Moving around the room, I asked each girl a riddle. I began with conundrums and ended with sophisticated enigmas. They were to answer correctly or going flying into the abyss (having explained that many riddle games in literature are life/death situations--as indeed, in Oedipus.) I would have only one or two girls remaining. They were very engaged! For the follow-up, each student was assigned the task of researching the image of the Greek sphinx. Copy the image and research riddles. Find one that appeals to them and one they think would stump most in the class. Use any font and place the printed riddle under the image. Hide the answer. The next day, each student stood before the class and asked us the riddle. I asked the class what skill is necessary to solve a riddle. Most answered intelligence, cleverness, concentration, etc. Intelligence was the quality that made Oedipus "the best of men" and win him the kingdom. With that understanding coupled with their personal experience of solving riddles under pressure, the students had a clear appreciation of the hero's character. The complete lesson effectively introduced the reading of the play in an engaging manner.
One day in my English 11 class, my class was discussing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The subtopic of the discussion was about the use of the word "n___” in the book and to further stimulate the discussion, my teacher brought in some outside sources such as videos from the internet. The main video that we watched featured high school students from different backgrounds, teachers, and college professors. In the video, some people argued that the use of the word "n____" was essential in telling a true story that offered historical value in American culture. Others argued that the word could be taken out if it offended people and made them uncomfortable. I agreed with the first perspective because as a student of color, I believe in telling American slave history like it is. I agreed that it was offensive for me to read the story but I overcame that obstacle and read the book to the best of my understanding and ability. I was lucky enough to have a diverse class to discuss the argument with and a class filled with bright students as myself.
(American Literature): We sit in a circle in the classroom to analyze, form arguments, and discuss literary works that are relevant to American Literature. This exercise is called the Harkness Discussion. This method of teaching and learning is effective for many reasons. We are graded on how well we work together as a class. A big issue in our class is that the foreign students do not speak up. The Harkness discussion allows other students to ask them questions, and they are “forced,” for lack of a better word, to answer. In our circle, we consider each and every idea that is contributed to our discussion…This exercise allowed we, the students, to teach ourselves and learn from each other, rather than learning from a lecture or PowerPoint.