Into Thin Air – A Lesson in Word Choice

There are so many elements to a written work. A story has plot structure, characters, setting, main ideas and themes that might draw a reader in. A poem is concerned with images and metaphor to express an emotion or idea. But the most important part are the words themselves. If the author didn’t choose the right words, they might not get their ideas across to the reader. For instance, would you describe the Arctic as cold? Or would you describe it as a frigid? Which word is more effective?

This is a question we tackled with Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Before reading an excerpt, we talked with students at Jefferson Traditional about word choice. Why is it important to use accurate and descriptive words?

From there, we gave students an edited excerpt from Krakauer’s book. These excerpts contained words not found in the original text. Instead the students were tasked with changing the words to be more effective, descriptive, and accurate. Once they came up with their changes, we gave the students the original text to compare.

An edited excerpt
An edited excerpt
The original excerpt
The original excerpt

By the end of the lesson, the students better appreciated the difference between the altered text and the original version. Students made comparisons between “bad” and “severe” and the appropriate context of each.

The Raven – A Lesson in Punctuation

Poetry can be difficult for students to read out loud. Some poems have structure. Others are free to move as they please. With so many varieties, students find they might trip over the words because they just can’t find the flow. question-39818_640

That’s why paying close attention to punctuation is important.

One of our lessons at Jefferson Traditional involved a close look at Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

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We began the lesson having students read the poem without regard for punctuation. Then we had them read again, paying close attention. This time the students stood up, walking around the classroom as they read. At each punctuation mark, they changed direction. Combining movement with the act of reading, allowed the students to physicalize the poem. More importantly, it allowed them to recognize that punctuation is an important element of a poem or any written work.

Romeo & Juliet – Argumentative Writing

We consistently teach at Jefferson Intermediate Traditional School, integrating drama to sneakily teach our students valuable lessons. During one class period, the teacher was interested in teaching his students argumentative writing.

His initial lesson focused on the basics of writing an argumentative paper: introduction, thesis, argument and supporting evidence, counterargument, restatement of thesis, and a closing. Then he had the students brainstorm ideas for new technologies or tweaks to existing technologies that would improve the world on a large scale. From there the students were to conduct research and write an essay to present their invention/tweak. So what does this have to do with Romeo and Juliet?

In order to get the students to understand what it means to defend an argument, we decided to bring to them a familiar tale. Most students are familiar with Romeo and Juliet. They know that Juliet chooses to love a boy from a rival family. They know that Friar Lawrence is completely on board, despite knowing the possible repercussions of such a union. These two characters make bold decisions and they have to be able to defend them.

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So we had the students break into groups. In each group there was a Juliet and a Friar Lawrence. The rest of the students were instructed to argue with Juliet and Friar Lawrence about their choices and their actions. Why did Juliet pursue a relationship with Romeo? Why did Friar Lawrence help the couple deceive their parents? Through this process, the students were encouraged to develop and refine their arguments. We then brought up one Juliet and one Friar Lawrence to the front of the class to respond to the arguments of the whole class.

In the end, the lesson was effective. By taking on a character and learning about that character’s actions and motivations, the students were able to improve their abilities to make an argument and defend it. It made the argumentative essay they had to write a little more tangible.

Farmer Dell – Looking for Details

Working with elementary school students is exciting and allows us to have fun and be creative. One of our lessons at Perley Elementary School in South Bend involved a fictional farm, animals, and lots of hilarious hijinks!

When we arrived to the classroom, we warmed our students up with a game. The Opposite Game gets our students up and moving, engages their brains and bodies, commands their focus, and sets the overall tone of the lesson. We don’t want our students’ minds or bodies wandering away from the main objective.

After a rousing game, we talked with the students about farm life. Who might live on the fictional Farmer Dell’s farm? Our students came up with an extensive list including:

  • Pigs00-31-54-771_640
  • Horses
  • Cows
  • Owls
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Sheep
  • Ducks

Then we had our students come up with a list of forbidden activities for the animals:

  • Baking Cakes
  • Eating ice cream
  • “Swag”
  • Going on a cruise
  • Having  a party
  • Breaking tractors

From there we narrowed our lists down. We assigned each student an animal, assigned each corner of the room an activity, and sent the animals to have FUN! The students acted our the hijinks they were getting into like diving into buckets of melting ice, tanning on the deck of a cruise ship, and building flying machines out of tractor parts.

Once every animal had their turn at a station, they all sat down and wrote an apology letter to Farmer Dell. We instructed them to use as much detail as possible. Once the letters were finished Ms. Christy, acting as Farmer Dell, arrived on the scene. She saw how naughty the animals had been, and some of them were brave enough to read their apologies out loud for all the animals to hear. Overall it was a fun lesson, giving students a chance to perform as well as learn how to write with detail and defend their actions.

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