Traveling Towards Our Last Socratic Seminar

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Accepting the challenge from Steinbeck and working in small groups, SWBAT identify topics worth discussing in their final Socratic Seminar.

Big Idea

"And that's what I found all over the country--no arguments, no discussion." (Steinbeck)

Video Introduction

10 minutes

Ok, so I've found a way to start class today that may not resonate with all viewers, but I knew my students would enjoy it.  I apologize up front if it offends anyone's political leanings.

In response to Steinbeck's claim in Travels With Charley that he found "no arguments, no discussion" (31)  in Americans of 1960, my students will begin preparing for our final Socratic Seminar of the year today.  To emphasize the importance of participating in argument and discussion, I will show this clip of Jeb Bush admitting that his brother has had no opinions for the last four years. Granted, it seems to be a comment that has been misconstrued in the context of the interview, which I will point out to my students, but it still presents an amusing way to shine a light on today's focus. 


We will then spend a few minutes discussing the implications of "not having an opinion on anything." 


Small Group Reading

40 minutes

From the introductory clip and discussion, my students reassemble into the small reading groups of the previous lesson in order to read on in Part Two of Travels With Charley.  Today's reading has them begin with "My route went north in Vermont . . ." through "Roosters were crowing before . . ." (pages 27-33 in the Penguin paperback edition).

My students will likewise return to the reading task from the previous lesson, to which I have added a fifth topic, "The state of American argument and discussion."  This addition is a result of Steinbeck's encounter with a farmer, upon whose land he camps for the night, and the conversation they have over coffee.  This conversation, which touches on the upcoming Nixon-Kennedy presidential election, serves as the inspiration for our final Socratic Seminar.

Small Group Brainstorming

20 minutes

When the groups have completed the reading and the additional question of the reading task, we reassemble temporarily in order for me to present the next task.  

I begin by asking student volunteers to share with the whole group what they have determined are Steinbeck's views on American argument and discussion.  We discuss their responses for a few minutes and consider why they think this may have been the case in 1960, addressing the implications of a population that does not participate in argument or discussion. 

After our discussion, I display their next assignment from my computer.  I explain to my students that for our final seminar, they will be selecting the documents from which their questions and subsequent discussion are based.  Consulting the assignment requirements as a whole group, I walk them through the process of brainstorming and then selecting their top topic in their small groups.  I explain that they may include one of Steinbeck's topics on their list, if they truly determine it to be a topic that people should still be arguing about and/or discussing.

As each group begins brainstorming, I distribute quarter sheets of paper upon which they will list their five topics, highlighting their final choice, which they will turn in to me by the end of the period.  If any group finishes early, then I will allow them to begin searching for documents related to their final topic on their phones (Gasp!  Ms. Beebe is going to let us use our phones today!).