Today students are preparing to write a literary argument with effective evidence from the text. I've come up with three different claims that deal with three different characters (Peeta, Katniss, and Haymitch), and students are looking at specific quotes to see if the evidence in those quotes is accurate and effective. Here's the handout I gave students.
Which brings up the question, how do you choose the most effective evidence? Students know that when they write a paragraph, they need to have a topic sentence and concrete evidence to support that topic sentence, but sometimes the evidence they choose isn't so. . . effective, which is why today's lesson is so important. They're looking at specific pieces of evidence that I've chosen to determine which pieces of evidence they can best explain in commentary. We're working with evidence that I've chosen, but I have also given them a chance to include their own pieces of evidence.
We started with the first "question" on the paper, about Peeta and kindness. This was sparked by Katniss' realization that a "kind Peeta Mellark was more dangerous than an unkind one" (Collins 49). I looked through Chapter 4 for specific examples of Peeta's actions, making sure to include actions that were both kind and unkind and prepared a list.
Using the check/check plus/check minus/x system that I've used the entire year because it works so well for so many different things, we rated each piece of evidence together (see picture below).
Students immediately eliminated the fourth piece of evidence, when Peeta knocks Haymitch's glass of wine out of his hand. Some students tried to argue that knocking the wine out of his hand was an act of kindness because Peeta was trying to get Haymitch to stop drinking. Once they were pushed (by other students, not me!), however, they could see that that explanation didn't really hold up.
Similarly, Peeta waving at the spectators couldn't really be considered an example of his kindness, because he was waving just in case one of them was rich and might sponsor him (Collins 60). That was selfish, which is the opposite of kind.
That leaves us with the first three pieces of evidence.
We concluded that yes, helping Katniss get Haymitch to the tub and cleaning him up himself was an act of kindness (Collins 49). Peeta didn't get anything out of it, but he didn't want Katniss to have to clean up a grown man. "Ew." That's a direct quote from every single one of my classes, by the way.
Similarly, Peeta giving Katniss the loaf of bread (Collins 29) was an example of kindness. He risked a beating in order to give her bread. That's pretty kind.
What about Peeta telling Katniss that hot chocolate tastes good (Collins 55)? Most students said, no, that was not kindness. He was just saying something tasted good. And this was where the lesson came alive. I argued that it was the best example of his kindness, because the only reason he did it was to be friendly. Cleaning up Haymitch could have been done in order to score points with Haymitch. Burning the bread could have been an accident. But saying hot chocolate tastes good? He gets nothing out of it. He is doing it just to be friendly, which is the epitome of kindness.
How did the lesson come alive? Students realized that there wasn't just one correct answer. This realization did make four of my fourth hour students claim, "This is why math is better. There's just one answer. It's so much easier." which made me grin like a maniac. You can also hear that at the end of this video. Which brings up the question--how do you know if you're right? You're right if you've selected effective evidence and explained it in thoughtful commentary. Boom.
I gave each group one question to answer from the remaining questions. Three or four groups (depending on the size of my class) got the question about Katniss saving her family's life and the other groups got whether Haymitch believes that Katniss or Peeta can win the Games. Their task was to work together to evaluate the evidence to find the most effective evidence.
The groups that got Haymitch were angry at first because they had so much more evidence. Once I pointed out that the groups that had Katniss didn't have page numbers, they were much happier.
I gave students about ten minutes to work with their groups to rate the evidence before pulling them back together to share their findings.
We started with question #2--how Katniss saves her family. The groups that were assigned to this question were responsible for reporting which pieces of concrete evidence were effective (check plus or check) at showing how Katniss saves her family as well as identifying which pages they found the information on.
For the groups that were assigned Haymitch, they needed to report back on which pieces of concrete evidence were effective.
For next year, and when I repeat this activity for different claims, I plan to do several things. First, if I give students the pieces of concrete evidence, I will include the page numbers for everyone. Second, I will give students chances to find their own pieces of concrete evidence to support the claim. Finally, I will reword the questions so they are stated as claims, rather than questions and include opportunities for both sides.