Critically Speaking: Concise Analysis via Critical Comments

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SWBAT critique a tale from "The Canterbury Tales" by composing a critical comment.

Big Idea

Use concise writing to construct a tightly structured critique.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Time Frame and Context

Today is the final, summative assessment for The Canterbury Tales unit. Today I introduce students to a compact way to analyze a text: Critical Comment. Students will 

  • Review the assignment and a sample critical comment,
  • Compose a critical comment based on one tale from The Canterbury Tales.

Take a closer look with me at the Critical Comment Assignment in the screencast.  

Criteria for Critical Comments: Introducing the Lesson

15 minutes

When students enter the room, I distribute the Critical Comment Adapted  handout. Because the example is for a chapter from Fast Food Nation rather than from an imaginary text, I have included modifications to the original assignment I acquired many years ago so that it works for The Canterbury Tales. 

First, I read the instructions to students. Next, I go back over the task by talking about how the critical comment changes for the book chapter to accommodate the tales. This is important because students get confused when I omit this information. 

Next, I point out specific details in my example so students see how to address some of the required components in their critical comments. For example, I tell students that the quote I include supports the sentence that precedes it. I remind them that this follows very closely what they did w/ their interactive summaries, which they presented in the previous lesson, "'A' is for Allegory; 'S' is for Symbol. 

Then, I tell students that they also need to include information about how the tale works as satire. I remind them that they have notes from an earlier lesson, their SOAPSTone analysis, the text of the tales, and any additional work from the unit at their disposal, with the exception of their devices (cell phones, iPads, laptops, etc.). 

Finally, I tell students to use the UPS method to check their ability to complete the task:

U=I Understand

P=I Planned (my response)

S=I Solved (by writing my critical comment)


Taking Time to Write: Critical Comments as In-Class, Timed Writes

40 minutes

As students work, I circulate around the room and check their progress.

A few students come in late. I give them the handout, but they have to read the assignment by themselves since the assignment is a summative assessment. I offer some help, but these students most work through the task a bit more independently than do others.

Those students who have many absences, and I have some, can still do the work because they have access to the tale. I observe them struggling. They are seniors, and they are beginning to worry about their ability to complete the class successfully. I offer encouragement and for those interested, I offer some suggestions for finishing strong: 

  • attend class,
  • set up a tutoring session,
  • email me for help and to ask questions.

I'll give them more options in the next class period. For now, they must quietly persevere. 

Some students finish very quickly, perhaps too quickly. I look over their papers briefly and make suggestions for filling in gaps. I notice one student who hasn't given enough information to show he has read the tale as he doesn't really summarize the tale; instead, he gives the subject of the tale as "animals." 

Other students have more fully-developed critical comments: Student Critical Comment: "The Wife of Bath's Tale" and Student Critical Comment: "The Pardoner's Tale"

I tell students to keep the handout that explains critical comments because they will be using them later for other writing tasks.