Evaluating Theses & Building Background for Of Mice & Men

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SWBAT draw connections between thematic ideas in "Of Mice and Men" and "To A Mouse" with the novel's historical context and narrow their thesis statement options using peer feedback.

Big Idea

Using student-generated surveys to narrow thesis statements, foreshadowing with Robert Burns, & scoping out Lennie and George all in a day!


30 minutes

Today students will be turning their five revised thesis statement options into a Google Form to easily collect feedback on interest level and thesis strength from their peers.  While most students will have created a form before, not all students have had this opportunity.  Since all students will be working at different paces, I created a video of the process to aid students.  I will begin the hour by modeling the exact same process shown in the video, and those students who are able to complete the process with me will have that opportunity.  All students will have access to my tutorial video below to help them follow the correct procedure to setting up this form.


Once I demonstrate how to make the form and share the video resource, I will walk around the room helping students as needed.  When students are finished with their survey, they will submit their Live Form Links to the Thesis Statement Feedback Links Form. Do NOT let them link the form-creation page!  This will be a common error unless you go out of your way to say it throughout the form creation and submission time.  You want students to be able to click on the links to TAKE the survey, so it's critical to link the ACTUAL SURVEY A VIEWER WOULD SEE to enable the next step of the project.  Immediately after submitting their own link to the form, they will need to go to the spreadsheet that collects form responses through Google Forms.  There is a screencap (with the names column removed) to show how easily this form is set up and accessed by students in the resources section.  After students submit their survey, they must take the survey of every other student in their class.  Giving and collecting this honest, thoughtful feedback will help students to pick more relevant, interesting, timely, and unique topics.  I have said a million times that some topics are overused, but this step should help to eliminate some of that when their peers echo my feelings and all students have access to seeing their peers' topic ideas.

Students will likely not finish responding to all surveys during this class time.  My biggest concern will be getting students to build their own form, submit the form to MY form, and access their peers' work through the spreadsheet.  Students will have until tomorrow at noon (we're on block scheduling, so we alternate days!) to give their peers feedback on their surveys.  ALL students will use that feedback by viewing their "Summaries of Responses" to help inform them of their peers' interests.  I will also suggest that if they get little interest for some topics they're really interested in, they should talk to their peers to see what they could do to improve the thesis statement or topic to garner more interest.  Ultimately, they must return to our next class period with their "Top 2" unique, well-written thesis statements.  

Building Knowledge

45 minutes

After 30 minutes of our "research" part of the hour (which should give students PLENTY of time to build their forms and submit them to the link sheet!), I will switch gears to begin our look at Steinbeck's Of Mice & Men.  We will have two objectives today, which will be to read and analyze Robert Burns's "To a Mouse" (while evaluating how language has changed) and to gain a broader sense of the historical background of the time period.  Students will view copies of the original and translated poem, attached in the resource section.  First, I will ask students to point out differences in the two poems.  They will quickly recognize the antiqued language, odd syntax, and direct influence of dialect on the original poem.  Then, I will ask them what they feel has changed in language and what might be missing in the translated version.  Students will point out that some of the rhyme structures and meter choices are different in the translation.  They may also say that it is missing some of the authentic voice of the narrator since it's lacking dialect.  I will ask for a student to volunteer to read a stanza of the original poem so that we can try to guess the dialect being employed, which is Scottish.  At this point, I will tell my classes that this poem is the basis for the title of our novel, Of Mice & Men, which is why we're examining it.  

After our first look at the poems, students will popcorn read a sentence or two of the translated poem, stopping to check for understanding.  Since it is a somewhat complicated poem with words that are uncommon to my students, I want to be sure that we are all moving through it together.  

  • What does timorous mean here?  What other word does that remind you of that could have helped you to guess the meaning?  What kind of beast is he talking to?  (Students will say that timorous likely means timid, which makes sense because we're talking about a mouse.  While we continue to discuss, I will have another student verify this definition in an online dictionary and report back to the class.)
  • If you're "loathe" to do something, what does that mean?  Have you heard that?  How about if you "loathe" someone?(Students will put together the definition, following the same routine as above with assigning a student to check and report the actual definition.)
  • A "plough-staff" is the handle of a plow.  What does that tell us about who the narrator of the poem is?  Explain both who the narrator is and what the visual scene of this poem is as you create an image to mentally "watch" this poem.  Include the setting, narrator, and mouse and their actions.  (Students will summarize the action of the poem so far, including that the narrator is probably a farmer.)
  • What does "dominion" mean?  What does it sound like? (Students typically have no problem coming up with similar words, like dominate, domineer, dominant, etc., which will allow them to see that the root has something to do with control.  Then, have students pick out what part of speech it is in the sentence to determine the final meaning as a place under control.  Again, have a student verify the definition for the class and report back.)
  • What is the narrator apologizing for?  What does he say he has in common with the mouse?  (Students will summarize that he's apologizing for man being in control and breaking nature's homeostasis and says that while the mouse is justifiably scared of him, they are both mortal.)
  • Why would the beast rightly think it was safe to build its nest there according to the narrator?  Include why the beast's assumptions were wrong (which would also qualify as dramatic irony, since it's something you know but something a "best" could never know).  (Students will use the setting and timeline to see that the fields have been empty for some time, so the mouse would assume they were abandoned.  He could never know the planting and harvesting seasons, though the reader and narrator do.)
  • Why do you think in the late 1700s, Burns was feeling so much empathy for the beast? What might that have to do with the Great Depression or Dust Bowl, which are parts of the Modern historical context? (Students will suggest that Burns must have gone through something traumatic or bad which makes him empathize with the mouse.  This could be related to either of these historical times, as so many people had lost everything, just like the mouse lost his home.  Like humans, the mouse was just trying to do his best, his luck just changed.)
  • What does "the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy" mean to you in this day and age?  Do you think this sentiment is true or untrue? (Student answers will vary, I will just be looking for restatements of the concept and well-argued positions on the question.)
  • Why does the narrator suggest that the mouse is in a better position than he is, despite having to steal food and rebuild his home time after time? (It's critical that students recognize that Burns is saying this because at least mice don't have to beat themselves up over their pasts or run around anxiously fear the future.  Mice exist only in the present, so their loss is much different than ours.)
  • Since the title is "Of Mice and Men," we can imagine that there may be both mice-like characters (like the beast in the poem) and men-like characters (like the narrator of the poem).  How would the tone of the story change if it were being written from someone with a mouse-like perspective?  How would it change if it were being written form someone with a man-like perspective? Explain what in the poem helped you to make these inferences.  (Students should be able to justify the difference between these characters based on the poem and discussion thusfar.  Mice-like characters would be very present-focused and not very observant on details.  Men-like characters would be planners, thinkers, and watchers to make sure they know what's going on and how it will effect their plan.

After our discussion, students will develop a stronger idea of the historical context this was written in by reading the PBS Article "Mass Exodus from the Plains" and completing the embedded questions in Actively Learn.  They will also watch the video below, which is embedded into the Actively Learn platform, and answer the pre-reading questions embedded in the text.  Those questions are attached in the resources section.   


10 minutes

Finally, students will use the Actively Learn platform to read the first chapter of Of Mice & Men.  I took student suggestions and made all of my questions in this Actively Learn module "discussion questions" set in the margins of text rather than embedded in the reading (which blocks students from continuing before answering questions).  Also, many of the questions require students to annotate their texts (using the Actively Learn highlighting features) to track characterizations throughout the first chapter.  I am still playing around with this platform to see what it can do, what students like, and what is most effective for them, so this is my latest attempt!  While reading, students will have to complete the activities (listed in a document in the resources section) noted in my comments in the margins.  This work will prepare students to actively engage in discussion at the start of our next class period.  It will also allow them to have textual evidence handy to support their opinions so that when I annoyingly ask "Why? What in the text tells you that?" they can answer me immediately!


5 minutes

Before students leave me today, I will make sure we connect as a whole group to discuss the expectations for their reading assignment.  Since the application is so new, I want to really make sure that all students know what is required for full credit.  Then, I will remind them to finish giving their peers feedback on their thesis statements and to select their own final two thesis options based on that feedback and their own interests.  Both of these project will be due next time.

Next Steps

Next time we'll continue our reading and research tasks in class.  Since all students need to leave feedback on their classmates' surveys by noon tomorrow, I will check to see where students are at tonight before I go to bed.  The beautiful thing about Google is the sharing ability, so this task is made easy for me to check in on and email reminders to students as needed.  Though it takes a bit of extra time, the reward of having better prepared students is absolutely worth it.  It also helps to further the idea that "Ms. McCoy is EVERYWHERE!" which plays a large part in my classroom management strategy.  When they know you're lurking around and checking, they are really much more on task!