"I'm with the Banned" Banned Book Week and the Persuasive Essay

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SWBAT question the reasons books are challenged and banned in preparation for their upcoming persuasive essay writing.

Big Idea

Front-loading that challenges students' thinking and raises questions paves the way for real-world writing.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Overview and Note to Teacher

How should ELA teachers approach informational texts?

This question informs the lessons in this unit, which emphasize approaches to teaching informational texts in the context of literature study. Rather than replacing or superceding the study of literature, I see informational texts as ways to amplify literature so that students see it as relevant to their lives.

Thus, rather than a shift away from both the literary canon and contemporary imaginative texts, the CCSS offers teachers a unique opportunity to embrace innovative approaches to teaching both informational texts and the imaginative literature that led us to teach English.

This lesson in its original context is part of a unit on teaching persuasive writing. 

Introduce Book Banning

5 minutes

Since I taught the lesson during "Banned Book Week," I first explained that banned book week is commemorated so that students are aware of the challenges to books. 

As an English teacher, I believe in both academic freedom and the right of readers to choose their reading material. I explain this to students. 

The question I always raise when I hear about attempts to ban books from school libraries or classrooms is, "Who censors the censors?" I share this with students. 

Next I tell students that we'll be celebrating banned book week by learning about

  • challenges to the books we choose to read,
  • potential reasons a book has been or might be challenged, 
  • how to respond to challenges,
  • and why we might choose not to read a book. 

I also tell students that sometimes a student has abandoned a book because s/he might not like something about it and that students have this right. 

"I'm with the Banned": "Why Would Anyone Ban That Book?"

25 minutes

To assist students in their understanding of how extensive book banning is and to help them identify reasons books are banned, I used a Prezi, "I'm with the Banned", I created for a guest presentation at our local university. 

The Prezi includes the following information:

  • A video of the most frequently banned books from 1990-2000. I asked students to watch for titles of books they have read. 
  • A list of common reasons books are banned, including examples of books challenged for each reason:  


-sexual content

-confusing fantasy w/ reality

-taking the lord's name in vain


-unsuitability for children

  • Twitter reactions to book banning, w/ #speakloudly as a hashtag supporting Lauri Halse Anderson's book Speak
  • Two stories about experiences I had w/ book banning.
  • Stories from other teachers about book banning and the books that have been challenged
  • Why choice matters, with a video of Laurie Halse Anderson presenting a found poem based on letters she has received from students who have read Speak
  • A slide about a post I wrote on my blog in response to efforts to "white wash" Huck Finn by removing the "N-Word." 

Student Responses

25 minutes

There are wonderful moments in teaching when the stars align and students need no prompting to offer up their opinions. Today was such a day. 

From the moment I began showing the first video in the Prezi, multiple students chimed "Why would anyone want to ban that book?" And "I love that book." This happened so often that we almost didn't finish the notes. 

The student responses reflected their naivete about how often books are challenged. 

I asked at one point, "Did anyone notice Shel Silverstein on the list?" I received the response, "Yea, what's that about?"

I had to quiet the kids several times as I complimented them on their passion and thanked them for their opinions. Many voiced approval of the lesson: "That's so interesting." Others voiced concerns about the prevalence of book banning. 

I told the class at the end of the period that I'm going to have them research the books they're reading to see if they have been banned and if so why. But that's for another day.