Tracking the Development of Central Ideas In "Self-Reliance," Day 1 of 2

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SWBAT track the development of central ideas in Emerson's argument by creating a graphic organizer.

Big Idea

Multiple central ideas: A big push for a Common Core task with which students need support.


Today I begin to engage students in a two-day activity where they will attempt to track the development of the central ideas in “Self-Reliance” on a graphic organizer. I expect the task of analyzing the development of ideas in a rigorous text to be a challenging task for my students, but it helps them develop this important skill. I use sticky notes for this activity because I want to take advantage of the fact that they can easily be moved around and I want to give students the opportunity to play around with the organization of ideas.


10 minutes

I ask students to take out their copy of “Self-Reliance” in which they have already written sentences stating the central idea in each of the first three paragraphs we have read. This is a sample of what this list of central ideas looks like. I distribute sticky notes and ask students to use one sticky note to write each sentence stating one central idea. Students have a total of 5 sticky notes at this point. I like using sticky notes because they are mobile. For this particular assignment, sticky notes will encourage students to use space consciously, which is the purpose of creating a graphic organizer. As they work to transfer the sentences onto the sticky notes, we discuss the central ideas they identified and I copy these on sticky notes that I project on the board for them. I begin with three sticky notes. Two sticky notes state the central ideas in paragraph 1 and one states the central idea in paragraph two. The plan is for us to verbalize the organization of these ideas. To give some context, I introduce students to the language of CCSS standard RI.11-12.2. I write the following on the board:

  • Analyzing the development of central ideas
  • How they interact and build on one another

I explain that this assignment is addressing this standard. I explain that in addition to doing what they already did, identify central ideas in a text, they are expected to be able to analyze how these ideas are developed. This is pretty abstract for them, so to make it more concrete I tell them that we are going to be looking for the relationship between the ideas Emerson establishes in each paragraph and finding the words to describe this relationship. I tell them that we are going to be asking why Emerson decided to present these central ideas in the order that he did. This is basically a simpler way of explaining that we are analyzing how ideas interact and build on one another.

I ask them to take out a paper and title it “Development of Ideas In ‘Self Reliance’” and to put the first two stickies side by side because these are the first two ideas Emerson established in his essay. We are now ready to discuss the relationship between them.

Whole Class Work

15 minutes

I begin to engage students in a discussion about the relationship between these two central ideas. This proves to be very challenging. At first they all stare at me and say nothing. Eventually, some begin to make suggestions but they end up explaining the idea. This misunderstanding allows me to clarify the task. I explicitly tell them that we are not trying to explain these ideas. Rather, we are trying to identify the relationship between them. To guide them, I try different ways of phrasing the task and I ask guiding questions. I say that we are looking for connections between these two ideas. I ask what these ideas have to do with each other. They need a lot of support to figure this out. I try to give them some language to describe relationships. I suggest that one idea may be an example of another one, that two ideas may challenge each other, and that one idea may add to the other. This helps them suggest something. We end up writing that “both have to do with appreciation” and that “each one is an example of appreciation.” I draw a line connecting these two stickies and write these two sentences, as shown in this image. Students do the same on their paper. This is meant to serve as a model. Students will work on the next part in small groups.

Small Group Work

15 minutes

We add the third sticky note to the paper, the one that contains the central idea in the second paragraph of “Self-Reliance.” I instruct students to place this sticky note on the space below the two stickies we just worked with, creating a second row. We discuss where on that row we should place the third sticky. I ask them if this third idea aligns more to the sticky on the right or the left side of the first row. They decide it can align to both so we center it. I then tell students they will be working in small groups to discuss how this third idea relates to the first two. To help them, I write a short list of words they may be able to use to describe the relationship between this third idea and the first two. The list includes the following: both related, example, adds, contradicts.    

I give them time to discuss in groups. I walk around and listen in on their conversations joining in when necessary. Many say that this third central idea sounds just like the first two. I ask individual groups some probing questions: so is Emerson talking about the same thing in another paragraph? For what purpose? Is he just repeating himself? So what is this? They begin to say that this is just another example of the same idea established in the first paragraph, which they remember as a message to accept ourselves. I suggest they explore this and work to verbalize it. I intend to bring that up when we speak as a whole class with the hope that someone in the room will challenge this conclusion. Specifically, I hope that at least one group was able to see that this paragraph does introduce a new point and it is not just more of the same as some students are suggesting. 

Whole Class Discussion

10 minutes

I ask for their attention back so we can discuss this. I ask students to share. Like expected, many say that the third paragraph is more of the same, that Emerson does not introduce anything new in the third paragraph. One group, however, is able to challenge this conclusion suggesting there is something new. Specifically, they identify the first time the author mentions God. This group presents one more idea as shown in this video. Students write this same information on their paper. Tomorrow they will have more opportunities to practice this. This is a good place to end the period because I can remind them tomorrow that we can expect a powerful essay like this to introduce multiple ideas throughout so that when they attempt to figure out how the new central idea(s) is related to the previous ones, they will stay away from concluding that it is just more of the same.