Today my students will begin reading Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. This is a book that we will not complete before the year is over, but as an informational/non-fiction text, it is one that is easy to excerpt for analysis and discussion. Even though we are beginning it late in the year, my hope is that some of my students will be compelled to continue reading it over the summer. Travels With Charley is also a text that is featured in the ELA Appendix B of the CCSS, with accompanying performance task focus ideas (ps.92-93).
Because the journey and all it can represent is at the heart of this book, I have decided to begin with a clip from Forrest Gump, the scene that depicts Forrest on his running journey back and forth across America. I already know how much my students love this film, and so this will be a treat. By introducing this potentially difficult text with the seemingly universal appeal of Forrest Gump, my aim is to capture my students' attention and engagement from the start.
When the film clip concludes, I ask my students to think of a "journey" they have taken upon which they learned something about themselves, other people, their destination, etc. For those students who will automatically say "I can't think of anything" or "I don't have a journey like that," then I tell them to simply write about a trip they have taken in the past, even if it's a trip to Cold Stone or to the mall.
I remind them to choose their diction and syntax strategically, thinking like writers in the re-telling of their journey, in order to communicate exactly what they want their readers to understand and how they want them to feel. This, of course, is a nod to the journey we have been on all year in terms of identifying the voice, tone, and mood in the various works we have read.
When all students have had time to write approximately one paragraph to half a page, I ask for volunteers to share what they have written with the whole group. In order to steer the lesson towards the focus of the final activity, where my students will be identifying the voice, tone, and mood of Steinbeck's introduction to the text, I ask my students to comment on the voice, tone, and mood of each piece shared with the whole group, attempting to determine the writer's relationship to the journey.
Depending on the quality of writing my students are able to produce in the short amount of time they have to write, this may or may not be successful. Still, I am keeping it short at this stage, as they have yet to explore the depth to which Steinbeck exploits his journey in the text.
Lastly, then, we transition into the introduction of Travels With Charley, which I have reproduced on a handout for my students so that they can write on it (it is only three paragraphs).
We first read the back of the handout, where I have included an overview of the text that I found on the Steinbeck Institute website. We read through this side together, in order to be sure that every student has a sense of the book's premise (and that they get a chance to practice pronouncing Rocinante).
After the whole group reading, I assign my students to work with their table partners on the introduction. I have written the task on the whiteboard, and while each student is to complete the task in his/her own classroom spiral notebook, they may use the brains of their table partners for whatever time remains in the period to get the job started.
As a suggestion, I tell them that it may be easier to work backwards through the task. That is, if they can identify the mood the introduction creates in them, then that means they have "sniffed out" the tone, be that consciously or subconsciously. From tone, then, I remind them that voice is often the same descriptor, which means they should be able to pinpoint specific evidence that contributes to the voice.
One of my main goals for this assignment is to prove to my students that they like the way Steinbeck is speaking to them as readers. Because the majority of my students loved Of Mice and Men, and because the voice in Travels With Charley is so vastly different from that text, I want to be sure that my students give him a chance from the get-go as a writer of non-fiction (instead of sighing too soon, "This is boring . . ."). Steinbeck is funny and charming and insightful throughout Travels With Charley, and it is imperative that my students recognize this early on.
My students will work on analyzing the introduction until the end of the period, at which time any unfinished analysis becomes homework.