In the previous lesson, students started working on a chart titled “Drawing Connections In ‘The End of Something'” and I open class today by giving them some time to finish it. Some students are confused about what exactly I’m asking for in the second and third column so I explain that I basically want them to explain what happened to the town and what happened to the couple’s relationship. While reading the story, we discussed the fact that we have to infer repeatedly to get the full story. I remind students of this and tell them to use these inferences to describe the town and the relationship. In doing this, students are practicing drawing inferences including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain, CCSS RI11-12.1. The columns that ask for evidence are pretty clear to them so they have no questions about them. Students work on this chart stopping now and then to ask each other questions and ask me questions as well. This is a sample chart one student completed.
I introduce the writing prompt for this essay by projecting it on the board. Students copy the prompt on the back of their chart:
In an essay, you are to analyze the relationship between Nick and Marjorie by drawing connections between their relationship and Hortons Bay.
I’m always explicit about the important step of spending time with the prompt in order to clearly understand what they are expected to write. I use the phrase “unpacking the prompt” and make students underline the key words, which are the words that tell you exactly what you are to write in your essay, such as the ones this student underlined in the prompt. I know there are questions about the prompt so I invite students to ask. However, I tell them that the questions have to be specific. I do not want general questions like, “What are we supposed to write about?” or non-questions like, “I don’t get it.” What I want them to do is figure out what specific words or phrases in the prompt are keeping them from understanding it and ask about those. With this reminder, students are able to ask, “Why does it say ‘drawing’?” This is the question they should be asking. I explain in detail.
This prompt is difficult in the sense that it asks students to discuss an abstract aspect of this short story. Students basically have to pay close attention to the language Hemingway uses to describe the decline of Hortons Bay and find ways of applying that language to the way Nick and Marjorie’s relationship ended. Paying close attention to language is a skill we have been working on but needs much improvement. I would not have selected a prompt like this one earlier in the school year. I am actually aware of the fact that this prompt will be very challenging for my students at this point in they year, but it will offer a good opportunity to practice working with abstract ideas and paying close attention to language. Because of the challenging nature of the task, I explain a bit about the description of the decline of Hortons Bay and the end of Nick and Marjorie’s relationship.
This is an image I have introduced to students in previous lessons to explain a typical essay organization. I take the time to review this with the following blurb, which they have heard repeatedly this year:
In an essay, you want to establish a central idea and this idea should be a big, significant idea. This idea is so big that you need to break it up into smaller points and tackle each point one at a time, one body paragraph at a time. Each point must be supported by evidence and thoroughly explained.
This is one way of explaining the Common Core skill of introducing precise, knowledgeable claims and developing these. I tell them that for this essay, the big, significant central idea they establish has to state the connection they are drawing between what happened to Hortons Bay and Nick and Marjorie’s relationship.
I want students to begin embedding quotes into their analysis. At this point, they have been introducing textual evidence in one sentence and analyzing the evidence in a separate sentence. Instructionally, this has worked for students because it has helped them understand the difference between summarizing a text and analyzing it. However, this does not make for great writing because it is formulaic and students need to begin to move beyond this and begin to switch between the author’s language and their own with more ease. That is the point of embedding quotes into analytical writing.
I have selected a couple of quotes from “The End of Something” and I project these on the board.
“Did she go all right?” and “Have a scene?”
Students know these words were said by the character Bill. I ask them to analyze these quotes and students begin to suggest what these quotes reveal as I type their suggestions on the board. We come up with the following list.
Bill cares about Nick.
Bill knew ahead of time what was going to occur.
Bill was being a little nosy about the break up.
I remind students that I have been asking them to handle the different information separately in separate sentences so that their writing would look a bit like this:
For example, Bill shows up and says, “Did she go all right?” This suggests that Bill knew ahead of time what was going to occur.
I have provided the sentence starters for students and I have been calling these “training wheels.” I tell them that we need to begin to get rid of the training wheels by embedding quotes within analytical sentences and show them what it would look like with this same example. I tell them that I want to say is the following but that I want to embed a quote and that the words underlined could be easily replaced with a quote:
Because Bill wondered if Marjorie was ok after the break up, it suggests that he knew in advance what was going to happen.
I show them how to do this by modifying the author’s words slightly, as I explain in this video.
I want students to practice so I ask them to write one analytical sentence with a quote embedded. I ask them to use the following quote and they can use the same analytical words we brainstormed together.
“Have a scene?”
Bill was being nosy about the break up.
I give them a few minutes to do this. Several students require assistance because this short exercise is asking them to practice manipulating language, which is a skill that needs development.
I let students know they will be tackling this essay tomorrow and ask them to begin selecting evidence and gathering their thoughts tonight.