Tackling Dickens's Style: A Tale of Two Cities Book One Analysis (Day 2 of 2)

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SWBAT analyze Dickens's choices in regards to symbolic language and text structure by working in small groups to determine key ideas and connections from book one of A Tale of Two Cities.

Big Idea

Once students have identified the bread crumbs, it is important to move them to the next level of thinking by asking them to analyze why and how these crumbs connect.

Check in on Grades/Housekeeping

5 minutes

We are a exactly two weeks from finals today, so my teaching partner and I want to start class with a brief reminder about grades, make up work, and the importance of being caught up.

I have been in touch with quite a few students and their parents who are in a precarious state. This time of year, it never hurts to remind them often about how important it is to finish the semester strong and earn the credit they've been striving to earn.

My greatest challenge is staying on top of the grading so they have a really accurate view of where they are coming into these last two weeks. I'm definitely going to need a vacation soon =)

Review of Dickens's Breadcrumbs

10 minutes

After realizing that the students were more lost than I thought they would be with yesterday's lesson, I will spend some time asking them to share out their interpretations of the 12 words we discussed yesterday. I will take notes on the board based on their verbal responses.

These key words/symbols/ideas are all essential breadcrumbs for later plot points in the novel.

  • Cask of Wine
  • Golden Hair
  • The Dover Mail
  • "Recalled to Life"
  • "An Honest Tradesman"
  • The "Wild Woman"
  • The Shoemaker
  • St. Antoine
  • Knitting
  • 105 North Tower
  • Tellson's Bank
  • Jacques

It is important that my students are alert to these phrases so that the phrases will jump out when the students come across them again later in the novel. I will also ask them to take notes of anything that they might have missed so that they are able to join their discussion groups with textual evidence and ideas (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a).

Mind Map Synthesis Activity

30 minutes

Once we have a common sense of the big ideas from book one of Tale, I will ask the students to take their thinking to the next level and synthesize all of these ideas together. To do this, we will use my favorite mind map, put together by a colleague of mine many years ago. There is nothing I've used from published curriculum that seems to challenge or push them quite as much as this.

Because it is the first time we've ever used this tool in 10th grade, I will let the students work with their Faulkner squares to tackle the task. The 12 terms that we've been discussing will go in the circles and the students will be required to explain how each circle connects to the others it touches on the lines in between. The large circle in the center will be for their summative statement about the most significant idea or concept from book one. Here are two samples of student work to give you a sense of what they came up with: StudentMindMap1.png; StudentMindMap2.png.

The new standards require so much higher level thinking, it is important sometimes to provide scaffolded activities like this that push the students to think beyond identification and summary. Since they've already done the analysis of Dickens's language/symbolic word choice (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5), I'm hoping that this activity will help them to speak more specifically about how all the parts of his narrative and the overlap between setting and characters lend to the message/meaning he is trying to create in the story (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5). This is just a preliminary assessment of this standard, which we will continue to visit for the remainder of our time with this novel.


10 minutes

I will purposely leave SSR to the end of class so they can use their reading time to read the next few chapters of Tale. Many of my students are still reading their choice novels, but for those who need the extra time to complete Tale have been grateful for this class time to read the class novel instead.

I had an interesting conversation with a few other Master Teachers on a webinar last night about whether or not to use reading guides. Tim Pappageorge, a 9th grade teacher from Illinois,  commented that Dickens is specifically difficult to get in to because of the complexity of his structure and his purposefully vague descriptions at the beginning of his novels. He said that reason alone makes it important to give students some help through reading structure or guides.

I tend to avoid reading guides because they feel like busy work to me. I don't want to distract my students from reading and learning how to be autonomous in that process, but I feel like this teacher's points were sound. As such, I tried to strike a middle ground by creating a reading guide that is pretty general but which directs them towards the essential information from the two chapters they are reading this weekend. I also communicated my thinking to my class and asked them what they prefer. Most of the students said they like the extra guidance, so I said we would try it for the next few reading sections and see if that provides enough support to become more independent later on.

To further put my head/heart at ease, I structured the reading guide around leveled questions. By moving beyond the level one comprehension of the text, which could be learned by reading SparkNotes, I decided to include level two questions that will ask (force? =) students to be more inferential in their thinking. I'm hoping those level two questions will also lend to better conversation when we come back to talk about the text.