Our first live class got off to a great start! It's always fun to "see" everyone again after the summer break.
Please remember to have a headset for next week so we can turn on the audio for about 10 minutes to discuss our novel. Also, BEFORE CLASS (not during), please test your device in the WizIQ environment to make sure the headset is working properly. You can do that here:
Click JOIN and then "Check Device Settings." This page is also where you can review recordings for missed sessions:
Meet the Author! & Introducing the Novel
After a quick discussion of the John Green Crash Course video on Frankenstein, we spent the first half of our class learning about our author, Mary Shelley, and her rather interesting partner, Percy. When Frankenstein was first published anonymously in 1818, everyone assumed Percy was the author since he penned the introduction. Mary was only 18 when she wrote her famous gothic tale and 32 when she revised the novel in 1831. In the 1831 edition, Mary explains how she came to write such an unusual piece of fiction. In the summer of 1816, she and Percy Shelley were living near the poet Lord Byron on Lake Geneva in the Swiss Alps. During a period of incessant rain, they were reading ghost stories to each other when Byron proposed that they each try to write one. For days Shelley could not think of an idea. Then, while she was listening to Lord Byron and Percy discussing the probability of using electricity to create life artificially, an idea began to grow in her mind:
Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and [endued] with vital warmth. -- Mary Shelley
We talked about galvanism, a theory of "animal electricity" that was pioneered by Luigi Galvani in the 1780's. The Italian professor conducted experiments on animal tissue using a machine that could produce electrical sparks. He concluded that animal tissue contained electricity in the form of a fluid. Galvani's theory was shown to be incorrect, however, he had proven that muscles contracted in response to an electrical stimulus.
"That's so...Goth" & "Isn't that Romantic?"
We then discussed the necessary ingredients for a good Goth Nov (MYSTERY! HORROR! THE SUPERNATURAL!), various meanings of the word "gothic," the typical atmosphere, setting, and plot of a gothic novel, and the fact that characters in these stories are often morally complex. We also talked about the setting of the novel and its connection to Dante's hell as well as the famous poem from Lyrical Ballads: "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Understanding British Romanticism:
Whew! At least I hope. :)
It's great to be back with you all. Until next week! Homework is in the Course Schedule and also the PDF syllabus.
Greetings Literature Families!
Welcome to The Writer's Community—a place for parents (and students) to read re-caps of our live classes and some of the things we'll be working on during our time together. Students will find their Course Schedule and Syllabus on WizIQ, but since parents don't (typically) have ready access to WizIQ, I'll make sure to keep you informed here. Occasionally, I'll still send emails, but this will be your go-to for class happenings and important info. You might also just be interested in what we are studying each week! It's pretty good stuff. :)
If your student hasn't enrolled in the WizIQ course by Monday, I will go ahead and enroll them using the WizIQ account they established last year. If there is any problem with the enrollment, I'll contact you by email.
Here is the WizIQ link to the Course:
Parents can still look at the Class Schedule without enrolling in the course.
I will send the separate link to the live meetings via email (since they are private classes). There is only one link for the live meetings—it won't change week-to-week.
A note about audio: I want to incorporate about 10 minutes of live audio discussion each week starting with Week #2. We'll be discussing our material a lot more this year, and it's too difficult (and time consuming) to wait while students type out answers. Chat is perfect for quick responses and questions, and we'll continue to use it. However, please, please, make sure your student has a headset (headphones with mic) by Week #2. We simply can't use audio unless everyone has a headset. Thank you!
A note about accountability
Homework is detailed in the Course Schedule and I will send all parents and students a hard copy syllabus by email. Homework is always due by the next class date. If you need more time to complete an assignment because of illness or family vacations, field trips, etc., I will grant extra time, however, I will not extend due dates because you "had work in another class." This is a class, so now's your chance to practice precious time management skills. :)
Important: I respect each family's approach to homeschooling and realize that not all families may find value in completing each aspect of the writing assignments. The most benefit will be gained if you not only complete the initial assignments, but work with me throughout the revision stages. If you are taking this class for a grade, all homework, including revisions, is required by the due dates. Last year I spent a decent amount of time chasing down revisions. Unless you have a reasonable excuse, if I don't have your revisions by the due date, I will grade whatever work you may have completed at the time without emailing you first. So, unless you're up for some nasty surprises, make sure you get your revisions in on time.
Parents: If your child needs to partner with you in this area of time management, please feel encouraged to provide assistance. The goal is growth, not punishment.
For the first six weeks we will be reading and studying the 1831 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as the poets of the Romantic Period. And kids, if you’re thinking “romance” as in boy-likes-girl you would be wrong (think gothic, and you’ll be a little closer). I spent several weeks this summer researching the novel and the poets of the period and these folks were some wild cats! It’s gonna be a great unit!
If you haven't secured your copy of the 1831 edition, or are having trouble finding the correct edition, please let me know now.
STUDENTS, RIGHT BEFORE WE MEET: View the John Green “Frankenstein" video posted to Week #1 and read pages 9-12 in the Glencoe Study Guide (also in Course Schedule).
I recommend you view the video TWICE, just for fun. John Green is great, but he talks REALLY fast.
All parents and students should view the Peter Elbow interview before 9/15.
Here it is if you need it. Looking forward to getting started with a new year. Please don't hesitate to let me know if you have any questions!
We picked up where we left off last week with a discussion of the many different symbols found within To Kill a Mockingbird. Students have been working on an essay regarding the most obvious symbol of the mockingbird, but there are several others that are less obvious.
After understanding these additional symbols, students were challenged to write the opening paragraph to their own sequel to TKAM! It wasn't necessary to know the entire plot of their sequel, and as a prompt, they were to weave in one of the symbols from the novel that we had just discussed. This opening paragraph was to be short--between three and five sentences, and could pick up at any time in the future--one day after the end of the novel or ten or twenty years after--it was up to students to decide!
After only five or six minutes, students came up with some WONDERFUL sequels! If anyone would be willing to continue his/her story over the summer, I would love to read it. In July we can read the "real" sequel together and see if there are any similarities. I would love it if someone would take me up on my challenge! :)
Analysis Chapters 25-31
We finished our discussion of the novel by talking about how the different characters were affected by the outcome of Tom Robinson's trial. We reviewed the end of the novel and the events that took place which finally revealed Boo Radley to Scout! In the end, Scout can finally walk in Boo Radley's shoes. She can understand his point of view both as a human being and physically, as she stands and views the town from his front porch. Good stuff!
Final Essay on Education (Thesis with Tension)
Essays on the mockingbird symbol are due by May 21.
I gave students a handout which they will need to answer part of the final essay prompt on the topic of Education. Much is said about formal schooling in the novel. Harper Lee gives a very critical view of methods of teaching and of some educational jargon in Chapters 2, 3 and 4, and Atticus voices his criticism of some educational philosophies in his speech to the jury in Chapter 20. Certainly Scout is depicted as learning more from Atticus and Calpurnia and from her experiences outside school than from her formal schooling. The scenes at school provide a direct counterpoint to Atticus's effective education of his children: Scout is frequently confronted with teachers who are either frustratingly unsympathetic to children's needs or morally hypocritical (Miss Caroline and Miss Gates). Remember: we aren't just discussing Harper Lee's views as expressed through the novel; you're going to take a position and agree or disagree with her.
Please refer to the essay outline I provided you a few weeks ago to help with crafting this essay. It is due by May 31 and should include a thesis with tension and a Works Cited (MLA Format).
The final quiz will be next week. The final quiz will include story content, vocabulary, information from the Key Facts handout (literary analysis), information from the Great Depression handout (especially the timeline), and a few questions derived from our in class topics, such as Jim Crow and the Scottsboro Boys Trials.
Last class next Thursday! What a journey this has been--see you then!
Analysis Chapters 17-24
Our discussion of last week's reading led us into an examination of three of the trial witnesses…their testimonies and their demeanor on the stand and a discussion of the events in this section. We finish the reading this week!
I then pulled up a map of Maycomb, Alabama. Bearing in mind that Maycomb is a fictional town, we took a "tour" of the town using the map. I think it's fun as we read to have a clear visual of the town. One could say it even serves as a character in the novel. So much happens in the space of a few blocks!
To Kill a Mockingbird begins as a story about curiosity, sibling adventures, and the first school days. The novel evolves into a saga about criminal justice, legal representation, and deep-rooted Southern values. All the events lead to the final, tragic event: Tom Robinson’s guilty verdict. At this tragic moment, Jem forsakes “background” in exchange for how long his family has “been readin’ and writin’.” He believes that literacy allows the Finches to rise above prejudice. In the face of such injustice, Jem realizes that Boo Radley may want to stay inside to avoid the prejudice and injustice prevalent in Maycomb.
Next, I quizzed the students on characters and plot for Parts I & II. I had them try to remember the names of all the major and (most) minor characters as quickly as they could and then took another few minutes to complete a plot summary. Plot summaries are very helpful in reviewing events that you have been reading about over a longer period of time. This particular novel is full of characters and events, and it's easy for younger readers to lose their way. The writing tends to be more subtle as well. This was also the case with our last novel, My Antonia. Remember, these two books were not written with young audiences in mind, and although the reading is not overly difficult, it may require students to back up and review certain passages when needed.
My "pop quiz" generally showed that students are following the novel, with a few holes here and there. They were given two or three words and then had to complete the sentence to essentially form a timeline of the plot. Some sentences were easy, and some, a little trickier! Take your time with the last chapters and really let it soak in!
If you want a good laugh, ask them what detail they missed about Mr. Avery until I explained a particular scene to them. :)
So, most people have heard by now that there is a sequel to Mockingbird. I took the last few minutes of class to read an excerpt from a New York Times article that was written this February. The new book, Go Set a Watchman, is scheduled to be released this July. I really hope some of our students will be inspired to at least try it when it comes out! There is a bit of controversy surrounding its publication and its sudden appearance is a bit mysterious.
First, the new novel was "found" among Ms. Lee's archives by her friend and attorney, Tonja Carter. Ms. Carter thought it was a manuscript for an original version of TKAM, when in reality it was the "incubator" for the famous novel. Harper Lee wrote Watchman first. Her publisher was more interested in the flashbacks to Scout's childhood within Watchman, and asked her to write a novel set in that time frame, not the 1950's as Ms. Lee had originally planned. Since Harper Lee was a new and unpublished author, she didn't argue with the publisher. Watchman is therefore the original story of Scout and Atticus set in the 1950's and focuses on the racial tensions of that era. It's referred to as a sequel because this story occurs 20 years after the first, however, it was written BEFORE it!
Second, the bit of controversy surrounding the publication is that Ms. Lee has always despised publicity and is very aged and infirm, not even able to read any longer without a heavy duty reading glass for the nearly blind. She is also thought to be quite congenial and will sign most anything put in front of her (according to some). There was concern expressed by many that it is not her intent to see this novel published, but we'll never know for sure. Her statements about the book have been delivered through her agent and lawyer to the publisher. Her long time protector, sister and attorney, Alice, died at the age of 100+ last fall. Ms. Lee lives in an assisted-living facility and suffered a stroke in 2007. According to her literary agent, Harper Lee has said that Watchman is not a sequel, it is a "parent" to TKAM. I'm so glad our students are reading her novel (or novels) in her lifetime. It is something to remark on and remember, as Mockingbird is one of the most important novels of the 20th century. Will Watchman be one of the most important of the 21st? A lot of people think "lightning won't strike twice." What do you think?
The title of To Kill a Mockingbird has very little literal connection to the plot, but it carries a great deal of symbolic weight in the book. In this story of innocents destroyed by evil, the “mockingbird” comes to represent the idea of innocence. Thus, to kill a mockingbird is to destroy innocence. Throughout the book, a number of characters (Jem, Tom Robinson, Dill, Boo Radley, Mr. Raymond) can be identified as mockingbirds—innocents who have been injured or destroyed through contact with evil. This connection between the novel’s title and its main theme is made explicit several times in the novel: after Tom Robinson is shot, Mr. Underwood compares his death to “the senseless slaughter of songbirds,” and at the end of the book Scout thinks that hurting Boo Radley would be like “shootin’ a mockingbird.” Most important, Miss Maudie explains to Scout: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That Jem’s and Scout’s last name is Finch (another type of small bird) indicates that they are particularly vulnerable in the racist world of Maycomb, which often treats the fragile innocence of childhood harshly.
Read the essay prompt on the syllabus. You are going to support with citations from the text why Boo Radley (who like the bird is a victim of children) and Tom Robinson (the "mockingbird" that it is a sin to kill) are seen as the "mockingbirds" in this story (this can be paragraphs two and three). For your fourth paragraph, you're going to tell me who you think the third mockingbird is (there is no right/wrong answer, and this is widely debated and discussed). If you can make a case for it with a quote from the book and your own reasoning, I'll go with it. Remember, for our purposes, a "mockingbird" is someone whose innocence has been injured or destroyed.
There is also a case for Scout to be the third mockingbird. Scout, who is small and plain, but "sings" her own song (the novel). Both Tom and Boo are victims of their own kindness (towards Mayella; towards the children); both are innocent (of rape; of psychopathy); both are victims of prejudice; both are "caged." More subtly, the mockingbird could represent the innocence of childhood which is "killed" in various ways for Scout, Jem, and Dill. The mockingbird first appears in Chapter 10, when Atticus tells the children, "Shoot all the bluejays you want... but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." Miss Maudie explains this is because mockingbirds are neither harmful nor destructive, but only make music for people to enjoy. Its connection with Boo is made clear in Chapter 30, where Scout recognizes that the public exposure of Boo would be "sort of like shootin' a mockingbird." Other than the above instances the symbol recurs in Chapter 21 ‐ waiting for the trial verdict and Chapter 25 ‐ in Underwood's article.
Analysis Chapters 9-16
This week's focus was on courage and conflict (both internal and external). We talked about how the different characters are showing courage in ways that are unique to their current situations. Atticus showed courage when he had to shoot the mad dog, and must continue to be courageous in defending Tom Robinson. Mrs. Dubose showed courage when she refused to die addicted to morphine, and Scout and Jem are learning to temper their responses when dealing with the town's backlash against Atticus.
For next week, please read through to chapter 24, fill in the Active Reading chart with the additional three witnesses from the trial, and answer the usual short answer questions. Essay reminder is below.
Conflict: External vs. Internal
At the heart of every novel is conflict, the struggle between two opposing forces. In an external conflict, a character struggles against some outside force, such as another person, nature, society, or fate. An internal conflict is a struggle between two opposing thoughts or desires within the mind of a character. As you read through to chapter twenty-one, try to notice how the external and internal conflicts introduced in the first section intensify.
We then did three exercises that emphasized external vs. internal conflict. In the first, each student was given a scenario and then had to identify whether the conflict was external or internal, and if external, whether it was a conflict between nature, society, or another character. The second exercise required students to then identify four conflicts from the novel that fit the four different possible types of conflicts--they did a great job with this as "conflict with nature" from the book is a little more difficult to come up with. The third exercise allowed students to have some fun completing four fictional scenarios, again, one of each type. By the end, we were pretty confident we could identity all four types of conflict!
The Civil Rights Movement
We ended class on a serious note by reading through some basic information on the Civil Rights Movement and then hearing a speech given by Fannie Lou Hamer at the 1964 DNC. This is an incredibly powerful speech and very difficult to listen to. One woman's story of her refusal to be dissuaded from registering to vote--despite threats of harm and repeated physical abuse in jail--is truly sobering. While the characters in our novel show courage in their own ways, Fannie Lou Hamer is an example of a truly courageous human being. If you would like to listen to her speech, it is HERE.
Final Expository Essay
There is no essay due next week (hurray!), but that doesn't mean you have nothing to do. :) Please complete the research worksheet that I gave you before next week. We have two more essays to go--one on symbolism within the novel and the final essay on education. The education essay is due May 21.
Analysis Chapters 1-8
After our journaling prompt, and a quick review of the background reading from the Glencoe Guide, we dove right into character analyses of the main characters that we've met so far and talked about chapters 1-8. Please stay on track with the reading (we need to read about eight chapters per week) and check the syllabus for all homework.
Narrative and Point of View
To Kill a Mockingbird is told in the first person by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. The novel begins from the point of view of Scout as she looks back on her childhood, revisiting memories through the filter of her adult experience.
Although the narrator is an adult looking back at her childhood, the perspective is limited to what she saw and felt at that time. Scout the 6-year-old often does not understand the full meaning of what she observes, and her childlike perceptions are frequently a source of humor, as when she says of her father, “Atticus was feeble. He was nearly fifty.” Yet even in this instance, the narrator does not confine her vocabulary to that of a child. Here is another example of how the narrator recalls childhood events with an adult vocabulary: “I wasn’t sure what Jem resented most, but I took umbrage at Mrs. Dubose’s assessment of the family’s mental hygiene.”
I asked the students if our memories change as they are filtered through the lens of our later experiences. The consensus was "yes."
The Scottsboro Boys Trials
We then read through a rather unpleasant matter from history called The Scottsboro Trials. I will not repeat the story here, but it's important to be aware of these famous trials of the 1930's as they were the inspiration for the trial of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird. You can read about the Scottsboro Trials and other related stories from the "Jim Crow Law" days at PBS.org, The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.
Race and Relationships
Clearly, racism is a major theme of the novel. The essay prompt this week is meaty. I made a step-by-step outline for students to follow and created a worksheet for them to use during the research phase. Please read chapters 9-16 before attempting the essay! As always, let me know if you have questions. Hang in there, we're almost to the end!
Intro: To Kill a Mockingbird
After a journal/free-write on courage, we learned about our next author, Harper Lee, and how her famous manuscript almost became one with the slush-ridden New York City streets (it's true!).
As always, we spent time understanding the cultural and historical context of our next novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. We reviewed some basic facts about the Great Depression, viewed an important (read: will be on the final quiz) timeline of events from the 1930's to the 1960's, and took a few minutes to understand the Jim Crow laws of the post-Civil War South.
Jazz Crosses Racial Boundaries: Billie Holiday (Strange Fruit)
Our side trip this week was on the topic of American Jazz. Jazz was born in the lower Mississippi Delta and was nourished in New Orleans. In the first decades of the twentieth century its emotional rhythms moved north with the Great Migration, a mass movement of Blacks from the South to urban areas seeking better opportunities and attempting to escape from rigid Jim Crow laws that held them in a state of virtual slavery. This distinctly American music, with an emphasis on improvisation, captured the spirit of the nation. The radio and phonograph had a major impact on Jazz’s popularity as improvisation and the spontaneity that typified the music was better conveyed through sound than sheet music. Although jazz musicians helped to erode racial prejudice, they were sometimes unable to break down long established barriers.
Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was an American jazz singer and songwriter. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. She co-wrote only a few songs, but several of them have become jazz standards, notably "God Bless the Child," "Don't Explain," "Fine and Mellow," and "Lady Sings the Blues." She also became famous for singing "Easy Living," "Good Morning Heartache," and "Strange Fruit", a protest song which became one of her standards and made famous with her 1939 recording. "Strange Fruit" was a cry for civil rights—some might even say it was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. This performance was in New York City, 1939 at the popular cabaret club, Café Society (where she could sing but she couldn't sit at the tables).
This biggest take-away from this week's class, other than understanding the context of our novel, is implementing Modern Language Association Format with regard to Works Cited (bibliography) at the end of all four of our essays this session.
A handout was given to students (example of a Works Cited page and reminders/bullet points). Everything you need to complete a successful Works Cited is on this handout. Please let me know if there is any confusion; I am always happy to clarify/answer additional questions.
Remember to check the syllabus for all homework (reading, vocab, short answer) and of course, the essay prompt. This week's prompt should not cause you much trouble. Remember to pick a character you admire. Identify three ethical qualities you admire about that character (we're still working in threes here to easily construct a five-paragraph essay) and support with quotes from the book. Don't forget everything you learned last session about citing sources within your essay. Now, you're going to add a Works Cited at the end. The only works cited for this paper will be quotes from the text; our next and last paper will require outside research, therefore, your first paper will only have one Works Cited entry--easy, right? Yes! :)
See you next Thursday!
A Last Look at Ántonia
We started our last class on My Ántonia with a writing prompt that asked us to imagine that we are moving to a foreign country and we don’t speak the language. The only people we will know there are our immediate families. We don’t know where we will live or what we will do for money. We then had to describe or make a list of the things our families would need to do to survive. This experience is similar to the one our heroine had, and it was great to hear all of the sound and useful ideas the students came up with: learn the language, attempt to network with people that might help us find work, be aware of any cultural differences or barriers, make sure we have the proper clothing for the environment we're moving to, and research what materials we could use to make shelter/housing . These are all things that Ántonia and her family faced and dealt with when they left their home in Bohemia for the Nebraska prairie.
Before sharing our family tree pages and final projects, we read a wonderful letter in the original words of Annie Sadilek (aka Anna Pavelka). The so-called "Letter to France Samlund" is a letter to a high school student at Benson High School in Omaha, Nebraska from Anna Pavelka. Anna, now eighty-six years old, tells the real story of her first year in Nebraska.
Anna Pavelka, whose maiden name was Anna Sadilek, is the woman on whom the character of Ántonia is based. Willa Cather and Anna Sadilek knew each other in the late 1880s, when Willa was attending school in Red Cloud and Anna was working for the Miner family who lived down the street from the Cathers. After a failed engagement with a railroad man, Anna married John Pavelka, who is the basis for Anton Cuzak in My Ántonia.
We took several minutes to compare the original letter with events at the beginning of the novel, particularly Book One, and defined and identified uses of verbal irony. Even though English wasn't Annie's first language and her spelling and punctuation were poor, she knew how to convey irony!
Next Up: Mockingbird (not Mockingjay)
Please make sure you have a copy of our last selection, To Kill a Mockingbird, and read the short summary from bestnotes.com.
See you on April 16. Have a wonderful Easter.
Family Tree Final Projects
To wrap up our study of My Ántonia and our look at the immigrant experience in America, we went around the table and shared as much of our family tree pages as we were able to complete, and talked about some of the countries our ancestors hail from. In this discussion alone we found out we have family members "in our trees" from Germany, Italy, England, and Palestine!
Now and then it all comes together and there is a singular moment when the stars align and there is magic. We were honored that the grandmother of one of our students shared her very poignant memories of growing up in the German Province of Bohemia. Her memories have some similarities with those of our heroine, Ántonia, in terms of some of the difficulties faced in her home country and when emigrating to America. It's when these real life experiences affirm art that we start to understand that reading literature is a personal experience and so much more than an exercise in understanding story content, theme, and tone. That's when we really "own" a story and it becomes real to us on a whole new level.
If you would like to enjoy these stories, see below by clicking READ MORE...
Analyzing Books Three - Five
We finished up our discussion of our novel, My Ántonia, with a thorough review of the events and details of Books Three - Five. Make sure you are familiar with the novel before our final quiz by reviewing your active reading charts and short answer questions.
For the final quiz, you will need to recall story content, study the Key Facts handout, and all vocabulary from the Glencoe Guide. You also need to know the meaning of elegiac and nostalgic.
Related Readings: Virgil and The House on Mango Street
"Optima dies...prima fugit." The best days...are the first to flee.
The above quote comes from the Georgics, an instructive poem written about farming by the epic Roman poet Virgil and translates to "The best days…are the first to flee." Jim studies Virgil when he's away at college and specifically mentions this line at the end of Book 3, Chapter 2. It also happens to be the epigraph. There are two major connections to My Ántonia in this epigraph. The first is the actual line – the best days are the first to flee. My Ántonia is a romanticized look back at the past, and the fleeting nature of youth is a major theme in the novel. Jim in particular is enamored of long-gone better days. The second connection has to do with the source of this quote, the Georgics. In this lengthy poem, Virgil discusses the virtues of the farming life while teaching his readers the best way to live off the land. The relationship between man and the natural world is another central theme in the novel. Part of the romantic veneer of Jim's memoir has to do with his admiration for the vast, beautiful open spaces of the Nebraska landscape. There is also a connection here to Cather's own life, because she studied Latin and Greek herself both in high school and in college. We can see Cather's own love for these ancient languages reflected in Jim's passion, and of course in this choice of epigraph.
Virgil was the master of metaphorical language and is known for his epic use of simile. To drive home this concept we did a couple of fun exercises where we "Built a Better Metaphor" and a "Fill in the Blank" simile exercise. Both were good for several laughs!
To wrap things up, we read five selections from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. From Amazon.com: "Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers." If you can grab a copy at the library, I think it's well worth taking an hour or two to read through some of these short sketches.
Final Project - Family Tree Essay
Analyzing Book Two
We had a good discussion yesterday of Book Two of My Ántonia. We talked about the "hired girls" and how they were different from the townspeople in Black Hawk. They were always the daughters of immigrant farmers from the country and some worked as domestics, some in hotels, some were dressmakers, and some "laundry girls." They sent money home to help with expenses, and in some cases were able to provide wood frame homes for their families that had up until that time been living in sod houses on the prairie.
We also discussed some of the plot that wasn't too clear and set up our discussion of Book Three for next week. Finish the novel this week and check your syllabus for all homework.
Literary Devices Exercise
Before discussing our next essay assignment we read a short Langston Hughes poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Our challenge was to identify the number of times simile, metaphor, and personification were used. Mr. Langston was fond of figurative language (see quote at left for a good example!).
We agreed personification is typically easy to spot, while occasionally simile vs. metaphor can be a bit trickier! Remember the definitions of each and that simile uses connective words such as "like," "as," or "than," or sometimes a verb like "resembles."
Figurative Language Essay
We spent a good half-hour looking through our novel for figurative language. We divided Book One into five parts and each student was tasked with finding two examples each of imagery or personification, simile, and metaphor. Again, metaphor was our Achilles heel, but everyone found brilliant examples of imagery, personification, and simile that they can use for this week's essay assignment.
To help you, here is a re-cap of what we discussed and an outline you can follow to complete your essay.
Essay Assignment: How important is figurative language to Willa Cather’s writing style? How does Cather’s use of imagery (or figurative language) communicate the themes of her novel?
First sentence(s): Address the first question--here are some things to think about: What would the novel be like without the extensive use of figurative language? Would it be as interesting to read? How does her language help you see in your mind's eye what the Nebraska prairie looks like? What about the characters? How does it help you get to know them? Hint: the answer to the first question is really in the second question. Figurative language is important because it communicates the theme(s) of the novel.
Your thesis statement can be the answer to the second question. Refer to the worksheet that we completed in class and remember the discussions we had about how the figurative language communicates or relates to the different themes.
As a reminder the themes we are focusing on are: humankind’s relationship to the past; humankind’s relationship to the environment; the immigrant experience in America
Preview the three types of figurative language you found (simile, metaphor, personification?) and what theme(s) you think they convey (these can be your three points). Remember the introduction should preview or forecast what you're going to talk about.
Three Body Paragraphs:
Use the worksheet to guide you in selecting the three quotes you want to use. Remember the proper citation after the quote--author and page number (for example; Cather, 12). Do not use a quote that is longer than four lines when you type it out, a longer quote than four lines is very unwieldy and you really want to narrow your focus on the bit of figurative language that conveys the theme(s).
It would be ideal to use one of each: personification or imagery (remember imagery is a word or phrase that refers to the five senses and helps create a physical experience), simile, and metaphor. If you end up using two metaphor and one simile, or some other combination, that is fine. State the type of figurative language you found and work the quote into your paragraph. Tell me how you think the quote communicates the theme(s). This will be the most challenging part, and can be your own opinion, just make sure it is logical!
Remember to pad with your own writing as much as possible. There is plenty of room here for personal opinion and interpretation. Repeat the above for paragraphs three and four.
Does not have to be overly structured. Review and restate in new language the three types of figurative language you covered and how they communicated the theme(s) of the novel. Wrap up with a brief summation of why figurative language is important to Willa Cather's writing style.
If you get stuck, email me and I will do my best to guide you through! See you next week. Two more classes and we have a one week Easter break before our final session!
After analyzing the Introduction and Book One of My Ántonia, we moved into an exercise on characterization. We talked about how, in real life, we get to know what a person is all about. We came up with a list that included actions, clothing, family life, favorite foods, location, names, occupation, physical appearances, props, social status, speech and dialogue, and thoughts and opinions.
We also reviewed the definitions of round and flat characters and direct and indirect characterization. After giving a few examples, I had the students think of a friend or acquaintance and describe him/her using at least three different types of characterization--same person, but three different sentences. After writing the three sentences, they chose the one they liked the best, shared it with the group, and then we decided which tool of characterization was used. Some were obvious and some more subtle. Some even used two types of characterization.
We then moved on to identifying direct vs. indirect characterization and tools of characterization in three different excerpts from popular literature (The Lorax, Hunger Games, and Harry Potter). This demonstrated that the author uses these tools so that the reader can learn important information about his/her characters. We applied our newfound knowledge to My Ántonia by choosing one main character and one supporting character, locating a quote within the text, and then performing the same steps of analyses as we did with the popular fiction. Hopefully this gave students some experience in quote identification for our next essay...
We talked about characterization because our next essay focuses on the characterization of the heroine of our story--Ántonia Shimerda. In crafting your essays this week, follow the Expository Essay Guide that I made for you, but bear in mind these very important modifications:
Introduction: Follow the guide; you still need a thesis, but not necessarily a thesis with tension since we are not really making a debatable claim this time--this is a character analysis. Remember the thesis is the controlling idea of the paper. Try not to simply state the obvious--a thesis statement should be a fresh idea or opinion that is supportable based on facts or evidence taken from the story. This may take some work, since in this case, the thesis statement is not an assertion to a question that was posed. The three points you are making can simply be what we discussed in class--that Ántonia is high-spirited, proud, and generous. If you feel that is debatable, and you want to make a claim that she has different personality traits, that is up to you!
Second - Fourth Paragraphs: Each point should have a quote from the book that supports the claim (she is "high-spirited" for paragraph 2, "proud" for paragraph 3, and "generous" for paragraph 4). After the quote from the book, place the author's last name and page number like this:
"After Ántonia had said the new words over and over, she wanted to give me a little chased silver ring she wore on her middle finger. When she coaxed and insisted, I repulsed her quite sternly. I didn't want her ring, and I felt there was something reckless and extravagant about her wishing to give it away to a boy she had never seen before" (Cather, 23).
Don't use more than four lines of text per quote and don't simply start the paragraph with the quote. It will be up to you to craft the paragraph in such a way that you use your own writing to explain why the quote supports the point. This is a less formulaic approach than our last essay.
Conclusion: You can follow the guide pretty exactly for the conclusion, although you do not necessarily need to "take a stand" or "persuade the reader" for this essay.
Any questions or confusion, just email me!
Warming up with Willa
After our three-minute free-write in our journals (we start every class this way; it gets us warmed up and underscores a topic or theme found in the novel we are reading/discussing at the moment), we conducted our usual 'round-the-table open notebook quiz on the background reading found in the Glencoe Guide.
Willa Cather did not want her novels to be read as veiled autobiography, but My Ántonia parallels many of her life’s experiences. Many literary scholars argue that Jim Burden is Willa Cather. For example, Jim and Cather both left Virginia as young children and lived on the Nebraska prairie. Cather’s family then moved to Red Cloud a year later; Jim’s family moves to the fictional town, Black Hawk. Cather gave her high school graduation speech, as does Jim; then they both studied at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. After graduation, they leave Nebraska for the east: Jim to study law at Harvard; Cather to work as editor at Home Monthly in Pittsburgh.
I love this quote from Cather:
Art must spring out of the very stuff that life is made of. The German housewife who sets before her family on Thanksgiving day a perfectly roasted goose, is an artist. The farmer who goes out in the morning to harness his team, and pauses to admire the sunrise—he is an artist.
We talked about this quote's meaning. How can a housewife be an artist if she hasn't painted anything? How is a farmer an artist if he's simply admiring the sunset? Cather was an author who was captivated by the simplicity of prairie life and expressed her thoughts in words that truly approach poetry. Cather quotes are absolutely life affirming. H.L. Mencken said, “No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as MY ANTONIA.”
As you read, notice places in the novel that are written in such a way as to conjure up a particular image. Re-read these parts to understand them better. Roll the images about in your mind. Taking the time to enjoy the novel in this way is not only far more engaging but (hint) will help you with another essay coming up in a few weeks!
In preparation for our expository essay writing assignment this week, we took some time to understand what makes a good paraphrase. Each student was to select a piece of research that they had identified as being valuable in providing points and particulars for their five-paragraph essay on the topic of immigration.
We read our articles with a view to choosing a point that we could put into our own words. We wanted to look for a point, not just a comment. A comment not worth paraphrasing will not have a specific fact or unique idea to contribute. Look for facts, data, statistics, or conclusions built on those things. Expert opinion also qualifies. (Be sure to include their qualifications: see Citing Sources below). Paraphrasing means taking ideas and putting them into your own words and sentence structure. The length and style of the sentence should be maintained, but the language and structure should be different.
We then chose the quote or piece of information that we wanted to practice paraphrasing and wrote it out exactly as it appeared. Then, on a separate sheet, we wrote out our own version WITHOUT looking at the original. We shared the original and then our paraphrase. These usually need more than one attempt. After the first attempt, you can go ahead and look at the original quote and try a second draft. I actually think all the students did pretty well on their first draft and some even had time for a second attempt. I wanted to practice summarizing as well, but that will have to wait for another day and time.
Important: Citing Sources
At the end of class we went over a guide to expository essay writing that I put together for the students. Please read the sample essay one time all the way through just to get the meaning. The second time compare the essay to the guide to see how this particular student followed the steps to complete the essay. Do not attempt to write an expository essay without reading one first. Would you attempt to write out instructions on how to ride a bike without knowing how to ride one yourself? Writing an expository essay without ever having read one is just as silly!
Once we become more comfortable with essay writing (e.g., next year) we can relax the formulaic approach. For now, follow the steps and you'll have success!
You will need this information to cite sources correctly for this essay:
Researchers place brief parenthetical descriptions to acknowledge which parts of their paper reference particular sources. Generally, you want to provide the last name of the author and page number if it’s from a book. If it's from the Internet, you will just put the author's name in parenthesis after the quote or bit that you are paraphrasing or summarizing. PLEASE UNDERSTAND, EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT USING A DIRECT QUOTE YOU MUST GIVE CREDIT. If such information is already given in the body of your sentence, then you don't need a parenthetical citation. Ideally, when citing on-line sources, try to reference the source within your sentence, with either the author or the title to avoid writing a parenthetical citation. Otherwise, place the parenthetical citation where there is a pause in the sentence – normally before the end of a sentence or a comma. If there is no author, use the title that begins the citation, either the article or website title. Be sure it also takes the same formatting as non on-line sources, i.e. articles are in quotes and website titles are italicized.
Next session we will learn how to include a "Works Cited" at the end of your paper (the bibliography).
Example of information taken from the Internet and you know the author's name:
The economy will rebound with the new monetary policies (Smith).
Example when you do not know the author's name, but you know the title of the article OR name of web-site:
Elephants are thought to be one of the smartest mammals (“Smart Elephants”). This came from an article--use quotes so I know it was an article.
Most importantly, if this is not clear, please ask. Citing sources is required for this paper--either within the sentence itself (preferred for on-line sources) or in-line parenthetically as described above.
Good luck and see you next week!