Analyzing "Black Men And Public Space"

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Working with a partner, SWBAT answer a series of questions about the style, structure, and purpose of the essay "Black Men and Public Space" by Brent Staples.

Big Idea

Students explore how a non-fiction text compliments a theme discovered in a fictional text.

Partner Work

40 minutes

When my students return to class after having read the essay "Black Men and Public Space" and generating paragraph-by-paragraph main ideas as mini-summaries, I pair them up with a partner to explore the essay further.  Partners can be arranged either as shoulder partners or as high-low pairings, depending on your student population.  Allowing my students to work in partnerships gives them an opportunity to explore this complex text with the support of one another before sharing their ideas with the whole class.  I anticipate that some students may have struggled with Staples' style, thereby preventing complete comprehension, and the partners, if arranged strategically, can be beneficial towards clearing up any confusion.

The questions I have provided for this assignment are meant to continue the focus on author style and structure, as well as to introduce a focus on purpose and audience (Partner Questions-Black Men and Public Space).  I instruct my students to first review their mini summaries with each other, in order to check for a consensus on the overall understanding of the essay.  I then explain to them that each partnership will be turning in one paper, with both names on it, where they have recorded their answers to the questions.

Additional Explanations:

  • Question five, which asks students to list any unfamiliar vocabulary words, is used to help create the week's vocabulary list.  
  • Question six, which asks students to identify the function of each paragraph, maintains an awareness of how an essay is successfully organized (we first performed this task with the New Yorker essay, ), which students should reflect upon when constructing their own future essays.

Whole Group Sharing

30 minutes

When my students have completed the partner work, we reconvene as a whole-group to share their results (Partner Work).  As they share, I encourage them to link and support their responses to lines from the text as much as possible.

As facilitator, I likewise look for opportunities to encourage them toward connections to the vignette "Those Who Don't" from The House on Mango Street, particularly in the way the two texts are structured and how this contributes to the voice, tone, mood, and thematic development of each. Though the Staples essay explores the practice of stereotyping in ways that are perhaps more complex than how the practice is introduced in "Those Who Don't," and while my students may struggle with understanding all aspects of essay, I am confident that the thematic connection found in it makes an otherwise complex text fundamentally more accessible.  I always try to keep this in mind when I incorporate non-fiction texts into my units, looking for larger connections to support student comprehension and skill acquisition.

The focus on purpose and audience are explored without any real follow-up instruction, as these questions were meant to simply introduce those considerations that writers make. Thus far, my students have been trained to identify voice, tone, and mood in a piece of writing, and to notice how a writer's strategies contribute to the overall success of a piece.  My intent in the weeks to come is to introduce a version of "the rhetorical square" to my students, a skill that involves a bit more complexity, and I want to lay the groundwork with texts they have successfully tackled and to which they are able to refer back, if required.