Peace out, Britain. It’s over. (or The Declaration of Independence for teenagers)

It was inevitable that the time from the start of the semester to the Declaration of Independence would fly by and be here before I had the students feeling the same excitement for the drama in our country at the time. So I had to think outside of the box to get the buy in and support from the students perspective. Also, I felt an incredible pressure because I’m forced to bounce through literally the beginnings to 1800 in only 4 1/2 short weeks… which simply does NOT leave time for all of the highlights of American Literature. And – as much as I cannot believe I’m saying it – the literature really is way better with the historical hindsight!

I started class by asking students to use their breakdown strategies to predict, based on the title, what the text might be about. It is amazing that they are so used to the opinion-based questioning from before Common Core that they really struggled to figure out what it was. Eventually, with guided questioning, we got it.
Because we read Henry and Franklin, students were able to generalize why we left. I used the Shoulder Partner A/Partner B technique to review the history and their arguments before playing a video to set the tone. Every step should have a student task, so as students watched the video I had them track reasons it was too late to apologize. (You can find the video free on youtube at They LOVED this video!

Each lesson comes with some degree of student notes. For this one, notes fell in two parts.
a. We completed a short rhetoric review to build on previous lessons and review rhetorical appeals before the module assessment. Basically, I broke it down by revealing text and asking students to label them by technical name. This worked because students were expected to identify and evaluate them in the text (adding to sentence breakdown strategy).
b. We did a mini-lesson on unwrapping diction in which students took notes on denotation and connotation to think about the specific word choice in seminal documents and evaluate their use in terms of the rhetoric and effectiveness. Students are often able to recognize the power of words, and a few of them asked about the word choice in Henry’s speech so this was a natural progression. I found it more about teaching the academic vocabulary of diction, denotation, and connotation than about teaching them the skill itself.

To start the reading, I reviewed the process of close reading by having students explain it to me. Once again, I knew I needed to model and I wanted to break down the process into manageable chunks for student mastery and repetition of the process on this text and throughout the remainder of the course.

Reviewing “Break Down Complex Sentences”
Modeling Steps:
1. Read the sentences while annotating what stands out.
2. Identify the who/what of the sentence.
3. Identify the action in the sentence.
4. Paraphrase what is happening. If this sentences was easy, lump it with the next sentence.

Next, we evaluated the rhetorical appeals. This was the new learning of this section of text, so I needed to go back and model how to identify the appeals and how to think through their effectiveness. I decided in my own reading I asked myself how people who agree and people who do not agree would take the comment, then I move into whether or not it might be effective at changing anyone’s mind. So I followed those steps with the students.

Building in “Evaluating Appeals”
Steps in the Model:
1. Does this feel like ethic/credibility? Logic? Heart strings? What words do you notice to guide the appeal?
2. How would people who agree feel about this comment?
3. How would people who disagree feel about this comment?
4. Would this statement change someone’s mind? Why?

Alas, we made it through the text and students seemed to get rhetoric a little more. I think we still need to look at rhetoric throughout the semester, but for now I’m (we’re) glad to be moving into the closure of Module 1 so we can look at some texts which fall under “Literature” over “Informational” to support engagement.

On to planning the end of the module synthesis essay. Go me. Go us. Go Common Core.

P.S. I feel like I spend a tremendous amount of time trying to get the perfect product and revising the parts I would change before uploading it, and that means I am backlogged in drafts I have not published. I’ve decided to go on and publish the blogs even without the files uploaded… at least temporarily. I plan to use Fall Break to upload the file and then I will edit to include the links.

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