War of the Worlds: Story Tellers who Turn Fiction Into Reality

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SWBAT use compare and contrast strategies to discuss America’s fears by analyzing information from the PBS documentary American Experience: War of the Worlds and drawing on personal experience.

Big Idea

Don't turn that dial--radio dial that is. How does language create audience credibility?

Introduction to the Unit

Let's Get Started: The Truth is Out There!

5 minutes

It is the day before Halloween...so fun.  It is also the 75th anniversary of the Orson Welles radio play, War of the Worlds.   I open class with this question:  What does the final phrase from the X-Files mean? Thanks to netflix, most of my students have more than a passing familiarity of the adventures of Mulder and Scully.  I tap the smart board, que music, The Truth is Out There.

My goal is to start a discussion about the supernatural and/or what we choose to believe. Even if those beliefs are unencumbered by the facts.

Today our discussion begins with what we fear as individuals and what we fear as a society.  Students combine their personal knowledge about America's fears with information from the PBS documentary about the 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds.  These two sources provide the foundation for a discussion that compares and contrasts America's fears in 1939 and 2013.  They will also discuss how the language used in the War of the Worlds play incited the audience to believe.  By using evidence from their personal experience and the documentary, the students will share a well-reasoned exchange of ideas (CCSS.SL.9-10.1a).


Building Knowledge: What Scares You? What about Society?

15 minutes

I use the War of the Worlds powerpoint to guide the class through the lesson.  The transition is from what the students believe to what scares them.  We put a list on the smartboard. The general consesus is spiders, snakes and clowns--I am terrified of clowns.  The students who agree with me all get 'As' for the day.  

We move on to why do we like to be scared.  I show them the final scene from the original Friday the 13th movie.  

I ask what makes it scary.  I focus the discussion of the language and music. What evokes the mood?

Next, I shift the topic to America's fears.  We put another list on the board. We also discuss that these fears are not fun.  It is not type of scared people want to be.  I show them a news report the of Oklahoma City bombing.  This event happened before any of my students were born.  

The class discusses how American fears of terrorism have changed since the Oklahoma City bombing. The news report references the World Trade Center, so I also show them a news clip of the 1993 bombing to clarify the reference. 

This section allows the students to add specific examples about America's fears that happened before 9/11.  It provides an additional research point for the discussion (CCSS.SL.9-10.1a)

Building Knowledge: American Experience: War of the Worlds

60 minutes

Now that the students have discussed the fear present in 2013 we take a look at 1938 by watching the PBS documentary, American Experience: War of the Worlds. The students have war of the worlds film questions to answer as they watch the film.

Wrap it up: In 2013 are We Different from 1938 America.

10 minutes

After watching the documentary, I use the guided questions to start discussion.  First I ask if anyone missed a question. A couple of people raise their hands and ask the question they missed.  I call on students to answer their questions.  Starting with the questions the students have already answered allows them to ease into a whole class discussion.  These questions lead to student initiated questions and to a more lively and meaningful discourse on the reality of War of the Worlds.  Specifically how the 1938 anxieties about Nazi Germany fed into the belief that Mars had invaded.  Also, students talked about language use in War of the Worlds and how word choice influenced the audience. 

After the discussion, the students write a paragraph that compares and contrasts 1938 America with America today. Even though this is a short writing assignment, it requires strong organization and analysis of content (CCSS.9-10.W.2).  

The writing is their ticket out the door.  I trade them for the War of the worlds homework assignment.  It is only homework if the student is going to miss the next class.  For everyone else it is a preview of the next class.