Analyzing "Silent Spring" & Researching Environmental Concerns

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SWBAT critically analyze the illustrations, structure, tone, imagery, and impact of Silent Spring and investigate an environmental issue of their choosing in a style similar to Carson's for an oral report.

Big Idea

Empower your students to analyze & evaluate Rachel Carson's expose on DDT, then encourage them to look into their own environmental issues!


20 minutes

Since I will be absent this hour, my students will review the historical context of the unit with a quiz using their self-generated Post-Modernism historical context notes as a reference.  This quiz will test both main ideas directly stated in the chapter and inferences that can be made from the text.  Like all reading quizzes, this quiz should be easy to pass as long as students critically read the assignment and thoughtfully took notes over the material.  Since it is heavier in details than usual, I am allowing students to use their notes, though normally I wouldn't do so.

Immediately after the quiz, students will move on to the next independent part of their task-list for today.

Building Knowledge

35 minutes
After the quiz, students will be reading some background information on Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring."  They will be using this background information to inform their understanding of Carson's book, which is largely unknown to students, despite the modern-day relevance.  To complete this non-fiction analysis, students will start a Google Doc in their shared folder entitled "Silent Spring Response."  Then, they will open a partial copy of Carson's "Silent Spring." They will use this excerpt to move through the questions below, answering each in-depth and with textual evidence to support student statements.
  • Scroll through the excerpt.  As a reader, how do the illustrations impact you?  What effect do you think they might have on Carson's message?  What do you think it says about Carson's credibility or motivations?


Next, students will need to actually read a portion of Carson's "Silent Spring" (the first and second chapters) to get a sense of Carson's style approaching this issue.  After reading the entire first chapter, they need to respond to the following questions in their Google Doc:
  • What's the tone of this opening chapter?  Use examples to back up your assessment and remember to choose an emotion word six letters or more.
  • Why would Carson choose to open her book on industrial pollution this way?  What purpose would she have in mind?
  • What effect does this framing have on you as a reader?  Is it effective?  Why or why not?
  • What imagery is most appealing to you in this opening chapter?  Why?  Share at least one specific example.


Finally, students will continue reading the second chapter of the book.  To help clarify what's actually being said, students need to include an objective 1-2 sentence summary of the main idea in their Google Docs for all 15 paragraphs of paragraph two.  Since this assignment is very individualized and reading-intensive, I think it's important that students switch up activities while reading, much like they might in a real-world reading application.  For these summaries, students should be careful to use only words that they understand and to ensure that the summaries they are creating are entirely in their own words.  They should also use quotation marks if they need to take any of Carson's words or phrases for evidence in their summaries.
After reading and summarizing this section of text, students need to answer the following questions in their Google Docs.
  • According to Carson, what is to blame for the environmental crisis she explains in this book?  Use textual evidence to support your assertion.
  • What is your reaction to Carson's viewpoint so far?  Write a paragraph comparing & contrasting your viewpoint to hers using textual evidence to support your analysis of what she says.


30 minutes

Finally, students will read "Rachel Carson & the Silent Spring" by Douglas Allchin, stopping along the way to answer the questions embedded in the text (pages 188, 190, 192, & 195) and questions #3-7 at the end of the article.   This informational text adds an additional layer to this project, as it provides commentary on Rachel Carson's ground-breaking work and offers students a rigorous text about a complex, relevant, and meaningful social issue.  The answers to these questions should also appear on the Google Doc that students have been working on throughout the day.


5 minutes

For homework (or in class if students finish with their day's assignment early and have headphones), watch the video compilation of DDT advertising & coverage.  

While viewing, students need to add the arguments that DDT-advocates make to their Rachel Carson documents.  Then, answer the following questions:

  • Were there any errors in rhetoric & argumentation made in this video?  Identify any errors in argument construction that you see.  
  • Are the people in the film effectively refuting the information presented by Carson? Use examples to support your viewpoint.  


Finally, students will need to choose and claim (by writing their name next to a topic on the spreadsheet) a topic listed on the Environmental Topics Spreadsheet, then find credible research about the topic.  Use the Environmental Research Outline document to outline the modern-day environmental issue, which you'll present next time.  

Next Steps

Students will present their environmental issues topics next class period when I return!