Culture, Identity, and Vocabulary of Literary Nonfiction

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SWBAT define terms associated with literary nonfiction by consulting reference material. SWBAT begin to analyze the themes of culture and identity by engaging with a text and answering discussion questions.

Big Idea

Does culture shape our identity or does identity shape culture?

Let's Get Started: Vocabulary for Literary Nonfiction

10 minutes

The Common Core promotes students using the language of the content area.  Now that the students have been exposed to reading strategies, I want them to use the vocabulary associated with analyzing literary nonfiction, rhetoric, and writing essays. I expect that a majority of the students in this class have been exposed to most of these terms. However, I want them to work from the same definitions.  Often my students know very simplistic definitions of words like "thesis". They will say that a thesis is, "the main idea." While not incorrect, this definition is overly simplistic and will potentially confuse them as we move into more complex concepts like claims and counterclaims.  Developing language precision when discussing literary nonfiction/informational texts will help them make their writing more concise and improve their ability to distinguish the subtleties  within an essay. 

As the students arrive in class, I will already have the Intro to culture readings powerpoint on the smartboard.  As they walk in, the resource books are waiting on their tables. I tell them to use the books to define the vocabulary from the powerpoint in the notes section of their binder.  I direct them specifically to the glossary of literary/rhetorical terms.

The standard textbook for this class is blue.  It weighs approximately five pounds and I only have 32 copies for a class of 35.  I don't use the blue books often since I do not have enough to send home. However the blue book does have an extensive glossary of literary and rhetorical terms. All of the terms are in the blue book except "credibility", "denotative" and "connotative".  In order to define these words students can use their phones or my student computers (L 9-104c).  

Building Knowledge: Coming to Terms with Terms

35 minutes

Once students have copied their definitions of the terms. I like to go over them with the class.  Often students like to either just copy the first line of the definition or they write every single word of the definition.  Regardless of the approach, students copy rather than process the meaning of the terms. My students have a habit of copying vocabulary, memorizing it for a quiz, and then forgetting it. I want them to use the vocabulary as we talk about not only the readings in this unit but also writing and future reading assignments.  These terms are the foundation for building a vocabulary of both literary and rhetorical terms. 

I go over each word to make sure that the students have common definitions and to clarify any vocabulary that may confuse them.  I also contextualize the vocabulary. Students are more likely to use the terms if they understand how it connects to what they are reading and writing (L 9-10. 4).

I begin with 'What is nonfiction?'  My department has adopted the term literary nonfiction to describe any nonfiction piece that is not a technical manual or an article specific to a content area.  I put the term on the Smartboard and ask the students to define it.  Then I share the definition.  In the example attached it says that scientific papers are literary nonfiction, I ask the students if historical documents or scientific papers are really literary nonfiction. It doesn't take them long to say 'no' that historical documents and scientific papers are not literary.  So then we cross it off the list.  I want them to really think about how to categorize and discuss what they are reading.

Next is 'What is purpose?' In this section, I want students to make a connection between purpose and audience.  Eventually they will have to write with a specific audience in mind.  Therefore the sooner they see the relationship between purpose and audience, the better they will be at analyzing and writing essays. 

The next section is on credibility.  In this section, the students review fact vs. opinion.  I use our high school's mascot as an example. Usually by this point, the students are loosing interest.  So as soon as I suggest that Bucky Badger is not the perfect mascot. I say, "Tucson High should change its mascot to the javelina." The students hand shoot up in the air to argue with me.  Then I reveal the final line on the slide that says "The badger is the perfect mascot for Tucson HMS."  The second slide of this section focuses on evidence.  The students define credibility.  The question is why do you believe it?  This question leads to the definition of evidence and the types of evidence that creates a credible claim.  Finally we look at thesis.  By discussing facts, opinions, and evidence, the class has already used the term thesis or claim several times.  Now, the students examine a specific definition of thesis/claim.  After sharing the definition, I ask how do facts, opinions and evidence connect to thesis. The student connect that facts and expert opinions support/prove a claim in an essay.

Building Knowledge: Evaluating Evidence and Language

15 minutes

Finally, the students take a close look at evaluating evidence and the language associated with it. It is important to emphasize that these words require supporting evidence.  Students can pluck the thesis out of most essays, however if they make an inference they have to back it up with evidence to make it credible. Students can employ much of the prior vocabulary when talking about inferences.

The students define inference in their own words.  The first comment is always, "educated guess."  I tell them that educated guess is too broad, what do readers specifically have to do to make an inference.  I give them a more specific definition:  the reasoning involved in making a logical judgment on the basis of circumstantial evidence and prior conclusions rather than on the basis of direct observation.  To bridge the gap between this definition and "educated guess" I give them an example to evaluate. 

Then they practice. I give them a statement about Afghanistan.  "The President announced a drawdown of US military in Afghanistan."  I ask them to make inferences based on that statement. I take volunteers to state their inference and why they said it.  

Then I show them the two on the slide, "Fewer members of the US military will serve in Afghanistan." and "The war in Afghanistan is over."  I ask which is the best inference and why. I want them to say the first example and is the better inference because the President's statement does not specifically address the war only the troops. The Common Core reading standards (RI and RL 9-10.1) deal with the ability to sight and make connections with evidence. 

Next, the students define denotative.  I use the word gray to explain the difference between denotative and connotative, -- the gray clouds vs. a gray area (L 9-10 4a). The ability to distinguish between the denotative and connotative can help them develop both their skills in analyzing a text and presenting complex ideas in writing. 




Applying Knowledge: Assume Your Identity

15 minutes

At this point the lesson has been primarily teacher driven with input from the students.  It is time to change it up.  I put the unit essential question on the Smartboard: Does culture shape identity or does identity shape culture? Essential questions are not new to my students, my department uses them in the curriculum map framework.  We do not all have the same essential questions, but we all use them.  I do remind students that an EQ does not a specific right answer.  It has unlimited answers that can be supported with evidence.

Next I tell them that we are going to examine three assumptions about culture and identity.  The assumptions are:

  • Identity is something  we are born with
  • Identity is shaped by culture
  • Identity is shaped by personal choices

I ask the students to stand. At this point, they will have been sitting and writing a long time. They need to get the blood circulating and it creates a better visual for the students in the room. Everyone is standing in front of everyone else, so they have to move.  I will read the first assumption.  Think about it, if you agree move to the left side of the room. If you disagree, move to the right side of the room. Once they have chosen a side.  I ask them to justify their position.  Once I have had three or four students respond.  I ask if anyone wants to switch sides.  If a student changes sides, I ask them why they changed their mind.  I follow the same procedure for all three assumptions (SL 9-10. 1d).


Closing: What Would Firoozeh Assume? Establishing Identity

15 minutes

Now it is time to begin using this vocabulary and the identity assumptions to discuss an actual text. For homework, the students read, annotated, and answered questions about "The F-Word" by Firoozeh Dumas.  This unit is on culture and identity.  This text deals with an Iranian woman trying to define her identity and culture in America. It is a strong essay with specific examples students will be able to use as evidence (RI 9-10.1).  Also many of my students are immigrants or know recent immigrants to the United States. They can relate to her experiences even though they are not Iranian. 

Dumas, Firoozeh. "The "F Word"" Resources for Teaching: Remix, Reading Composing Culture.Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006. 60-63. Print.

 The students work in groups to determine which identity assumptions are supported in "The F-Word".  I give them this chart to complete in their notes about text.  I encourage them to use their homework to fill in the chart (RI 9-10. 1).  For every essay in this unit, the students will have to identify the Rhetorical Triangle: audience, context, purpose and message (RI 9-10.6).  I do not ask them to write a formal rhetorical analysis, however we will get there later in the year. I want them to develop the skills necessary to write a basic rhetorical analysis. 


There are at least four people in each group, so they can divide up the work.  I also remind them of their homework for next class.  It is on the board and on edmodo.  Their ticket out the door is to verbalize to me which assumption best describes Dumas' argument about identity.