This quarter my juniors are engaging in a unit themed around the idea of how an individual shapes American society. The students began with learning about the ideas of collectivism vs. individualism as they relate to social media. I began with this to draw them into the quarter’s theme with something more modern that most are familiar with. Students looked at different venues of social media (Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc.) and analyzed for their impact on the individual and society, as well as individualism vs. collectivism.
We then worked through some excerpts from Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”. While searching for some lessons/activities that would help the students close read this piece online, I came across this amazing website that has several different lesson ideas and online activities for students to work through and complete. I especially liked the Dr. Ralph’s Tweets activity that was included as it was the perfect transition from the social media introduction to the quarter into Emerson’s tough piece.
Once students had a firm understanding of Emerson’s piece, I brought in a more modern work from Barbara Lazera Ascher called “On Compassion”. Before reading the piece, I provided them with three scenarios that occur in the text to discuss with their learning teams and then share out their responses to the rest of the class; for instance one of the scenarios was:
You own a bakery shop. The same homeless man loiters in your shop everyday. He smells of urine and stale cigarettes. What do you do?
These scenarios sparked great discussion from the students. I then read the piece aloud to the whole class and each student annotated based on my specific instructions. We finished with a station rotation activity for a more in-depth analysis of the piece. I wanted to find a counter-argument to Emerson and Ascher’s piece does this well. The students were able to identify the main arguments in both pieces and relate them to the quarter theme of how an individual shapes society.
With all this in the student’s mind, it was time to tackle Fitzgerald and the argument he makes about the individual and society in his famous novel The Great Gatsby. In lieu of a study guide, we focused on analyzing color symbolism and character development in each chapter in order to determine how these strategies impacted Fitzgerald’s overall argument in the novel. I wanted the students to be able to keep the quarter theme in mind as we read through the novel as well and thus the Gatsby Invitation Assignment was born!
I provided each student with a mailing envelope which they decorated using descriptions from the novel that I provided on the front board (they picked between Tom and Daisy’s house, the Valley of Ashes, etc). This was a great way to show them textual evidence from the novel before reading it and analyzing Fitzgerald’s syntax and use of color symbolism. They loved it – plus they were able to color too!
We then began reading the novel. In almost every chapter there is a “party” of some sort (in other words some type of get together with food and drinks). For instance, the first party invitation they made was for the dinner Nick attends at the Buchanan’s. The students will create seven invitations (using colored index cards they purchased) over the course of the unit. After each chapter, students create their invitation and then place it in their envelope for storage. It has been a great way to track the events of the novel while also analyzing for strategies that impact the author’s purpose. Overall, the students know they were working towards being able to answer the following prompt in a well-written, in-class, timed analysis essay:
Through his use of characterization and color symbolism in the novel, what argument is F. Scott Fitzgerald making in The Great Gatsby about the individual and society?
Through these activities and lessons, at the end of the quarter, the students will be able to tie each piece together to determine how individuals shape American society. This could be done through a Socratic seminar, a presentation, or a research paper where they research individuals and their impact and synthesize it with what they have learned throughout the course of the quarter. I am not sure how it will be done as I am leaving for maternity leave this week; however, I have already graded five invitations before I left from my students and know they are on the right track!