Exploring an Author's Use of History

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SWBAT explain interactions between individuals and ideas by paraphrasing and analyzing quotes from a novel.

Big Idea

Did Twain reveal his ideas about slavery in Tom Sawyer?


10 minutes

To begin today's lesson, I draw my students' attention back to the timeline we have going on the white board.  I have added the publication date of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and the setting date of the novel (sometime between 1836 and 1846).  I ask students to look at those two dates in relation to the other events on our timeline and make some observations.

I am hoping that students will notice that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published after the Civil War but that it was set before the war.  

I then display Thinking About How Authors Use History in Fiction and read the text from the Twain biography.

I ask students to turn to an elbow partner and discuss how Twain felt about slavery.

Once everyone has had a chance to talk to a partner, I will ask a few students to share out their ideas.  It's a good idea to have them cite the part of the text that led them to their conclusion.

Getting Down to Business

30 minutes

I hand out Twain's Use of History to my students.  I tell them that we're going to be detectives and find clues in the text that reveal Twain's opinions about slavery and what he wanted his readers to think about.

I first walk them through the different sections of the sheet.  I ask if someone can remind us of the meaning of "paraphrase."  Once everyone understand what we will be doing in each box, we work through the first quote together.

I read the quote aloud to the class and ask them to paraphrase the statement.  Once I see that almost everyone is done writing, I call on a few students to share what they've written.  Inevitably, someone will go beyond paraphrasing the quote, and this is a great teachable moment to review the idea of paraphrasing versus analyzing.

I then ask students to write a sentence or two explaining what Mr. Twain wanted his readers to think about.  I draw their attention to the excerpt that is still displayed on the screen, the list of Twain's experiences with slavery we have created, and the timeline.  I want them to consider all of these things in their analysis statements.

Again, once I see that most everyone's pencils have stopped moving, I ask a few students to share.  With any luck, a few have noted that Twain has shown us that Tom lumps family members into two categories: dogs and children in one and slaves in the other. 


Did They Get It?

5 minutes

After my students have had about 10 minutes to work through the remaining two quotes on their own, we discuss their responses to close this lesson.

I ask a few students to volunteer answers for the paraphrase and analysis of both remaining quotes.  I find that I still have to guide them through their paraphrasing and analyzing skills, but they are able to make some insights on their own.

I collect this assignment as a formative assessment, looking for completion and effort.