Category Archives: American Literature

Of Plymouth Plantation… and the inner city attention span

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As we gear up for the new week, the students gear down because they cannot be less interested in Of Plymouth Plantation. Well, they do have one question they seek to answer: What is Americanism? What does it mean to be American? So as they formulate their ideas, we study American Literature. And, this week, we transition from Pilgrims and an active, benevolent God to Sinners and an Angry God. Boy… I can feel the good vibes now!

Since the students completed the Common Core Workshop successfully, I feel confident in their ability to closely read a text, and, thanks to my intense written feedback, the quality of their text-evidence in response to TDQs has increased tremendously. In fact, for many of them, the reading guide worksheet isn’t enough room and they are writing their answers on another page.

The first step in planning this lesson was to think about anticipated difficulties. Thanks to the first sentence, I didn’t have to think very hard. The Puritan Plain Style might have been easy to Puritans, but thanks to the evolutionary writing style of a few hundred years’ writings, those complex sentences even gave me a headache! I began planning with the idea that if the students could break down the complicated structures of the key parts of the paragraphs (or sections), maybe they could understand enough to work through answering some of the text-dependent questions. However… I needed to model this one for the students too.

Thus, a reading guide was created and designed to focus on breaking down complex sentences in terms of 1. Who? What? 2. Action. Then, I divided the excerpts into major sections and created TDQs for those sections. This made the reading guide look long (5 pages), but I wanted each section to have a visual separation from the other sections and then I needed to add some pretty visuals to keep the students happy. You’d be surprised how happy a different font, cute clip art, or shaded boxes can make the students when they are looking at a complex text they wouldn’t have been interested in otherwise.

From there, I created a reading quiz modeled after the FEW samples of multiple choice PARCC questions that have been released. This is a pretty important step because my students are used to teachers giving completion credit rather than accuracy credit. Also, apparently in some classes if most of the students don’t do the work the teacher makes it extra credit for those who did it and does not penalize those who don’t do it. To combat that, mean as it may be, I have the homework for grading and the reading quiz for grading. Students can retake any reading quiz after scoring a perfect score on the homework if they so desire, but this technique has shown students I’m serious about them completing some work outside of class. After all, my job is to prepare them for college.

If you are interested, you may find this lesson plan bundle at

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English III Hybrid TN EOC/CCSS Course: What is it to be American?

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Ah. The hybrid year. Last year we piloted all that is Common Core while being assess by the TN EOC. Alas, this year we implement Common Core while being assessed by both the TN EOC (with a few supposedly dropped SPIs) and PARCC. Add in that the PARCC assessments are on a yearlong plan while our course is a semester and you have a world of differentiation and 80 hour work weeks. But me… I honestly did not get into teaching to get rich. I got into teaching so I could make a difference and do my part to make the world a better place. So I’ll take it: 80 hour work weeks, Common Core, EOCs, TRIPOD, TVAAS, and whatever else you throw at me. But I’m going to help my students get it even if there is no 15-16 year old of the inner city volunteering to read these texts.

So what’s the spin for buy in? Well, the essential question becomes “What does it mean to be an American?” Now, this isn’t so far fetched – we are American and they call out their freedoms on a regular basis. So I tied in a personal stake: I know a true American.

1. After the boring syllabus review and all that jazz, we watched a video to spark a conversation. (Find this video at Students felt a connection because I’m not the only teacher at the school with a loved one who died in a very public service-related situation, and they saw those families. Then, we invited them to bring in the picture of anyone they knew who was willing to defend what it meant to be American. From there, a living bulletin board was created.

2. We built in a Common Core Workshop using Prothero’s “Introduction” from his text “The American Bible.” We actually used only an excerpt, but the idea worked very well to introduce students to the power of words. We spent a week with this text, thoroughly modeling the process of close reading, text-dependent questions, and the dreaded writing task. In all, the point was modeling the process, and I gave a tremendous amount of written feedback to each student for every single question. Amazingly the students thought they would get credit if they just wrote something in the answer slots. Amazing. Apparently some teachers do that so often the students expect it as the norm and were genuinely surprised by their grades and the feedback. They could not believe I read, scored, and responded to every single question for every single student. Once I realized they were not used to teachers carefully reading and grading, I intentionally went overboard in providing feedback. I plan to do this intensively for a bit here – as long as I can practically keep it up – until I have them well trained. I can understand having some completion grades, but these guys make it seem as if that was all they ever had for “practice” category work. Unreal.

You can find the PPT and student documents at

Interestingly, I found where someone has posted the Introduction for free on scribed. You may access that file at

And with that, it was time to begin the textbook selections.

Welcome to Module 1: Early America to 1800.

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