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

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SWBAT gain more independence tracking the development of central ideas in Emerson's argument by working on part of a graphic organizer on their own.

Big Idea

The type of thinking required to struggle through a complex task is worth the time, even when the work product indicates otherwise.


In day 1 of this lesson, we worked at identifying the relationship between central ideas Emerson established in the first and second paragraph of the excerpt from “Self Reliance” we have been reading. Today, we work on the third and fourth paragraph. Students will be asked to take on part of this work in small groups and then independently, an attempt at gradual release.

Whole Class Work

20 minutes

To help students verify they have accurate statements of the central ideas in the third paragraph, we discuss each of the central ideas we are to add to our graphic organizer. To do this I ask students to read over the sentences they have on their paper and share aloud. Two students share their sentences and we verbally combine what they share to create the sentence for one of the two central ideas in the third paragraph, which we decide should say something like, “we should believe in ourselves no matter what.” I have to point out that there is another central idea and that this idea is actually the heart of the entire essay. The idea I have in mind is stated in the sentence, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” Students did not readily identify this as a central idea.  I suspect it is because it seems too obvious and everything else in this essay has felt so obscure. Soon they begin to say that the other central idea is that one and I confirm this. I give them a moment to write these two ideas on stickies. I ask them to make a third row on their paper using these two stickies paying attention to the order in which they were presented. The one about being a nonconformist should be the first one on that row. Students are now ready to discuss the relationship between these two ideas and the ideas in the previous two rows.

Small Group Work

15 minutes

I ask students to work in small groups to discuss the relationship between the ideas in the third row and the previous ones. They find this difficult. I listen in on their conversations and find that they want to explain meaning instead of relationship. I interrupt their discussions to try and give them more guidance. I ask them to consider why Emerson did not introduce the heart of his argument, that we must be nonconformists, until the third paragraph. I explain that an author decides to organize the central ideas in a particular way for effect, meaning that Emerson felt it was necessary to establish certain ideas first and build from there. I am hoping that they will think about how different this essay would be if Emerson established his belief in being a nonconformist in the opening paragraph. I ask students to get back to their discussions and I continue to listen in and assist groups that ask for my help. Although in much of these discussions I keep pointing out that students are still discussing meaning rather than relationships between ideas there are some students who are attempting to discuss relationships such as one student who has ideas about the specific language he wants to use to describe the relationship he identified. Specifically, he is considering using the words “explain” and “illustrate” to describe the relationship between ideas and I am able to assist him. This short conversation I have with this student in this video is a good example of what I want students to be able to do in this assignment. I plan on having him share this work in the next section of this lesson.

Students Share

10 minutes

I ask students to share what they have come up with. The first student who volunteers to share begins explaining the meaning of this part of the essay. This reveals that there is still confusion about the difference between identifying the central ideas and analyzing the relationship between them. I try and help them understand this by discussing the meaning of a relationship as it pertains to people because I know they can understand that. I say that when we describe the relationship between two people we say things like:

“They are good friends and rely on each other for support.”

“They don’t get along and one usually disagrees with the other one and constantly challenges him/her.”

“They don’t know each other. They have nothing to do with each other.”

I hope they can transfer this language to a description of the ideas in Emerson’s argument. The next student who shares makes an attempt and eventually gets to the point where she claims that the idea of being a nonconformist is connected to the first ones because, in her words, “they are all speaking of the same thing.” This takes us in the right direction and I praise her for that. I say that the next step is to find the language that describes that. The student I spoke with in the video ended up deciding on the word “connect” to describe what this student is trying to describe as she shares so I ask the student in the video to share. It has taken long to get to this point so I summarize the following points in an attempt to helping students understand what I am hoping they can track on their paper:

  • Emerson does not present the heart of his argument, that we should be nonconformists, until the third paragraph
  • The first paragraph establishes the ideas that we should be ourselves and accept ourselves and what has been given to us
  • The second paragraph brings in God to the discussion and also adds the idea that we should trust ourselves.
  • The third paragraph relies on the ideas of the first two in that the first two refer to aspects of a nonconformist. Thus, the first two paragraphs lead to the third. 

Independent Work

10 minutes

I ask students to edit what they have written on the third row and then to move on and work on the fourth paragraph at home. They will be tackling only one paragraph individually. I will see what they come with.