Grappling with Complexity: Is it a poem? An Essay?

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SWBAT read and comprehend complex grade level poetry by participating in a classroom discussion and answering questions.

Big Idea

Can class discussion help us understand complex texts?

Warm up and Mini lesson

15 minutes

"Girl," by Jamaica Kincaid is one of my favorite pieces to teach because it knocks students' socks off. It is one of the only texts I teach all year that I don't expect any formal assignment to be turned in. I want students to grapple with the theme(s) (RL.9-10.2), the character(s) (RL.9-10.3), the meaning of specific words in the text (RL.9-10.4), and certainly the structure (RL.9-10.5) in this one-paragraph, one-sentence essay/short story/poem.  I also want students to understand the cultural significance of this work written by  an Antiguan born writer (RL.9-10.6).  We are going to accomplish all of this through reading, rereading, annotating and annotating again.  


To get our reading party started, I ask students to respond to the following prompt,

Think about all of the life-lessons you have learned from your mentors (parents, clergypeople, grandparents, coaches, etc.).  Explain some of the most meaningful lessons they have taught you either directly or indirectly (W.9-10.10). Write about this for five minutes.  After you are finished wiring, we will discuss.   

I want students to begin thinking about these moments of learning in their own life so they will be able to empathize with the lessons our main character learns.  We discuss this prompt for about 10 minutes, allowing students time to explore this topic in their own lives.  

Student Work Time---Grapple with Complexity

10 minutes

Next, I distribute "Girl," and tell students to read it a couple times through.  They can begin annotating.  

I watch students struggle a little bit.  They will quickly understand that this text is complex and rich in meaning.  I stop them and tell them,

Now, I want you to read it again and this time, annotate it focusing on all of the reading strategies we have learned.  I don't want you to ask any questions for the next five-six minutes.  Rather, read and then reread. Write notes, write questions, make predictions Don't give up on the text.  

I watch students read and annotate.  

With five minutes left, I tell students to identify the two utterances the daughter makes and decide whether she says these aloud or to herself.  These answers will help us begin to examine this complex character (RL.9-10.3).  

Class Discussion to the Rescue

20 minutes

Now, I open class and the discussion.  I tell students they only have two "rules" during this discussion.  1.  Keep rereading and thinking.  Stay engaged.  2.  Record that rereading and thinking by continuing to annotate your text so that I can read it and understand your thinking.  

I continue to ask questions and ask for responses.  When there are students who aren't participating, I will call on them individually to pull them into the text (SL.9-10.1).  

Here are a list of possible questions:

Let's look at the relationship between mother and daughter by identifying what the mother says and how she says it (Rl.9-10.1, RL.9-10.3)

What does this text reveal about the author's culture (Rl.9-10.6) and how would the "suggestions" differ for a teenage girl in America?

Is the advice solid, motherly advice?  Or does it cross the line to hateful threats? (RL.9-10.2)

Why did Ms. Kincaid write this text in one long sentence?  What does the structure create effects (RL.9-10. 5). 

This example Girl displays a student's annotations during this exercise.  


If time allows, we will watch this clip of Jamaica Kincaid and a short interview.  I think it is always advantageous to hear an author's reading voice. It helps students hear the literature.