"Trees for Democracy" is one of my favorite texts I teach. Most students find it a challenging read. It is a bit longer than the other essays in this unit and it is a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
My first question from the Trees for democracy powerpoint is: how is "Trees for Democracy" different from the other essays we read? The students had to write the rhetorical triangle for this speech as homework, so I tell them to check the context. Once we establish it is a speech, we can discuss audience. Who would hear a Nobel Prize acceptance speech? I also ask them how they are different from the target audience.
Next, I share with them some background on Wangari Maathai. It is a radio broadcast on NPR. We also watch a clip that is on the site called "I am a Hummingbird." It is a story that teaches no matter how small someone is, they can make a difference in the world.
After a brief discussion, I tell the class that Wangari Maathai died last year. We listen to a tribute from NPR's Talk of the Nation.
Finally, we listen to another NPR tribute that includes excerpts from an interview with Maathai talking about the Greenbelt Movement and her life as an environmentalist and activist.
The students take notes on the broadcasts and we engage in a whole class discussion. The radio clips give the students a clearer context for the speech and help them connect to Maathai (RI.9-10.7). I hope the passion in her voice translates to a more vested interest in the speech.
Now, the students are ready to dig into the controlling ideas of the speech.
It is my observation that when given a prompt, students will write what they know or what they like and hope that it answers the question. They lack skills to break down a prompt, develop a claim, and determine what evidence will support the claim.
So, first we review their activity on 'We are All Part of Nature." I have their papers hung up on the board. They can see how Ackerman stated a claim and then developed the proof throughout the essay. Then I ask them why they should not begin nor end a paragraph with a quote. The response will be mixed--they like to begin and end paragraphs with quotes. Eventually, someone says that a quote needs a context or introductory phrase and a writer as to connect the quote to the claim.
Next, I ask them to discuss in groups: How does nature/the environment impact Maathai’s culture? Each group chooses a speaker to report to the class. I remind them that they must reference the text in order to have a credible answer to the question (RI 9-10. 1).
Now they should be ready for a more complex prompt. I have a powerpoint Trees for democracy that outlines the activities for the class. The prompt is on slide 7: How can environmental practices address social and political problems?
Gulp, if no one raises their hand... It's OK. I don't want them to have a quick response. It is a complex question that cannot be thoroughly answered in one or two lines. They need to think about it.
So, I say let's break down the prompt.
On the powerpoint environmental practices is yellow, social and political are red, and problems is green.
The class identifies environmental practices as the subject, social and political problems is what they need to find in the text, and finally they need to know the solutions to the social and political problems.
I tell them to make this chart Trees Pre-Writing on the paper under the prompt.
Students have find evidence about the environmental practices, then put if their is a social and/or political connection and the solution. Each student has to complete their own chart, however I tell them they can discuss it in groups (RI 9-10. 1). Pre-writing is where students really develop their ideas and begin to formulate how the evidence they collect will best support their ideas and inferences. When students skip this step and go straight to the draft, their writing does not contain a clear claim and well develop supporting details.
I monitor the class and answer questions as necessary.
Students are going to write an argument to support a claim using valid reasoning and sufficient evidence to respond to the prompt (W 9-10. 1). Before students can write they need to collect and organize the necessary evidence to meet the requirements. This activity prepares them to write (W 9-10. 5).
Before students can leave, I need to see a completed or near completed chart. If students are not finished, I tell them they have to come to conference (after school tutoring) to finish their charts.
Students will write an in-class essay during the next class. I want them to be adequately prepared. I want to check their pre-writing before the next class so I can help them if they need it.