The first day of class, rather than giving a tour of the syllabus, class rules, etc., I like to dive right in to material to set a tone for academics--that the students should be ready to go when they enter my classroom. I also like to do something active to set a tone of interaction and (dare I say) enthusiasm for learning. So, today's lesson will work toward these goals.
The essence of AP Language and Composition, and in my opinion fact of all English classes, is to understand how language functions in the context of a specific text to make meaning. While the Reading and Writing standards tend to get all the attention, I think that without the skills of the language standards, the others are much harder to master. Therefore, the first week of or so of all my classes, including AP Language and Composition, is taking a critical look at parts of speech and syntax, with particular emphasis on how these things function in a text (rather than defining terms). My goal is not only to review their knowledge of these, but also to deepen their knowledge by looking more closely at how words and groups of words can function in a piece of text.
Looking at language at this level also emphasizes the idea of close reading, and the peer to peer activities of today will set an expectation that participation with peers (and learning speaking and listening skills) will be critical for learning throughout the year.
Weird Al Yankovic's new song "Word Crimes" is a great entry into talking about language (okay, I'll admit that I've been a fan of his since he came out with "Eat It" back in the eary 80s!). So, to set a fun tone and kind of break the awkward ice of the first day of classes, we will watch the music video for "Word Crimes".
After the video, I will do a little introduction about how the song is really looking at the function of words, what works, what doesn't, etc., which is also what Constance Hale does in Sin and Syntax, the book they read for their summer reading (I may try to generate a little class discussion first by asking what word crimes they are guilty of from the song--the question will mostly test the waters to see if the group is ready to talk to each other in that manner--however, I'll be prepared for the more common first day atmosphere of apprehension and talk about it myself for a few minutes as a transition to the round robin activity that is next, which forces students to talk to each other!). This will transition to the activity that follows regarding the book.
For their summer assignment (AP Language and Composition Summer Assignments.docx) I asked students to read Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale and take notes for each chapter on three prompts. The summer assignments are students' first connection to the class--their first impression. Knowing this, I wanted to set a clear expectation that the study of language is a key component for the year by asking them to read this book rather than a narrative or argument.
This lesson also serves as an assessment of how closely they attended to these questions as they read the book, since they will need their notes to their three prompts for this activity. the three prompts are as follows:
When the students walk in the classroom they will find the desks already set up in pairs--I like to do this to create a little anticipation of an activity, and it also eliminates the need to move desks around before diving into the lesson. Since this is the first class of the year, it will also set a first impression--the idea that the class requires participation, and that they will frequently work with their peers in exciting ways. The continued discussion from the Weird Al video will serve as an introduction to the importance of language for rhetorical analysis (the essence of the course) before giving the general instructions.
My introduction to the activity is that it is a little like speed-dating, except that they will be describing a part of speech rather than themselves (and not choosing a favorite afterwards!). I then will give each student a note card with a part of speech or syntactical move written on it that was covered in the book.
The instructions are that in each pair, one person will address the following 4 prompts (Round Robin Student instructions.pdf) regarding their element for two minutes (these prompts are posted on the Smartboard, and are also in their notes as part of their summer assignment), then talk together about the element for one minute to clarify ideas, debate, etc., then switch roles. I don't anticipate them actually being able to talk for two minutes, and that I will have to push the fact that they have to talk for two minutes by using examples (I will probably end up cutting the time a bit to match where they are, but initially I'll push the two minutes to set a tone of rigor and high expectations--in this case it addresses speaking and listening standard 1a, too, which calls for students to come to discussions prepared).
After a round (both have spoken), I will then ask students to EXCHANGE cards, find new partners, and repeat the process, this time for three minutes (still with one minute discussion afterwards). I add more time each round to challenge the students to deepen their discussion, and therefore understanding, of the parts of speech and sentence structures. This also practices adding their knowledge and research to a conversation, and prevents them from just repeating what their partner said. Also, since I'm listening to the conversations, I get a sense of who read carefully and who didn't. As noted above, I don't expect them to be able to talk for this long; since I'm watching the clock and they are talking, I can play around with the time as necessary, and just saying this increased time is a "rule" will help keep them from repeating what their partner said.
We will continue through a few rounds, adding one minute each round (in theory!) until they have either heard or talked about the majority of the elements (I will monitor this).
At the end, I will have students come back as a whole group and ask for volunteers to share out their experiences--what they learned, questions, issues, interesting things they hadn’t heard or thought of previously, etc. (This acts as a second formative assessment, and allows me to clarify any problems or questions students may have).
My purpose in this section is to model what I'm asking the students to do for homework through joint construction, review the function of parts of speech and syntax, and to practice analyzing the function of these for making meaning. Students will identify the parts of speech, phrases, and clauses in the poem "War" by Charles Simic for homework. Their model will be doing a similar task as a group with an excerpt from Emily Dickinson. There are lots of poems that could be used for this; the thing I was looking for was an excerpt where a lot of different things were going on so I could model word choice, phrasing, punctuation, etc., and who better than Emily Dickinson?
The procedures here a rather simple--after putting the lines on the Smartboard, I will go through the poem line by line and jointly identify parts of speech with the students, labeling each above the word. I do this in part to review parts of speech, but also to have labels there for when I talk about function so they can start associating parts of speech with analysis of text.
After this, I will go through again and identify phrases with a single slash (/) and clauses with a double slash (//) and review why these are phases or clauses. I expect that there will be more teaching for this part, since they aren't quite as confident of syntax as they are of parts of speech.
From this point, I will go back through each line and explain one part of speech use or syntactical move I found interesting in how it helped create meaning. Parts of speech model Dickinson.pptx This will serve as a model for their task, and my focusing on different elements in each line will hopefully act as a suggestion that they do the same. I thought of making that task more explicit, but chose instead to let them chose the interesting moves so I could see what they gravitate toward, therefore getting a better sense of what they are understanding.
Next Steps: Students will complete the same task I just modeled with "War," which we will review tomorrow.