What's Common Knowledge? And What's the Commonality with Curley's Wife?

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SWBAT apply definition of "common knowledge" in group activity, evaluate a peer's research outline to improve the structure, and identify how Steinbeck intertwines characters to further theme.

Big Idea

Peer evaluations without a single student groan and class discussion that you have to CUT OFF? You’re not dreaming, it’s just Common Core!


30 minutes

Today we will begin the hour with an open forum for discussion and questions about the notecard process and content.  I will allot about 20 minutes for this discussion, but if students have significantly more questions than I anticipate, we can run it longer.  Likewise, if the process is already crystal clear, we can cut it short.  Based on the notebooks that I have reviewed in Evernote, I know that I will want to reiterate these items:

  • Sources MUST be clipped and have 2 tags (Source & Author/Title)
  • Notecards MUST have 3 tages (Source, Author/Title, Category)
  • Notecards that are anything but direct quotes should be written in bold and a different color so it's immediately apparent when you have an author's words or your own words.
  • Notecards should contain JUST ONE piece of information, not a whole chunk of information.  Notecards are really only useful if you can make them a once-and-done thing while inserting them into your paper, so if you have multiple tidbits on each card, you'll never be able to mark one "Used" and move on.  Likewise, making notecards is like a pre-selection step to pick out important information.  If you are just copy/pasting chunks of information, you're not really saving yourself time in the end.
  • Each notecard should have information that is going to be important and serve a specific purpose for your paper.  Countless notecards of general information or common knowledge will NOT be helpful to you.
  • Ultimately, every piece of information you use in your final paper must be on a notecard.  Avoid the temptation to slop through these, thinking you can fudge your way through them.  You can't.

To provide further clarification of what "common knowledge" is, I will provide the following considerations for students to keep in mind:

  • Common knowledge is only considered "common" if the average AUDIENCE MEMBER knows it.  Since our audience is high school juniors, we have to think about what YOU know.
  • The quickest way to determine this if it's questionable is to poll your audience in a way that's not biased.  Ask your friends at the lunch table, toss it out there on Twitter, or as me.  
  • If something is taught and required that you know it by 11th grade (like the number of amendments, presidents, basic biology terms, etc.), it's considered common knowledge even if you DON'T actually know it.  By all means you SHOULD know how many Supreme Court justices there are and what president we're up to as a nation, so researchers assume that you do.  If you don't, hang your head in shame and commit it to memory.  This part of the process can be humbling for you once you start remembering what you've forgotten in your educational years! ;)
  • Specific numbers and specific, content-focused definitions (or definitions pulled directly from the dictionary) are LIKELY NOT COMMON KNOWLEDGE.  It's rare we can pull up the number killed in Gettysburg, but we should all generally know about Gettysburg!
  • When in doubt, ask me.  When in doubt and too lazy/late to ask me, CITE IT.

To clarify this concept further and provide parents with this information on my website, we will watch this short video clip:


Following the video clip, I will make sure that all students understand the concept of common knowledge by going around the room with a list of research topics (to be determined out of the air, inserting humor wherever necessary!) and having ONE student tell me a specific piece of evidence or information that WOULD be considered common knowledge to a group of high school juniors and ONE student tell me a specific specific piece of evidence or information that would NOT consider it common knowledge.  I will choose topics that are pretty accessible to all students to limit the "uhhh..." reaction!  We will continue with one topic until the class has exhausted their readily accessible ideas, then I will switch to a different topic.  In a class of 33, I would expect to go through 5-6 topics.  If students struggle with producing evidence for either portion of this response, I will skip them (after some prodding) and come back to them, either with that topic or the next one.  To show students how this will look, I'll model the activity myself (using different voices to portray students).

ME: I'm writing my research paper on making the sale of semi-automatic weapons illegal in the United States, for any purpose.  (CAVEAT: I often use the tragically-overused-topics for example purposes, even though I don't allow students to use them for their research papers.  This typically makes for quick discussion!)

STUDENT 1: So I've got to pick a piece of evidence that would likely show up in a research paper, either in the claim or counterclaim that would be considered common knowledge for Juniors... hmm....  Okay, so I'm pretty sure that all Juniors are aware of an increased degree of school violence using semi-automatic weapons.  That would be common knowledge.

STUDENT 2: And I'm going to point out something that you'd have to look up to really KNOW as a Junior... I'd say that you'd want to drill down on that piece of common knowledge from STUDENT 1 with some specific facts, so if I found out specifically HOW MUCH school violence with semi-automatic weapons has increased, that number or percentage would NOT be common knowledge.

STUDENT 3: Well, I know from Cops that the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms regulates guns.  I'd say everyone would know that, so it's common knowledge.

STUDENT 4: I think we all know generally what qualifies something as a "semi-automatic weapon," but if I looked up the specific definition from the ATF and put it in my paper, it would NOT be common knowledge.


This example will help to illustrate both the directions of the activity and the thinking behind determining if something is or is not common knowledge, which will become a HUGE deal moving forward with drafting the research paper in the coming days!


Building Knowledge

10 minutes

Next, I will have students pull up their research outlines that they created last time.  We will spend a few minutes in class peer evaluating the outline, and I will ask all students to use the "Comments" feature in Google Docs to leave the following pieces of information for their peers:

1. Add at least 3 arguments or questions to their outline in any section.

These can be claims, counterclaims, or rebuttals that your partner may not have considered already.  Remember that the more perspectives we address in this paper, the more likely we are to intuit and address all of the naysayers that read it!  Try to add your own unique insight and background to their outline to help them deepen their arguments. 

2. Add at least 2 questions to their outline to help them understand audience needs.

Questions can be especially helpful in the "Background" section and the thesis to help your partner correctly qualify their argument and prepare their readers with the background they need to be successful.  Writing questions is ALSO a very thoughtful, non-invasive way to highlight something that needs improvement in their outline.  Remember that peer evaluations lead to GROWTH, but only if you LET YOUR PEER KNOW WHAT YOU THINK.  (Check out the picture of student work in the Resources section to see how powerful these suggestions and questions can be!  Both students in this process are brilliant and hard workers, but they are also best friends and fairly non-confrontational.  Neither felt comfortable making declarative statements on their peer's paper, but the questions functioned in the same manner and led to the same insights in a seemingly-less-confrontational way!)

3. Include 1 thing you really like or were impressed with by their outline.


After peer evaluation, students are NOT to delete these comments.  I want them to remain there so I will be able to evaluate the quality of the suggestions.  I will also reiterate to students that peer evaluation is about highlighting possible ways to make your writing product better, but it is NOT required that you take all of your peers' suggestions.  This activity may take more than 10 minutes, so the next portion of our day will allow for extended time for individual students as needed.


20 minutes

To accommodate students who need longer to formulate ideas for their peer evaluations and give ALL of my students a chance to receive immediate, in-person support on research tasks from me, I will use the next section of my lesson as a time for students to work on a research task of their choice.  During this time, students must be working on one of the following research tasks.  I will move throughout the room to keep track of this during class, and I will also use document histories and timestamps in cases where I need further information about what a student did during this time.  In most classes, students are grateful for the opportunity to work in a self-guided way, so I don't anticipate there being major issues.

Options for Individual Work Time

  1. Getting 60 completed, tagged notecards in your shared Evernote notebook
  2. Clipping & tagging a total of 5-7 credible sources in your shared Evernote notebook (with at least 3 coming from approved databases: Gale, Firstsearch, or Worldbook, and at least 1 book appropriately sourced on a card)
  3. Completing or implementing suggestions from peer revisions to outlines
  4. Completing your Annotated Working Bibliography with all of your sources on it, which should be, at a minimum, the 5-7 sources described earlier

Any tasks on this list not completed during this work time will be considered homework and will be due at the beginning of next class period.


30 minutes

In the remainder of the class period, we will dive in to a (presumably heated) discussion of ONLY CHAPTER 5 of Of Mice and Men.  Students will want to launch right into discussing the end of the novel, but we will ONLY allow discussion over Chapter 5.  I always want to make students pause for reflection of this chapter specifically, as without a clear understanding of this chapter, the full reverberation of Lennie's death is not felt.  I will use the 10 questions attached in the Resources section to limit student discussion to this chapter.  We will finish our discussion of the novel next time! 

Next Steps

As described earlier, students should arrive to the next class period with their research tasks completed.  I will also email all students their Formative ACT Scores (if they haven't received them already), areas of need, and a teacher-selected team for our "Amazing GRAMMAR Race" activity that students will compete in next class period.  This activity is entertaining and will take most (if not all) of the hour, so I want to be sure they walk in the door ready to roll!