Dialect & Regionalism Today and in Twain's Time

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SWBAT analyze the use of satire, humor, and dialect using Mark Twain's "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and a variety of informational texts and charts to gather background information for a narrative writing application.

Big Idea

Now today we're goin' to learn about this'yer di-lect with Mark Twain 'fore we LIVE that di-lect with a narrative writin' activity.

Lesson Overview

This lesson falls near the end of our study on Realism, but just at the beginning of our investigation of Mark Twain's literature as a model for later American literature.  Last class period students were given notes about relevant literary terms related to humor and satire, and we constructed group examples of these elements in action.  They were also given links to digital materials to further explore their own dialect in relation to other American dialects and to investigate societal attitudes associated with varying dialects.  Students should arrive today with the conceptual understanding of dialect to more deeply understand Twain's literature.


5 minutes

To start off today's lesson, students will use their reflections from last class period's homework to first share their ideas with their assigned small groups to compare and contrast their reactions to the dialect links.  While discussing this information with their groups, they should focus on what specific articles and ideas they were most interested in and found most helpful to their understanding of what dialect is on a conceptual level.  

After students have had two minutes to discuss their reactions, the whole class will come together to share their findings, reactions, and evaluation of the linked material.  This process should only take a few minutes, but it will be vital for warming up for today's interaction with Twain's text and generating student engagement with the focus on language use, which is often difficult.  Many times students are willing to engage in discussions about larger ideas presented in text, but they are hesitant or resistant to actually evaluating the language.  Basing our discussion here on the function of language sets the tone for our entire day discussing this topic.

Building Knowledge

45 minutes

Once we have discussed student reflections, we will move on to applying our knowledge of dialect and Twain's use of humor (discussed last class period) to "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."  Since Twain employs phonetic spellings and regionalisms to his text, I have found in years past that students are often hesitant to engage in reading the text aloud (despite that being the only way to truly hear the language use in all its glory!).  To counter this and allow students to comfortably evaluate his use of language and humor, I have opted to play students a Librivox recording of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (14:06) that I feel does the best job of using dramatic reading while staying true to the text.  Instead of just listening to the text and retroactively analyzing it, however, we will follow the procedure outlined below.

  • Students will work with their pre-assigned groups of three, as designated by the seating chart created utilizing data from student learning preferences surveys to match similar types of learners, to collect evidence and analyze one of these specific textual features:
    • incongruity
    • hyperbole
    • comic use of language
    • satire
    • social commentary
    • human foibles
    • regional dialect
    • theme
    • objective summary using sequence of events
    • story structure as it contributes to humor & effectiveness
  • Students will be allowed to choose their feature for analysis, though I will give preference to my lower reading groups to select the topic they are most comfortable with first.
  • After choosing a feature for analysis, students will use individual Google Docs (the "Individual Jumping Frog Textual Analysis Activity" in the resources section) to track specific instances of their feature in the text.  The goal will be to create three individual lists of evidence per group, which will ultimately be synthesized into one overall analysis using the strongest evidence from each student.
  • I will answer any questions groups have about the procedure and expectations before having students pull up their textual copy of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and playing the Librivox recording of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (14:06).
  • While students listen, I will circulate throughout the room to answer any questions and help students if I see them struggling.
  • After the recording concludes, students will have about 15 minutes to work with their groups to complete and submit the "Group Jumping Frog Textual Analysis Activity" providing an analysis and evidence of their topic.  They will submit this document the the Twain Textual Analysis Group Submission Google Form.  During this time, students will be required to use group conflict management skills to ensure the productive discussion, selection, and completion of information for this assignment.
  • If students struggle with incorporating quotes into their analyses, I will encourage them to view the "Integrating 'Quotes' in Plain English" YouTube video by E. Petra.


  • Once students are done with their collaborative document, they will briefly present their analysis to their peers.
  • If students have missed any major points of the story or language use, I will supplement their discussion with questioning to clarify those points.


20 minutes

As a final collaborative activity looking at language and dialects and their power, students will have the opportunity to evaluate an informational text of their choice to further examine an idea about dialect, the evolution of language, and the relationship between language and society in America.  In order to complete this activity, students will follow the procedure outlined below.


20 minutes

As a final activity to monitor student mastery of dialect in written expression and practice writing in the narrative form, students will have the opportunity to write a 1-2 page narrative essay using narrative elements.  To maximize the alignment of this activity to the Common Core Standards and practice both language skills and writing skills simultaneously, students should be especially sure to

  • choose a point of view and stick to it
  • address a conflict that can be addressed completely in 1-2 pages with adequate plot progression
  • write with a specific tone that adds value to the dialect chosen
  • utilize precise and descriptive language to not only demonstrate the dialect, but also add to the depth and richness of the narrative
  • incorporate a conclusion that reflects on or resolves the narrative.

To help students better understand narrative elements that should be represented in their essays, students will individually view the Narrative Elements Slideshare below to review these previously-learned concepts.


After viewing the slideshow, students should use the North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns website to choose a dialect from the United States with which to write their narrative essay.  Before beginning to write, students should first briefly outline the narrative's sequence, character information, and point of view to help them organize their narratives.  This step will ensure students meet the narrative requirements.  In the past I have not required students to outline their narratives, but I have found in prior years that without planning, students tend to launch into the "fun" part of the dialect-writing instead of first ensuring that the story makes sense.  

After they outline their narratives, students should be sure to steer clear of employing stereotypes they feel are associated with their chosen dialects.  It is likely that students will choose a dialect that is unfamiliar to them, so I will also encourage them to do some outside research on that region to help their stories more regionally accurate.  

In the remaining class time, students will be able to begin writing their narratives using grammar and phonetics that match the dialect and region selected.  These will be shared next week after I evaluate them for appropriateness.

Next Steps

Next week, students that wish to do so will share their narratives with their classmates.  I have learned in the past that it's a potentially dangerous situation to let them read them aloud before doing so in case they violate the rules on avoiding stereotypes.