Tag Archive for The Jungle

Documentaries: Resources


Finding documentary resources can feel an insurmountable task. To find appropriate and engaging content can take hours.  It can also be difficult to determine how you will assess students’ interaction with these films.  Simple viewing questions can only go so far.

Today’s post will offer some resources for both of these areas in the hopes that you will be able to gain a foothold on how to implement short documentaries into your classroom.


Reading in the Reel World-John Golden

A must-have text if you want to implement better viewing and critical thinking strategies.  Golden argues that documentaries are non-fiction texts.  As such, students should SOAPSTone them as well as create their own essential questions while watching.   He also explains and models using levels of questioning to use in tandem with documentary viewing. A sample chapter is available via NCTE.


This website is a treasure trove of all types of documentaries.  The best part is that they have an entire educator’s resource center.  You will want to look specifically at the short films.  To get to them, search “short documentaries.”  Some of my favorites include:


Utopia Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall

A good piece to teach consumerism and personal folly.  Use this 13-minute documentary to teach argument and purpose.   Most definitely have them SOAPSTone the piece and create their own essential questions.  Consider having them tweet those questions while watching.

Watch Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall on PBS. See more from POV.


Trash Out

This is a good documentary to use when discussing the death of the American dream.  Consider having students use at the end of The Great Gatsby as Nick is watching Gatsby’s house stand empty or as a stand alone to teach argument in regards to how we see accomplishment and loss.

Watch Trash-Out on PBS. See more from POV.


An offshoot of SnagFilms, it’s a great resource for documentaries from National Geographic, PBS, and a whole host of other resources.  There are some simple lesson plans posted but for the most part you’ll want to create your own following Golden’s ideas of how students should interact with documentaries in writing.

The New York Times Learning Network has also partnered with them and has created some useful documentary “film festivals” that are worth a look.  The9/11 documentary lessons are especially helpful if you’re teaching Bush’s speech at Ground Zero or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

You’ll want to examine their documentary shorts specifically.  Titled Media that Matters, they have a range of films short documentaries between 5-10 minutes in length.  Some of my favorites include:

Alienated: Undocumented Immigrant Youth

A great short film that profiles one young woman specifically who works as a nanny/housekeeper.  It’s perfect to partner with The Jungle and the later chapters of Fast Food Nation.

Young Agrarians

A short film about young people/students involved in organic farming.  It would be a perfect pairing for anything by Michael Pollan or as a supplement to Fast Food Nation.  You might also use it to teach AP Language students the synthesis essay about locavores.

Night Visions

This documentary short focuses on one soldier’s experiences after his tour.  The short would serve as a good companion to The Things They CarriedAll Quiet on the Western Front and Catch 22.

Argument Analysis: GRE Week in Review

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to analyze the nature of high-stakes testing. 

1.)  A lot of the “Analyze an Issue” prompts are about education.  How would you respond to the below prompt if you encountered it on the GRE exam:   

“Educators should take students’ interests into account when planning the content of the courses they teach.” 

: Student interest/engagement should be a significant consideration in how an educator plans their course.  However, it is idealistic to believe that all lessons and coursework will always be high interest.  Good education demands rapport between teachers and students more than lesson plans that focus solely on “hooks” and novelties.  Note: It seems especially important to remember this in light of my painful experience teaching The Jungle this past week.
Emily:  Oh…The Jungle.  I know it is good but man is that an energy suck!  Every time I had to teach it I felt like I lost part of my soul by Chapter 6.  Great writing, Sinclair, but you sure know how to kill a smile.

2.)  The premise of this week is the GRE exam writing section; however, it brings up questions about the validity of standardized testing.  What is your position on whether or not testing reflects ability?
Aubrey: I would like to qualify.  I think student responses to essay questions reflect ability.  Good writing is good writing.  While I would like them to have more time to write I still think written responses are able to clearly reflect complexity and sophistication of student thought.  However, I’m not always sure that multiple choice is a fair assessment. There are times when multiple choice feels more like a “game” than an accurate understanding of student ability.
Emily:  Maybe it is because I’m bad at multiple choice tests (which makes me hate testing in any form), but I agree.  I feel like universities requiring the GRE for admission into a graduate education program is contradictory and silly. Yeah, I said it:  silly.  I understand that there is a certain degree of intelligence needed to thrive in a collegiate setting (thus necessitating the ACT, SAT, GRE, etc), but I feel like it should have minimal weight on the overall application.

3.)  GRE.  ACT.  SAT.  The acronyms extend beyond standarized testing to the classroom too.  Between SOAPSTone and DIDLS it’s clear the education world loves acronyms just as much.  I task you to create your own acronym that symbolizes your teaching or your classroom.
Aubrey: It is unfortunate that the acronym for Stop Bothering Me Immediately (SBMI) isn’t prettier to say.  Instead it sounds like a way to measure someone’s weight or tell them they have high cholesterol. It’s the best I have to offer in light of the fact that we’ve had no snow days or delays and it’s the end of quarter.
Emily:  I think “SBMI” rolls off the tongue, Aubrey.  It’s a great acronym.  And I kind of like that it sounds like a perverse BMI reading.  It adds to the creepiness of the statement, which will produce the same weird look from your students.

Weekend Culture: Commercials

Viral videos consume us.  Surprised cats and spray bottle babies are at the heart of a technology rich culture.  But homemade videos aren’t the only videos that go viral.  Each week Visible Measures with Advertising Age releases a list of the top ten viral video advertisements.  It’s an incredible resource for the classroom.  All are ready made “arguments” for use in your classroom.

Consider having students watch any advertisement 2-3 times.

  • First viewing should be basic comprehension
  • Second viewing should focus on detail
  • Third viewing should allow them to answer guiding questions and/or create them on their own.

You may choose to have students SOAPSTone the ads by simply tweaking the category of “speaker” and changing it to advertiser/company or director.

Chipotle Commercial-“Back to the Start”

This is part of Chipotle’s anti factory farming and organic/free range campaign.  The commercial employs wooden toys to tell a three-part story.  Small farm turned factory farm turned small farm again. Willie Nelson sings a cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” in the background.  Use the commercial as a perfect pairing for teaching The Jungle, Fast Food Nation and the 2011 AP Language & Composition prompt about locavores or teach it on its own.

Some guiding questions:

    1. Why children’s toys?
    2. What arguments are made over the course of the commercials?
    3. Why “The Scientist?”  Why are the lyrics important?  Why Willie Nelson and not Coldplay?
    4. What is the importance of the final phrase “cultivate a better world?”
    5. What is the significance of the title?
    6. Write your own essential big picture question.  You are so smart.  You can do it.

Samsung Galaxy S II Commercial- “The Next Big Thing”
This pits the iPhone (without ever mentioning its name) against the Samsung Galaxy.  The commercial itself is a caricature of Apple fanboys and girls.  Use this to discuss the role of technology and even the importance of the “it” cell phone in today’s culture.

Some guiding questions:

1.  Identify elements of satire/humor.
2.  How are Apple consumers characterized?
3.  In comparison, how are Samsung consumers characterized.
4.  What is the significance of the title?
5.  Write your own essential question.

Anticipation Guide: Day Four

Because of the nature of the anticipation guide, one indirect result is that it allows students to make predictions about the text.  If they are responding to belief statements held by the characters or the author then they are able to make predictions about the characters in the text.  However, in higher level classes the students are naturally able to make personal connections with the characters as they read, thereby making the anticipation guide in its basic form unnecessary to spend valuable class time on.  However, while often able to anticipate what happens to the characters, they often struggle to anticipate style.  Therefore, to help my AP students activate their reading, I often create pre-reading activities to ask them to anticipate style.

Any easy way to get them making literary predictions is to give them a text from the same author and in the same style to study prior to reading.  For example, the style in Hemingway’s “In Another Country” closely resembles the style he utilizes in A Farewell to Arms.  The same is true for Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams,” whose rhetorical and literary markers mimic The Great Gatsby.  However, if looking for an immediate, hands-on approach, consider having them study and discuss key stylistic elements to a piece before to reading it. Read more