Tag Archive for Mark Twain

Close Reading Satire

Okay, I have a guilty confession.  I am a very naïve, gullible person.  I will fall for anything.  So when I was an 18-year-old and was assigned to read “A Modest Proposal,” of course I believed that Jonathon Swift was advocating the eating of children.  I mean, he is a writer.  He wouldn’t lie.  The next day in class I was admonished by my peers and teacher for my stupidity.  People couldn’t believe I was naïve enough to take the text at face value.  Read more

Non-fiction: Letters of Note for Literature & History

As overviewed yesterday, this week’s goal is to easily implement non-fiction in the classroom with resources from the website Letters of Note. One of the best things about Letters of Note is the simplicity of the website itself.  Letters are presented in their original copy as well as typed for easier reading.

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The archive on the site is also incredibly straightforward.  You can search by correspondence type, year of publication, topic categories, author and so on.  For a teacher these choices are incredibly helpful.  Say I’m teaching how satire and humor create distinctive voice.  I click the “Humorous” link under “categories” and immediately I’m taken to a series of letters that range from Mark Twain to the Simpsons.

Finding letters that supplement your preexisting units of study is so easy you might even become slightly giddy.  I know I did when I realized that Shaun Usher, the site curator, had posted a Fitzgerald letter that referred directly to The Great Gatsby

One of the most charming is Mark Twain’s letter to a burglar who broke into his home.  I’ve included some areas of focus for possible implementation.

Twain’s “To the Next Burglar

Consider using this if you’ve taught some of Twain’s shorter pieces such as “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” or “How to Tell a Story.”  If not wait until you’ve taught them Twain’s style of humor via The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  You’ll want to have them examine the drawings as well in the letter since they add whimsy.  Pull up on your SmartBoard or have them examine on computers, tablets or SmartPhones.

Possible Areas of Focus

  1. Read and SOAPSTone the letter.
  2. Identify 3 elements of humor that Twain employs.  Discuss their impact.
  3. Examine the images Twain includes in the margins.  How does this add to the humor of the piece?
  4. Examine Twain’s sentence structure and language.  What tone does he produce as a direct result?
  5. Clearly, there is a limited chance that a burglar, any burglar would actually read this, let alone follow its “instructions.”   In that case, what is the purpose.

Below I’ve included a list of letters that would work fit perfectly into novel-to-time period studies.  While it would be quite simple to have students simply SOAPSTone these letters, you can choose to implement them as texts to respond to in student journals or as a means to understanding style.  These are of course just a few of the letters that would work in any classroom.

Federalism/Revolutionary War

Abigail Adams, “Remember the ladies

Ben Franklin, “You are now my enemy

Civil War/Slavery

Abraham Lincoln, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong

Frederick Douglass, “I am your fellow man, but not your slave

Jourdan Anderson, “To my old master

Sullivan Ballou, “I shall always be near you

American Authors

Mark Twain to Walt Whitman, “What great births you have witnessed

Jack Kerouac to Marlon Brando, “Common on now Marlon put your dukes up

Issac Assmiov, “ A library is many things

Ernest Hemingway, “For your future information

Kurt Vonnegut, “Slaughterhouse Five

Harper Lee, “Advice from Harper Lee

British Authors

Thomas Pynchon, “In defense of Ian McEwan and Atonement

Charles Dickens, “Happy Birthday, Dickens

Poets

John Keats to Fanny Brawne, “If I cannot live with you, I will live alone

Sigfried Sasson, “Finished with war

Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman, “ I greet you at the beginning

Non-fiction: Letters of Note Overview

Incorporating more non-fiction is a consistent goal within most English curriculum planning. Common Core expectations focus on literary non-fiction and analyzing rhetoric as does AP, Honors and IB curriculum.

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But supplements can be difficult and time consuming to find.  Trolling through websites can eat away at my sanity especially as we march closer and closer to the end of the year.   Between AP tests and state mandated testing it can feel as if there just isn’t time.  No time to find material and certainly no time to implement it.  It’s easy to give up, become frustrated and revert back to all “Gatsby” all the time.

Never fear. Letters of Note is an excellent online resource for a classroom teacher of English or History. Shaun Usher, website curator, has compiled over 700 letters that span centuries and whose topics range from Stark Trek to the Civil War.   While letters include the handwritten notes of celebrities and iconic historical figures, some of the best correspondence is that of people we do not know.

With a post per day, it’s more than likely you will be able to find a new non-fiction supplement each week for things you already teach.

This week we’ll highlight some of the best letters and discuss how to seamlessly employ them within your preexisting classroom structure.  Expect letters from Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, John Adams, Steinbeck and more.  Expect letters ready made for teaching style. But most important, expect assignments about the role of correspondence in modern culture.  All will be easy to implement, and all will help enrich literature and rhetorical analysis.

Brain Pickings: Posts about Authors

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One of the things that draws me to Brain Pickings is the website’s constant focus on authors.  Each week, posts examine unusual and unexpected aspects of those writers that I “spend” much of my time teaching.  Featured in letters, illustrations, stop motion, book reviews, etc., these posts enrich and supplement daily lessons.

Calling upon text, images and video, these posts do more than merely disseminate information.  They are miniature pieces of “clickable” art.  They can serve to simply improve the daily grind of being a classroom teacher and brighten some of your more difficult days.  However, it is easy for students to see literature as simply a number of chapters due on any given day.  These posts remind both teacher and student that literature is something more than reading quiz followed by class discussion.

Consider using Brain Pickings in two ways: as an extension or supplement to a lesson on a specific text or literary term and as a way to have students write/discuss how we view the writers.  Below I’ve highlighted one post to show how to implement written response, classroom discussion and small group collaboration.

Writer’s Houses Illustrated

Questions to consider after reading/exploring:

  1. Why are we fascinated with where “creators create?”  What about their homes and personal lives would be of interest to us?
  2. Why would this project start with these authors’ homes?  What argument is made by illustrating these homes?
  3. What value is there is a project of this type.

Small Group Project: After examining this project, have students create an author driven project that they will pursue.  Encourage them to highlight at least 2-3 of the authors you studied thus far.  Ask that students work in small groups and create a working proposal that they “pitch” to you before they proceed.  Consider this to be part research paper, part cross-curricular learning and part creative presentation.  Steer clear of PowerPoint, Posters or other expected/tired assignment formats.  Give them guidelines but also challenge them to construct an outcome unlike their peers.

The project should identify the following:

  • An argument about writers in popular culture both past and present
  • A creative means via technology, art, social media, etc. to display this project.

Two other posts that can serve as powerful resources for discussing writer’s on their own craft are “From Mark Twain to Ray Bradbury Iconic Writers on Truth vs. Fiction” and “Advice on Writing From Modernity’s Greatest Writers.” Consider using the author statements in these posts as the basis for creating essay prompts.

Tiny Texts: Google Doodles

It’s usually the worst when they’re sitting in the front row.  It’s flagrant, disrespectful, and as I was digging through some of my notebooks from high school I noticed the sheer number of times I had doodled in the margins of my notes, my AP literature notes.

As much as I hate to say this, doodling has and always will exist in the classroom.  Much as Vi Hart wants to turn doodling into the Fibonacci number and math equations, I’d like to do the same for English.  Except this time I’d like Google to do the doodling.

Google Doodles are tiny little texts that we often forget about on our “way” to somewhere else.  In actuality, they are perfect for teaching students about point of view, audience and argument.  Have students start with the “About” page for Google Doodles.

After they read, consider having them use the questions below for written response or class discussion.

  • What is the significance of calling them “doodles” and not sketches?
  • Why would people be interested in such a tiny text?  What is the impact?
  • What “aesthetics” are important to create a good doodle?
  • What argument does Google make by turning someone or something into a doodle?

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Then have students search the Google Doodle archives or choose from the doodles below.  They can search by year and country.  You may want to direct them to only write on doodles that have accompanying text that describes the creation process.  It helps to give background/perspective that will help them look for greater importance as they write.

As they explore give them a number of doodles to write over.  Consider using the questions below as a starting point.  I’ve also included some of my favorite doodles overall and for the English classroom.  All of these Doodles include an overview on the process, storyboarding and sometimes even video.  Enjoy!

Possible Questions for Doodle Exploration

  • What do the drafts of the doodle explain about the specific “process” of this doodle?  Be specific.
  • What argument does the creator make about their work?
  • Which elements of the doodle are the most striking?  Explain.
  • What impact does this doodle have on the event or person?   Be specific.
  • What is most striking about the doodle?

 

Doodles for the English classroom

Favorite Doodles Overall

Extension: Consider having students create their own doodle for a unit of study or an author’s birthday.  My suggestion?  Edgar Allan Poe or Ernest Hemingway, of course.

Weekend Culture: Sandwich Mondays

Ah, sandwiches.  In case you’ve forgotten, the goal of this weekend’s posts is to give you a little of bit of sanity during this difficult stretch until winter break.  Today’s sandwiches move from the art of Scanwiches to sandwiches as both dare and humor.

Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, NPR’s news quiz also hosts a blog.  “What,” you say, “might this blog be named?”  Wait, Wait Don’t Blog Me of course.   Sandwich Mondays are part of an ongoing series from the program’s staff.  A hysterical mix of humor and bizarre sandwiches, these posts are perfect for teaching voice, style, humor, and argument.  Below are some good places to start.  It’s just the beginning, however, of what you can use.

Defining Sandwich

A good blog post to give students an idea of the “definition” of sandwich according to Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.  Have students read and annotate.  Consider using as an intro to teaching a definition essay assignment or as an intro to a larger assignment with these blog posts.

The Marmite Sandwich” & “In Defense of Marmite”

It seems like the more disgusting the sandwiches, the more delightful the posts.  What’s perfect about this sandwich is that they give you two posts with which to work.  Have students read both posts and annotate for voice/style.  Consider using the follow up post “In Defense of Marmite” as a way to talk about writing that uses this type of title (i.e. Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food).

Also consider using these posts together as a supplement when teaching Mark Twain’s “How to Tell a Story.”  If Twain’s argument is that good, humorous storytelling is an American’s way of wandering around until they have their audience right where they want them, these two posts speak specifically to that understanding.

‘The Breakfast Club’ edition

There’s just no way to pass up teaching a disgusting sandwich from a classic 80’s flick.  Have students watch The Breakfast Club clip.

Then have them read/annotate the post for style and humor.  Consider having them discuss the following areas:

  1. Why might this be a sandwich for Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me to highlight?
  2. List the sandwich components.
  3. Why would a film writer/director believe these sandwich “components” were appropriate for a teen?  Identify the argument.
  4. Where is the humor in recreating The Breakfast Club Sandwich?