Will it Parallel?! Structure and Form in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

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SWBAT identify and use parallelism through examination of its use in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.

Big Idea

If two lines on a page can be parallel, how can two lines of words?

Introduction & Welcome: Observing National Coffee Day

3 minutes

I greet students at the door and hand out today's homework, "So I won't forget. Again." 

As we begin class, I note the results of the "Thusday Thravorite" vote: Spanish dominated as the most studied language; Italian was the most requested. I also point out the Daily Holiday: this coming Sunday is National Coffee Day. (My students will inevitably ask "What number [cup of coffee] is this, Mr. Arnett?" In the sample class, this is probably cup number 7 and/or 8.) 

Today marks a new process I'm trying to introduce in the class, as I go through the daily agenda, I note we will be addressing parallel structure, and introduce the idea that there are Common Core standards that direct the choices I make in class. I note these standards are designed to prepare the students for college and career life. 

L.9-10.1a states, "Use parallel structure." Students have certainly heard the Common Core mentioned, but most have know practical knowledge of what it is or how it will affect them. I am making the move to bring my students up to speed, and to understand, "Why are we doing this?" 



Morgan Freeman Declares Independence

20 minutes

There are two videos that students watch to set the stage for understanding parallelism and the Declaration:

1. Morgan Freeman introduces Jefferson, the ideas behind the Declaration, and the rhythms Jefferson uses to create a memorable, easy-to-recite piece. A group of A-List actors reads the Declaration. I ask students to listen for those rhythms as we view; what words are repeated? What impact does that repetition have on the meaning and tone of the Declaration? In order to focus on that impact, I pause before the casts' airing of grievances against the king and ask students to listen to the rhythm (RI.9-10.4).


(Copyright 2002 "Declaration on Independence, Inc." See video for full copyright information. Used under Fair Use.)

2. Nicholas Cage, in the film "National Treasure," reflects on one specific line of the piece, and explains its meaning in simple terms. I ask students to pay attention to the line Cage re-words, highlighting that what he's doing is paraphrasing, a skill we work on throughout the semester in order to explore what a text says and how we can draw inferences from it (RI.9-10.1).

(Video Copyright 2010 AusCivics. "National Treasure" Copyright 2004 Walt Disney Entertainment. See video for full copyright information. Used under Used under Fair Use.)

The goal in sharing these videos is to expose students to the historical significance of The Declaration and spark critical thinking of both the theme, "All men are created equal" (RI.9-10.9) and the use of parallel structure to create rhythm (L.9-10.1a) and accentuate the use of rhetoric to advance the purpose of the The Declaration (RI.9-10.6). Cage's use of paraphrasing also sets up skills students with utilize on their argumentative research paper.

Parallelism in Practice: Declaration of Independence

25 minutes

I ask students to revisit the "Understanding Argument" assignment they completed for understanding "The Declaration of Independence" (RI.9-10.9

I ask students to turn to a partner and share the examples of parallel structure they found for the final item. Were they able to find all lines that are parallel? After six minutes, I bring class attention back to the whiteboard and call on students to share what parts of these passages are parallel, correcting any mistakes. By sharing these examples, students are able to demonstrate understanding of parallel structure, and also connect their evidence to key ideas of the text, how the evidence support Jefferson's argument (RI.9-10.2), clarifying, verifying, or challenging each other's ideas as needed (SL.9-10.1c). 

Once we have identified and explained each parallel structure in the first three items, I check for understanding: eye contact, nods, blank stares, etc. If still confused, I reword the items and we revisit them.

I also point out the example of antithesis in the line "It is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it," to provide a model as they seek examples in tonight's homework. 

As noted, the main goal of today is to give students practice creating parallelism (L.9-10.1a), both examining how one author portrays it and how students can craft their own. 

Two Minute Warning: Wrap Up and Homework

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining, I reassure students that we will continue to work with parallelism, and they won't be tested on it until they have the skills down. For homework, I ask them to read Patrick Henry's "Speech in the Virginia Convention," and using a notes sheet, identify examples of how Henry utilizes the skills we have been studying: (repetition, restatement, antithesisparallel structurerhetorical question, and the three appeals of argument).

Patrick Henry's "Speech in the Virginia Convention" is both seminal U.S. document--the source of the famous phrase, "Give me liberty, or give me death!"--and utilizes parallelism. We will discuss both the themes of The Enlightenment (RI.9-10.9) and how Paine structures his arguments, both in persuasive appeal (RI.9-10.3) and parallelism (L.9-10.1a), particularly in the form of antithesis. Students are asked to read independently as we have worked together on Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and this reading (over a weekend to provide time) asks students to tackle a challenging text on their own.