In the previous lesson, my students were given the article "What Johnny Can't Read" and began identifying the arguments for and against book banning that the article addresses. Since we were unable to review their findings as a whole group, we spend the next 20 minutes sharing the arguments that are presented in the text and discussing how sound they are. Because I know my students to be overall pretty enthusiastic readers who tend towards the liberal side, I anticipate that they will have plenty to say about some of the complaints against the books mentioned in the article.
Something to consider when teaching argument to students is finding topics that engage as many students as possible. This is not always easy to do, but it is worth noting that the art of argument/debate seldom gets old with students ("Trying to prove that I'm right? I'm in!"). In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how engaged my students, who are not overwhelmingly into sports, became when we explored the issue of whether or not sports belong in schools in this lesson and in the lesson that extended the debate.
After the review of "What Johnny Can't Read," I explain to my students that today we will be looking at a letter that a famous writer wrote to a school district who decided to ban one of his books. The letter, written by Kurt Vonnegut, is one that I have used with previous students as a supplemental text while teaching Fahrenheit 451, and it fits right in with this small unit on book banning.
I give each student a copy of the letter and allow them to work with their table partners as they read the text. I remind them to use the method of highlighting key strategies or passages they may notice, and of creating mini summaries in the margins, should they find it helpful as they navigate the text.
Because the Vonnegut letter is so rich in strategy, I am departing from the argument chart my students developed in the previous lesson and am instead requiring that each student develops a rhetorical square that analyzes the letter. Through this method, not only will my students have to identify the writer's argument(s), but will also be required to explore his purpose, audience, persona, and strategies. Thus, the letter provides a good opportunity to link a skill that my students have previously been taught, in order to reinforce how/when/why such a skill comes in handy. This, too, is the reason they are working as table partners today, instead of my arranging strategic partnerships, as I want to test their confidence in a skill that they have already performed on a few occasions.
Each student is required to develop a rhetorical square in their classroom spiral notebooks individually, but they are allowed to develop their ideas with their partners. Any student who is unable to complete the task in class is instructed to complete it as homework.