Addressing An Additional Challenge In "Self-Reliance": Complex Sentence Structure

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SWBAT gain more independence in this process by relying on each other for help with this text through discussion.

Big Idea

Multiple forms of support are necessary to help students access a text beyond their reach.


Today we follow the same process we have been following the last couple of days, which has the purpose of helping students make sense of this essay by identifying the central ideas of each paragraph. I give them a bit more independence in this process today because they need to learn how to tackle complex texts on their own. This has been a slow process, but I hope they will be able to apply this process on their own as they move on to finish the rest of this essay in a future lesson. 

Reading Paragraph 3 of "Self-Reliance"

20 minutes

Students know that we are following the fours steps today to read the next paragraph so I just point to them on the board today:

  1. Circle challenging words that MUST be defined
  2. Highlight important words/phrases/sentences
  3. Identify and explain figurative language
  4. Identify and explain aphorisms

To give them more independence today, I ask students to work on step one, two and the first part of three and four, identifying any aphorisms and figurative language on their own. In invite them to ask me to define the difficult words as they come up. Most need a definition of “hindered,” “wholly,” “impulses” and “doctrine.”

I then ask them to work in groups to explain the most important example of figurative language in that paragraph. They all zero in on the second sentence of the paragraph, which says, “He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.” As I walk around and listen in on their conversations and assist individual groups, it becomes evident that they are having a very difficult time making sense of this sentence so a discussion about this is necessary.


15 minutes

I let students know that I can tell it is difficult to make sense of this particular sentence and ask them to share what they have come up with so far. I make sure to let them know that this is not an easy sentence to deconstruct and that any light they can shed on it will be helpful. This is to encourage them to take risks and give the task of interpreting their best shot. A couple of students suggested that Emerson is pointing to the importance of living a life guided by goodness and not to let obstacles get in the way. This suggests confusion with the structure of the sentence as well with my students’ general belief that living a life guided by goodness is a positive thing. In this video, I explain these two points of confusion with this particular sentence as well as the one about the devil.

Because of this confusion, I added a couple more directions to the process they are following to make sense of this essay:

  1. pay attention to the language structure
  2. be careful not to let your personal beliefs get in the way of understanding the author’s point.

Students are now ready to write statements that identify the central ideas in this paragraph.



Identifying Central Ideas

15 minutes

I now give students time to identify the central ideas in this paragraph, like we did with the previous paragraph. I let students collaborate on this part as well. I remind them that this is the last time this will be done in complete collaboration. The rest of the essay will be read mostly on their own. I want them to take advantage of the time I am giving them to get support from their classmates and from me. After a few minutes of collaborating on this part, I give students an opportunity to share with the entire group and get a little feedback from me. We spend a few minutes talking about this last paragraph and I make sure they have paid attention to the two sentences we discussed together, the ones I discuss in the video. Once I feel they have a good sense of the central points Emerson makes in this paragraph, I give them time to write in on their paper. This is a good example of the sentences a student drafted to explain the central ideas in this paragraph.