Fiction as Argument: The Arguments of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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SWBAT recognize how a futuristic novelist can develop multiple central ideas that interact with each other to create a complex argument about society today.

Big Idea

Futuristic novels often make compelling arguments about the present.


Students will come in to class having read the novel Ready Player One and completed reading logs where they had to write down fifteen quotes addressing the question from their assignment sheet, with one quote per note card.  Today they will participate in an activity designed to teach them how to recognize multiple central ideas that work closely together by organizing and labeling (or coding) evidence.

In groups of three, students will take five of their note cards each, and lay them out on a piece of poster board.  SILENTLY, they will organize the cards into groups.  It is okay if one student puts a card in one place, then another moves it to a different place.  They will do this for 5 minutes.  At the end of five minutes, they will then take five minutes to talk to each other about why they put the cards where they put them, make changes, etc.  Then they will put the rest of their cards in the groups (and start new groupings if necessary).

After this is done, they will then name each category by writing a statement that captures a central idea that the group of evidence expresses.

To present findings, each group in turn will present one category until we’ve heard all the ideas.

Introduction to Multiple Themes in Literature Standard

10 minutes

Before beginning our activity, I want to introduce the activity by showing students the Common Core standards for literature, specifically noting the shift to identifying how multiple ideas work together, and explaining to students that since this is our only fictional novel of the semester, the activity today will provide skills on how to do this in fiction.  I will explain that the basic concept is not that different than in nonfiction (we worked with this standard when reading Hip-hop Planet by James McBride a couple weeks ago)—fiction just presents everything through a narrative (in a very similar way to Wild, for example).  What this shift really means is being much more specific in stating central ideas (themes).  At this point, I will use The Great Gatsby as an example, because they all read it in my sophomore class last year, explaining that last year they may have stated a theme of The Great Gatsby as “the myth of the American Dream”—a real big idea that would fit nicely on a bumper sticker.  From a rhetorical perspective, if we consider this our “subject” rather than a theme or central idea, we could break this down into multiple, more specific ideas, such as the psychologically destructive force wealth has on those who don’t have it, or that wealth is the clear path to lifelong happiness—these are different ideas that work together in the story to provide a broader commentary on the American Dream.

Slides for the items mentioned here, as well as other parts of the lesson, are in this powerpoint: Ready player one themes analysis lesson.pptx

Coding and Categorizing Evidence

25 minutes

we will use a modified version of an Affinity Mapping protocol (affinity_mapping.pdf) from the National School Reform Faculty today, which also closely relates to how qualitative researchers start analyzing data (I will share some of these connections with the students as part of the introduction as a way to relate the process itself to contexts outside of the English classroom).    In this protocol I will be the timekeeper and deliver instructions, at least for the first couple of parts, one step at a time.  I will put students in groups of three and ask each student to take five of their note cards each from their reading log assignment (Reading logs for Ready Player One.docx), and lay them out on a piece of poster board I have provided for them (they will eventually attach their cards to this poster board).  Then, I will ask them to SILENTLY organize the cards into groups—without talking, they will take five minutes to group the cards; they will first work with their own, grouping and combining with others.  Then, they will look at the groups move any cards to a different place if they don’t agree with the initial placement—either to a group of its own, or another established group.  The reason for this initial silent activity is to activate everyone’s thinking independently; while some students may take leadership roles silently, it nevertheless allows for all the students to consider first their own data, and then that of the rest of the group.  They are using only five cards at this point because 15 each would be too many; 15 in total should be enough to establish groupings that the rest of the data can be added to.  I considered modeling this, but decided against it because I think messiness is part of the process when analyzing data in this manner, and modeling will take away from that part of the learning process.

At the end of five minutes, they will then take a few minutes to talk to each other about why they put the cards where they put them, make changes, debate, etc.  Once they’ve resolved the groupings, they will put the rest of their cards in the groups (and start new groupings if necessary).  I will monitor this, listening to their conversations and offering assistance if they are having any debates that they can’t resolve on their own.  When I see that everyone is done grouping, we will move on to the next part of the process.


Writing Central Idea Statements

15 minutes

After debating and coming to final decisions on their groupings of evidence, the next step is to determine the central idea that each group represents.  I will then ask them to name each category and write a statement that captures a central idea that the group of evidence expresses.   On the poster board (posterboard has a magical quality of engaging students!), they will make a series of columns with a title heading, and tape each card in its category (I will post these around the room, and they will have time to look at each other’s before writing their own argument about the influence of technology next week). In engaging in discussions about category names and statements, they will be determining multiple themes and discussing how their evidence supports these.  Additionally, in that discussion, as well as the previous debating about where the evidence belongs, they will also get a sense of how evidence can support more than one theme.

Sharing Themes

45 minutes

At this point, we will have a modified Socratic seminar-type discussion.   One group will start presenting one category to the class and their reasoning behind it.  Students in the other groups will then add to the conversation by adding evidence they found and put into a similar category, or explain how they had a slightly different category and why, or that they put a particular piece of evidence into a different category, etc.  My hope is that the critical thinking they have done in the organization process will lead to some lively discussions about the central ideas of the book, and through this discussion they will see that the book has a number of central ideas that work closely together to develop a complex argument about the present state of our culture.   I will facilitate by asking probing questions (such as questioning why evidence is in that particular category), take advantage of teaching moments regarding the relationship of the central ideas, and also ask another group to present once one topic seems to have been played out. 

Next Steps:  My guess is that we will not finish today, and will continue with our discussion of the book tomorrow.  The posters will provide a good entry point for continuing the conversations.  The second part of tomorrow will be preparation for their own arguments about the influence of pop culture and technology.