Ravin' About "The Raven": Inside Gothic Lit with Oates & Poe

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SWBAT identify Gothic themes in present-day media and literature and use textual evidence from "Where is Here?" and "The Raven" to compose a short essay comparing and contrasting the themes and effectiveness of author structure in portraying Gothic content.

Big Idea

If there's one thing kids understand, it's how creepy Christopher Walken is. Now let's apply that to Gothic Lit!

Lesson Overview

We have concluded our work on Romanticism, and today we're looking at Gothic literature!  By sheer luck in scheduling, this lesson also manages to land squarely within our Halloween week, so without ever really referencing it in the classroom, students are already in that mode to evaluate some creepy, weird, Gothic Literature.  I love it when the calendar manages to throw you a positive curveball rather than the "oh, by the way there's an assembly randomly scheduled during the class period you were going to give a test" kind that I normally get! 


45 minutes

Last class period, students took a quiz over subject, verb agreement, but they generally did poorly due to little thought invested in their initial practices and almost no study of the concepts they had previously missed.  In light of this, we will start our day by reflecting on what they have done to remedy the problem and reviewing the rules guiding the most-missed skills in subject/verb agreement as demonstrated on the last quiz in No Red Ink.  The skills that were most commonly missed came in groups with common rules, so I am confident that my students can make minor tweaks to their grammar methods and do better with this practice.  My students most incorrectly identified subject/verb agreement in the following situations:

  1. Sentences using either/or or neither/nor in the subject
  2. Sentences adding a phrase like "along with Sally" or "in addition to Sally," or a subordinate adjective clause to a simple subject
  3. Sentences including prepositional phrases after the subject
  4. Sentences with subjects using words like "each" or "everyone"
  5. Sentences using subjects that sound plural or are collective nouns

We will use the handout in the resource section (which had rows 1 and 3 completed prior to class and rows 2, 4, and 5 completed with the class) to review the subject/verb agreement rules.  I will project this document on the board with it zoomed in to show just the top two rows.  Then, we will work through each of the examples to choose a verb in the first row and documenting a student-created "rule" that they determined from their practice.  Then, we will go column by column to discuss the actual rule, document some strategies for choosing the correct verb in each situation, and making another example.  When we complete this task as a group, students will download a copy of it to put in their own notes (in their Google Drive shared folder).  

After we complete our review of these skills, students will have a few minutes to practice applying these skills independently within No Red Ink.  When they are ready, students will have the opportunity to use the same platform to take the Subject Verb Agreement II Quiz, which tests the same skills as the first quiz.  Their scores from this quiz will be evaluated to track their growth, and it will also be averaged with their last score and entered into the gradebook to allow students to be rewarded for taking more time and energy to study this time around.  

When students finish up, they will add the notes on Gothic Literature to their "Unit 2 Notes" document, then put on their headphones to watch the brief Mini-Biography of Edgar Allan Poe linked below.  This activity will help students prepare for our next activity, and the switch to headphones will help me easily determine when students are done (though I could also do this through the class management options in No Red Ink).


Building Knowledge

20 minutes

Once all students have completed their assessments and taken the notes, we will move on to the next portion of our lesson.  If not all students have watched the video yet, I will assign it for homework.  I find that students are much more likely to complete this kind of video-watching assignment outside of class, and it is not absolutely imperative to understanding Gothic Literature or the works we're reading today.  I find that building in these activities to wisely utilize my time in the classroom with students of different abilities can really help to allow me the flexibility with the lesson that I may need while carrying it out.  Sometimes my students will surprise me and have a TON to say about a really wonderful, relevant topic related to our study, and I don't want to cut off that kind of enriching, student-initiated discussion to have them watch a video that they could reasonably watch at home (as opposed to the discussion which could only happen in my class with their peers).

We will review the information about Gothic Literature, and students will brainstorm examples of modern-day Gothic work.  This genre in particular is really popular right now in literature and in film, and students will not hesitate to offer you examples of works with Gothic themes!  If they focus on one element or another, I will specify which Gothic element we are looking for an example of in modern literature or film.  Before closing this activity, I will also ask students what they feel the draw is of Gothic work.  They will probably also have quite a bit to say about this, as students tend to have polar opposite views from one another.  It will be an ideal time to let your students guide the discussion, practice responding to divergent views, and use evidence to support their logic!  The Common Core doesn't mandate what types of discussion students should be having, so working discussions of all topics into the classroom is beneficial for practicing those critical Speaking & Listening skills required in the standards.

While most of the characteristics will be very easy to talk about for students, they will likely have more issues discussing what "dangerous language" looks or sounds like.  In order to address this topic of word choice, I will ask students to respond to the following questions:

  • So the last characteristic references word choice that is "dangerous."  What does that mean?  How can words be dangerous?  (Students will likely be able to articulate that the words used might suggest something bad or dangerous, but they will probably lack specific examples.)
  • Okay, so you said the word "bad."  Is that dangerous language?  (This answer will probably be debated between students.  Some students might contend that "bad" means there's trouble, so that would be dangerous.  Others might say that it's such an overused word, it's no longer dangerous.  They may also mention that "bad" can sometimes have a connotative meaning of "good" in some social circles, so it's hard to say.)
  • Let's make "bad" a legitimately "dangerous" word then.  If I say the sky looks "bad," how could I change the word "bad" to be "dangerous" beyond reproach?  (Students will brainstorm other words like ominous, foreboding, sinister, etc.  The more discussion here, the better!  Ideally, I would like to see students offer words, then respectfully debate the validity of the suggestion.)
  • Let's do another one.  Challenge time!  Can you make "happy" a "dangerous" word?  Use a thesaurus if you need to since this one could be tricky.  (Students will again debate word choice and come to words like maniacal, frenzied, delirious, etc.)


If students seem to struggle with this task, I will allow a student to choose a word to repeat the activity a final time before moving on to the next section of the lesson.



20 minutes

To put the Gothic elements in a more contextual setting, we will investigate them as a class while reading a modern Gothic tale by Joyce Carol Oates, "Where is Here?".  Rather than start with a stereotypical Edgar Allan Poe story, I want to give students the chance to look at a fresh, still-intriguing piece of text.  The Oates story always fits that bill, and I often have students come to me after class to inquire about other works written by Oates.  (How often does that happen?!?!?!)  

While we read, we will pause after each page (give or take) to pick out Gothic elements, and students will note these in a Google Document.  Ultimately, they will be writing a brief informative essay exploring how this essay and our other reading for the day, "The Raven," address Gothic themes.  Collecting evidence as we read the Oates piece together will be good practice for them to model during their reading of "The Raven."  Student examples of this activity are attached in the resources section, and a final product of the essay is attached in the following section's resources.  We will use "popcorn" reading to read the essay, and my rules are that students need to call on students that have not yet read, and once called on, they must read at least a sentence and no more than a page of text before calling on the next student.  In cases of works with dialogue, I also require that students alter their voices to fit different characters.  This makes the reading more exciting and improves comprehension and visualization techniques.  (It's also highly entertaining at the end of a very long day!)  Students tend to groan when I remind them of this requirement, but ultimately, it results in many chuckles, and more importantly, crucial conversations between students to clarify which lines are which characters and how the text should be emphasized. 

When noting the Gothic elements present, I will advise students to include the evidence of the Gothic theme, the characteristic of Gothic lit the evidence supports, and the page number on which the evidence appears.  Students can quickly create a table on their documents with five columns (one for each of the characteristics) if that organizational strategy works for them, but I will not require that they follow that format.  I have seen students cleverly color-code their notes in activities like this to streamline their work, so I will suggest that as well.  The Common Core requires students to own more of the responsibility for learning, processing, and using information, so I try to build in activities that allow them freedom in their methods to produce the same outcome.  If they have a strategy that works already, more power to them! 

It is not likely that they will finish this reading assignment during the hour, but that's okay!  Students should gain an understanding of how to complete the assignment, gather evidence supporting Gothic themes, and get completely hooked in a very short amount of time.  Whatever does not get finished in class will be assigned as homework.


5 minutes

In the final minutes of class, students will be given the remainder of their homework.  They will need to finish reading "Where is Here?" and continue picking out specific evidence of Gothic elements utilized in the story.  Additionally, they will have to read (or listen to)  "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe.  Over the course of the year, most of my classes have brought up James Earl Jones as an ideal "narrator" voice, so I will inform students that I have linked a reading of  "The Raven" by both James Earl Jones and Christopher Walken on my website for their listening pleasure!  Both men have phenomenal narrating voices, and they could really help some of my more reluctant readers to get a better grasp on the text.  It will not be required that they watch or listen to these narrations, but I think it could be a valuable resource for students who are more auditory.  After reading Poe, they will be required to identify Gothic elements in his text, though I am not requiring them to keep a log of Gothic elements with the same detail as our investigation of "Where is Here?".  We will review these essays next class period, and they will be graded for content, structure, and support.

Next Steps

Next class period, we will have a discussion about "Where is Here?" and the Gothic elements in both essays.  We will also look at some video interpretations of "The Raven" and evaluate how effectively they portrayed Poe's work.