Figurative Language and Text Structure in "Civil Disobedience"

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Students will be able to analyze figurative language and text structure in Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" by collaborating with peers.

Big Idea

A wooden gun and a broken machine--analyzing Thoreau's use of language and structure in "Civil Disobedience."

Do Now: Civil Disobedience QuickWrite

5 minutes

Today, we move into our next transcendental text, "Civil Disobedience." Students may have studied the concept in previous classes, so I ask them to explain what they believe the term means in a quick write, even if it means guessing:

"Disobeying a law?" How did you get that?

"Well, disobey comes from disobedience, and civil can be related to law." Good read on the words. What else do we know or guess?

"Couldn't civil also relate to being civil, or being nice?" Yes--how does that fit with disobedience?

"Being nice even when you're being disobedient?" Yes. What else?

"Couldn't refusing to pay taxes be an example?" Yes -- do you know the origin of the term?

"No, it was just a guess."

This guess leads us into our introduction to "Civil Disobedience." I just love it when students give me the perfect segue. I explain that all of students' guesses have been on the mark and that we will study the origin of the term today in Thoreau's essay.

Introduction to "Civil Disobedience"

5 minutes

To grab students' interest for Thoreau's story, I dive right into jail--or at least how Thoreau ended up in jail. I give them the context of the essay--the international struggle we were engaged in and the national struggle yet to be addressed. I explain how Thoreau showed his disobedience (students are shocked that refusal to pay taxes resulted in jail time for a single, less-than-rich individual) and that the essay will go into more detail on his beliefs and on the outcomes of his actions, at least from his point of view.

Next, I ask students to open the text I have annotated with numbers and a few key terms. I explain that these annotations will be helpful to us as we analyze the essay today.

Group Work: Analysis of "Civil Disobedience"

60 minutes

For the second time this year, I am stepping back and turning over control of reading to my students. On our first excursion into independent reading (Walden, just a lessons earlier), students met my expectations for comprehension. The text today is a bit more complex, and the assignment more challenging, but I believe they are up to the task.

I introduce the assignment using the attached PowerPoint. Students are to work with their assigned groups (they don't work well when they choose their own groups in this class) to create a summary of their section, an analysis of text structure, and an analysis of figurative language. This activity will cover all the standards we have studied so far this unit, giving me a glimpse of how test-ready students are at this point in instruction.

I break students into groups based on their seating chart, in which students are already mixed by ability and interest in class content. Each group contains students capable of leadership. Students receive 35 minutes to read, analyze, and prepare a visual aid for presentation.

I stroll the room as students work, listening in to conversations to make sure students are interpreting the text correctly. For 35 minutes, I am not needed to answer questions about content--students are working well without me. Only occasionally do I need to remind groups to stay focused, and my group leaders are pulling everyone into the process, just as I had hoped. As work time draws to a close, I ask students to clean up materials and prepare to present.

We present in order of the original text; groups take the "stage" quickly. Presentations are clear and easy to follow with the visual aid, and when I ask questions after each, students both within the group and in the rest of the class chime in with answers.

By the end of the class, I am confident that students have a good understanding of the content of "Civil Disobedience," and we have a plethora of correct text structure and [nearly] correct figurative language examples to refer to in future classes. Check out clips of our process and progress from beginning to end of the lesson: