Poetic Analysis: Diction and Paraphrasing With Phillis Wheatley

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SWBAT decode the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text by working collaboratively to review a poet's diction.

Big Idea

Diction matters when authors play with words: puns, symbols, images, and allusions.

Introduction & Welcome: It's Frankenstein Day

5 minutes

As students enter the classroom, I greet them at the door and hand them copies of their paraphrasing of Phillis Wheatley's "To His Excellency, General Washington" (Paraphrase Example 1, Paraphrase Example 2) To continue the sense of community in my classroom, and relate to Halloween, coming up soon, I welcome students to "National Frankenstein Day,"* I relate the story of the writing of the novel (the horror story tell-off between Mary Shelley, her husband, and Lord Byron), and "The-Monster-Is-Not-Named-Frankenstein" fact that pseudo-intellectuals and bibliophiles love to share. I also ask if anyone has read the novel or seen any of the movie versions, and what their thoughts are.

*As per Google. 

Small-Group Self-Evaluation: Comparing Paraphrases

15 minutes

The "paraphrases" we use in class today are examples created by students in a previous class (see lesson: "A Revolution in Poetry: Phillis Wheatley's Verse"). In paraphrasing, students create an objective summary of the text (RL.9-10.2). 

Students are directed to these paraphrase selections from Phillis Wheatley's "To His Excellency, General Washington"; on the back I have copied a test-book provided parallel text presenting the original poem and another paraphrased version, in prose style (paragraph form). I pose three questions to the class for self evaluation, for students to gauge their own understanding of both the poem and their paraphrasing:

1. What did you get right? 

2. What did you get wrong?

3. Why did you struggle?

Students return to their groups and are given time to discuss these three questions, as well as compare their own example to the "correct" wording. By looking at the original, their own examples, and the published example, student will compare Wheatley's language in order to determine the meaning of her diction and analyze how that word choice impacts tone (RL.9-10.4). We review examples of words that glorify both freedom and conflict, before they move on to the discussion questions. 

Within these groups, students are asked to react to Wheatley's portrayal of 

1. "freedom" 

2. "war"

3. God 

4. Nature and Columbia 

5. the strength of America (and Columbia) 

6. Other charged words

Students continue their small-group discussion with these four questions, in order to explore both Wheatley's diction and how the theme is developed and shaped by specific details throughout the poem (RL.9-10.2). 

As always, while the students converse, I circulate the room, offering clarification and refocusing groups struggling with the self-reflection or with decoding word meanings and understanding structure. The collaborative discussion groups provide students a chance to share ideas and learn from each other, and with the difficult language of Wheatley's poem, the discussion assists with decoding in a more focused setting than lecture. 

As a class, we then review the discussion points, analyzing Wheatley's use of charged words and how the theme is revealed through diction.

We focus on paraphrasing today to both strengthen and informally evaluate what students have learned as they have been composing their argumentative research paper (see unit: "Persuasive Writing: Research & Rhetorical Skills). Paraphrasing skills will continue to be called upon for students to demonstrate understanding of, and to provide an objective summary of what they read. Paraphrasing also strengthens research writing, as it it stronger than directly quoting and it strengthens a students' understanding of the material being paraphrased.

Test Review-An Open Forum

8 minutes

I ask students to take a look at the Enlightenment Unit Review they have been provided, and ask if anything jumps out at them to review or talk about. In the event there are no questions, students have this time to review independently. I prefer to be able to address their questions as a whole class, clarifying and verifying their understanding (SL.9-10.1c) and drawing new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented (SL.9-10.1d), thus giving answers and resources to other students. Sometimes students need the time to organize their thoughts on their own, identifying strong and thorough textual evidence to support their analysis and inferences (RL.9-10.1/RI.9-10.1). The independent option allows students to prepare for tomorrow's review: get their thoughts together, prepare any questions they may have, 

Two Minute Warning: Wrap Up and Reminders

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining in class, I remind students of upcoming due dates: the assignment on Wheatley's "On Being Brought from Africa to America" (analyzing Wheatley's word choice in the pun in "diabolic die", the implication of focus on "whiteness" and "blackness" in the poem, and personal reactions to her word choice) will be discussed and collected tomorrow, they should bring in their favorite "scary story" for our discussion in two days, the final copy of the paper is due in three days, and the test on The Enlightenment is in three days. I also ask students to move their desks back into rows.