Dialect and Mark Twain

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SWBAT comprehend a short story by Mark Twain by taking notes on reading strategies for dialect.

Big Idea

I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's better'n any other frog.


10 minutes

When the students walk into class, I have a Cornell Note template projected so they can begin to set up their note page.  When it looks like everyone is ready to go, I display and read aloud the quick-write prompt.  I ask the students for 5 minutes of uninterrupted writing, and I set a timer.

While the students are writing, I return the vocabulary work and "Think, Pair, Share" summaries from the previous class. 

After the students complete the quick write, I ask students to raise their hands if they were able to relate to those questions.  I then ask if anyone would like to share a quick story or their paragraph.  Usually a few will offer to share. 

This quick write activates the students' prior knowledge about listening to a frustratingly-long story, and they are able to sympathize with the narrator and understand his actions.


Getting Down to Business

30 minutes

Once we are done with the quick write and sharing, I take a moment to make sure everyone remembers what the first three paragraphs of the story are about.  I have a guided discussion with the class asking questions like:

  • Why has the narrator asked Simon Wheeler about Leonidas W. Smiley?
  • Does Leonidas W. Smiley exist?
  • Why would the narrator's friend from the East request information about a man who doesn't exist?


Before I begin reading the remainder of the story, I want the students to understand that Leonidas doesn't exist and that the narrator's friend set him up to get trapped by a the long-winded Simon Wheeler's storytelling.

Once we're all in on the joke, I begin to read the story aloud.  I have fun with Simon's accent.  This isn't a time to call on students to read aloud because I'm modeling how to read a dialect.  This is a skill that will be very important as we move into The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

I stop for clarification at the end of the paragraph in which Simon Wheeler describes the escapade of Andrew Jackson, the dog.  I want to make sure that my students understand that this Jim Smiley character is a gambler, Simon Wheeler is a rambling story teller, and that the narrator is learning nothing about Leonidas W Smiley!

I stop for clarification again when the "feller" pours quail shot into Dan'l Webster.  I want to make sure my students understand the crime this feller has perpetrated! (and I love the look of horror on their faces when they do.)

Once I am done reading the story, we move on to the subject of dialect.   I will start another whole-class discussion with the following:

  • Why did I read Simon Wheeler's character with an accent?


Sometimes I have to guide this conversation by saying, "What did I see in the text that made me read with an accent?"  Rewording the question this way usually gets me the responses I'm looking for.  Namely, I want students to talk about spelling words the way they sound and missing letters in words represented with apostrophes.

At this point we go back to our Cornell Notes and add the word "dialect" and its definition.  I explain to the students that before electronic recording, the only way to "record" a dialect (I also use the word accent) was to write the words down exactly the way they were said.

Next I have students copy the quote from the story into their notes:

"He got him up so in the matter of ketching flies and kep' him in practice so constant, that he'd nail a fly every time as fur as he could see him."

As a group we "translate" this quote into English that we would all understand (with correct spelling, of course).  We end up with something like, "He trained him to catch flies and kept him in shape, so he could catch any fly he saw."

Next, in our notes, we list some strategies for reading a dialect.  The most important thing I want my students be aware of is that it is okay for them to need to read tough dialects aloud.  I tell them that's how I get through them! 


Did They Get It?

10 minutes

After we've done one passage together, I ask students to find another passage to copy into their notes and then translate. 

I have the students take their notes home to add questions and a summary.  I collect the notes during the next class and look them over to make sure they are complete.

This is a formative assessment where I'm looking for participation and completion.  The students will want to look at these notes again as we move into The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and they encounter dialect again.