Examining Facades & Misinformation with Realist Poetry

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SWBAT evaluate the author's purpose and language choices to examine similar themes of deception in three Realist poems through small and whole-group collaborative analysis.

Big Idea

What do you get when you put together truth, deception, Realist poetry, and high school students? One heck of an evidence-based discussion.


20 minutes

To begin our lesson for today and gather some student interest in our topic through writing and discussion, students will start the hour off with a 3 minute quickwrite addressing the following prompt: 

According to Dictionary.com, in architecture, a "facade" is the front of a building, especially an imposing or decorative one."  Subsequently, other content areas use the term "facade" to describe a superficial appearance or illusion of something."  Consider those definitions while answering the following questions in your 3-minute Quickwrite.  Is putting on a facade for other people considered a lie?  What reasons propel people to create facades?  Are they positive or negative?  Explain.  Do you use them?  What separates your true self from your facade?


Writing quickwrites helps students have time to orient their thoughts about the topic in order to prepare for discussion.  They also require students to actively write, as they are timed and are designed so that students must write continuously for the entire duration of the activity.  If they are unsure of what to write, they can write "I don't know" or some other statement until they gather their thoughts, but they MUST write.  However, in all my years, I have never had a student fail to engage with the question, even with the option to do so built into the activity.

After the timer goes off, students will have a few seconds to conclude the sentence they were writing when time was called.  Then, we will discuss their response to each question in sequential order.  This shouldn't be a long activity, rather just enough to get students considering the purpose of a facade, relating with the idea of creating one, and sharing ideas with their peers.

As a final piece of the introduction, we will watch "The Magic of Truth & Lies," which is a TED Talk exploring the power of perception and dangers in looking at others with only at a surface-level.  

When the video concludes, we will take a minute to verbally connect it with the idea of facade creation in our daily lives.  As with so many things technology-related, students will likely be captivated by this video clip (as I was the first through tenth times I watched it!).  They should be able to make connections between telling small "lies" and keeping up a constructed image of oneself to keep others satisfied (as with the traffic example or woman getting ready in "just a minute" from the clip).  They may also discuss the need for such illusions or the differences in lying by gender that the clip discusses.

Building Knowledge

10 minutes

In order to model our upcoming poetry analysis activity, students will pull up the "Facade Poetry Collaborative Notes" where I have completed a sample activity using Sylvia Plath's "Facelift."  Since every poem we talk about today will require students to determine the author's purpose, word choice contribution to power, tone, and mood, and the function and result of the facade, I chose to create a collaborative Google Doc to collect these ideas from students.  Previously I have employed a collaborative Google Doc format like this one, where all students have access to editing powers of a document and add to the document throughout the class before downloading a copy at the end of the hour for their notes.  This previous format was a huge success, so I decided to try it again with this activity.  I chose to separate the columns to investigate each element by last names in order to avoid having a complete free-for-all when it comes to filling out the document after we read.

After all students have gotten the collaborative notes document up, they will be instructed to open the "Facelift" poem in a separate tab or window of their Chromebooks.  I will read it aloud before reviewing my sample entries on the collaborative notes to show students how to complete the activity.  After sharing this example with them, we will move on to the next section of the lesson where students use this document to analyze three poems and to serve as a basis for our discussion of the works.


45 minutes

To analyze and discuss the three poems in this grouping today, "Richard Cory," "We Wear the Mask," and "Richard Bone," we will follow the procedure outlined below.

  • Students will be reminded that the area of the charts they are responsible for adding to are based on their last names.
  • A volunteer will read "Richard Cory" aloud while the remaining students follow along with the linked text version.
  • After the reading is over, students will have the chance to ask any questions they have about the poem, which will be turned back to the group for answering.  I love this strategy, because students ultimately end up providing the answers to their peers through discussion, which encourages communication about English and discourages questions that are asked simply to avoid having to do the "thinking" work of answering them themselves.  
  • Once any questions are addressed, students will have 2-4 minutes to add their contributions to answer the assigned question for "Richard Cory."  
  • Responses will be shared and discussed, and students will be encouraged to add to the notes any ideas that we talk about but aren't on the document already.
  • This procedure will be repeated for "We Wear the Mask" and "Richard Bone" as well.  The only difference will be that each poem will have supplemental questions that further explore themes or structures specific to each poem.  Additional questions for each story are:
    • In "Richard Cory," how does the structure and rhyme scheme of the poem emphasize the central message of the poem?
    • Is "Richard Cory" a poem that is still relevant to people today?  Or is it so dated that it's not really pertinent to us anymore?  Explain.
    • Why would Dunbar write "We Wear the Mask"?  What is going on contextually in this time period?
    • How is the Dunbar theme similar to that expressed in "Richard Cory"?
    • Are the main characters in "Richard Cory" and "We Wear the Mask" wearing masks for similar reasons?  How are their motivations the same?  How are they different?
    • What does the word "epitaph" mean in "Richard Bone"?
    • How is the theme in "Richard Bone" similar to the theme in the other two poems we've read like this?
    • Where do you typically hear the word "chronicles"?  Why do you think Masters chose to use that word in the line "made myself party to the false chronicles"?  What effect does that have on the reader?  How is it related to the ideas that appear later in that poem?
    • What is the narrator asserting about historians?  Is this assertion malicious?  


15 minutes

As a final culminating activity for today's work, students will continue to investigate the idea that historians and history may lie by watching a clip from CNN talking about errors in fourth grade textbooks.  While getting the video ready, students will discuss whether or not they believe that history or information in history books is completely truthful (with support as to why or why not) and why people who feel textbooks are not reliable may feel the way that they do.

After the video, students will be given a chance to respond to the ideas presented in the video and to relate those ideas with the concept that history textbooks may not be entirely accurate.  Undoubtedly, they will be horrified by the number and types of errors present in this textbook series, but they might also be able to point out examples of errors or "understatements" in their own textbooks.  I usually have a handful of very history-oriented students that can pull specific examples of historical events that have been "minimized" (like the internment camps for Japanese-Americans) in history books or other ideas that have been described differently depending on the region (like with slavery).  For many students, the news that not everything they hear from teachers or read in textbooks is not entirely accurate may be a surprise, but I always like to spend time talking about this issue to encourage critical thinking and give students permission (and, in fact, encouragement) to question everything, complete firsthand research, and have their own thoughts!  Sometimes I feel slightly as though I am helping to develop little rebels, but then I remember that one of our district's missions is to develop independent, involved contributors to our society and democracy, so I embrace my inner Thoreau and run with it!  

Finally, students will choose which piece of our discussion today is more interesting to them and read or view more about the topic before writing a 1/2 page reflection connecting their choice of informational media with today's discussion of the associated topic.  They may choose to read "Take Off That Mask" from Psychology Today to continue investigating facades or read an excerpt from the Amazon.com "Look Inside!" feature for James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.  We will discuss these reflections at the start of next class period.

Next Steps

On the way out of class, students will be informed that their study guide will be posted on my website for their review.  We have our school-wide review day next week, followed by finals, so I want to make these documents available to interested students.