It's the day after our second Socratic Seminar, and so I begin class with any debriefing that feels necessary. On this particular occasion, a couple of students from one class spoke to me after their seminar yesterday and asked if they could add a comment or two today, since they did not get the chance to speak twice in the previous lesson (two contributions was the minimum). I will of course let them, though I anticipate that the majority of my students feel that justice has been sufficiently served to the documents they were required to discuss.
Most of my students, however, avoided any in-depth exploration of the Burns poem "To A Mouse" in their seminars, and so I will review at least the storyline of the poem with my them, because I do want them to understand where the title of the book comes from and why.
When we have sufficiently debriefed from the Socratic Seminar, I transition my students into a prewriting activity for their next essay, which will require that they identify and defend a theme in Of Mice and Men.
I distribute a Theme Exploration Graphic Organizer to each student and instruct them to first focus on the side that has the web-like image on it. I tell them to take around five minutes completing the sentence in the center of the web''"Of Mice and Men is a book about . . ."--by listing as many topics that they can think of, even adding more than I have provided spaces for, if necessary. I encourage them to keep their topics limited to one word if they can (ex: loneliness, friendship, dreams, etc.), similarly to the way they began exploring theme in chapter four in a previous lesson.
When students have had time to brainstorm topics on their own, I then ask for volunteers to share their topics with the whole group. I instruct my students to add topics to their lists that they may have missed, as they listen to what their peers share.
The next step is to have my students select the the topic that "speaks to them the most," the one that has left the strongest impression on them, now that we have completed the book. Once they have selected their topic, I then direct them to the bottom of their graphic organizer, where they must figure out what Steinbeck is trying to get his readers to notice about that topic. I remind my students that this is how themes are expressed--not as single words (topics), but as complete sentences about those single words. I further stress to them that a theme needs to be a message that feels worthwhile, something that is gained from having read the work, and not an idea that we essentially already knew (EX: "Everyone will die someday." Not a theme). I remind them that themes either teach us something new that we hadn't realized before, especially in the way a text might portray it, or remind us that something is important that we may have forgotten is important.
My theme speech is never a one-shot deal; I find that I often repeat it several times throughout a school year, as many students still want themes to be single words.
After my students have had a few minutes to write out their themes, I ask for student volunteers to share with the whole group. This is critical to do as a whole group, as it gives my students an opportunity to hear each others attempts, to discuss whether or not what they have written would work as a supportable theme, and for me to help reshape them in front of an attentive audience. Through this whole-group sharing, assessing, reshaping process, the goal is to break as many theme-as-single-word habits as possible.
When all students are confident about the themes they have selected, I direct their attention to the backside of their brainstorming, to the graphic organizer that requires them to start gathering the evidence necessary to support their theme.
I remind my students that no claims in life should ever go unsupported, most especially in an essay. If that were the case, I could walk around stating such things as "Of Mice and Men is a book about how to find the best deals on Black Friday" (or some such nonsense--whatever gets my students' attention to make the point). Thus, the graphic organizer invites them to start building their case for defending their chosen theme.
I am requiring that my students identify a minimum of three solid examples from the text that they will use to support their theme, and so the graphic organizer, working horizontally, sets them up for addressing what will need to be evident in each body paragraph to sufficiently support their claim(s):
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This portion of the lesson will return to individual work, with my assistance, as my students hunt through the text to find the examples and quotes they will use. I anticipate a lot of questions, from "Could I use ___ as an example of ___?" to "Where is the part when ___ says ___ to ___?" However, with the step-by-step build up to the activity of actually focusing on each selected theme, including several pit-stops of whole-group sharing and teacher reshaping as needed along the way, I do not expect many (if any--fingers crossed!) will claim "I don't get it."
My students will continue working on evidence-gathering for the rest of the period, and complete the activity for homework, if necessary.