Using Nonfiction to Understand Aunt Polly in Chapter 12

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SWBAT understand the historical context of a novel by reading and comprehending nonfiction text.

Big Idea

What was in that Painkiller?


10 minutes

To begin today's lesson, I show my students the following video:


I ask them whether or not the believe this product can make a person lose weight.  Because they have family members who believe these products work, I usually have some interesting stories shared with me!

After a few minutes of sharing, I will read them this 20/20 article.  I then ask them if their ideas about diet product advertising and the products themselves have changed.

I then let them know that people have believed in these types of "medical" cures for hundreds of years, Aunt Polly included.  I tell them that we are going to read a nonfiction article about the cures offered in Tom and Polly's day.




Getting Down to Business

35 minutes

Next, I hand out a copy of the article called "The Golden Age of Quackery."  I found the article online and inserted advertisements to add some visual interest.  The Lexile level of this article is 1170, so it's really too hard for seventh graders. The way I combat this is to read with inflection and stop to clarify when I think the kids aren't understanding something.

Once I feel like my students have a good understanding of the quack cures that were popular in the 19th century, we will read Chapter 12 in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  Again, you can have students read silently, read aloud to them, or use the recording.

Personally, I love the recording or read-aloud options because I love when they all laugh after Tom gives Painkiller to Peter!

Did They Get It?

5 minutes

After reading chapter 12, I like to do a quick discussion about how Aunt Polly's Painkiller is an example of the quack cures from the 19th century.  This is a great time to remind students about the concept of tone in an author's writing.

I ask students if they can tell how Mark Twain felt about this type of "medicine."  Once they realize that Twain himself thought these medicines were useless, I have students go back and try to cite lines in the chapter that reveal Twain's tone. (Most of the first paragraph of the chapter!)