English 8: Close Reading Lesson

Common Core Standards require that students be able to construct supported arugments using specific text based details extracted through close reading. This unit has been designed to support the movement toward Common Core Standards. I don’t, for a minute, pretend it is ideal, but when seen in the context of Common Core documents, it seems to be moving us in the right direction.

Background:This individual lesson is part of an English 8 interdisciplinary unit focused on the literature of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. This unit takes in the final quarter and a half of 8th grade and students read informational texts about the civil rights movement, science and technology, and politics. This reading represents a culmination of the civil rights reading/writing.  Students have been reading and responding to texts relevant to the American Civil Rights Movement: an excerpt from Alex Haley’s Roots, an informational essay about Brown vs. the Board of Education, Dudley Randall’s poem The Ballad of Birmingham and The Washington Post account of the church bombing, Maya Angelou’s poem  Caged Bird.  In addition, students have conducted guided data base driven research about the events, people, and organizations that worked to promote equality. This is final piece that students read focused on the literature of the Civil Rights Movement.

Text: excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. This is the final reading in this part of the unit so the expectation is that students have an understanding of the struggles and courage associated with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

Students  first read the excerpt silently.  [NOTE: It’s sometimes a challenge to allow ample wait time, but it is important that no student feel rushed through the initial reading.  Students who finish very quickly should be encouraged to re-read.] Then, we read the excerpt again whole class, stopping often to allow students time to annotate and ask/answer questions.  This is a rich and deep excerpt and there will be questions students will need to ask  questions in order to ensure understanding. The teacher acts as a facilitator in this type of modified Socratic reading experience, keeping pupils on task and maintaining a supported view of the text, filling in gaps in understanding as necessary.  Students are expected to complete a close reading and student generated questions/answers form the basis of discussion.

Activity: Students work individually to complete a four quadrant graphic organizer.  I wrote this by hand with a Sharpie marker on 11 X 18 paper and photocopied it in this size so students would have enough room to write. The graphic organizer demands that students use the close reading to provide textual support for their original assertions, the earliest step toward constructing plausible argument.

The four quadrants:

I.                    Author’s Purpose

1)      Why Is MLK writing this letter?

2)      Find and recopy two passages that support this statement. Underline the specifics in the passage that are relevant to the task.

II.                  Structure

1)      Why does MLK begin with references to America’s history?

2)      Completely explain the comparison between slavery and the racism of the mid-twentieth century.

III.                Tone

1)      What tone does MLK choose for this letter?

2)      Recopy one passage that supports this statement. Underline the words, phrases that contribute to the tone you identified.

3)      Why does he opt to use this tone?

IV.                Rhetorical Devices

1)      Find and recopy one example of repetition.  Underline the words, phrases that are repeated.

2)      Explain the effect of repeating these particular words and phrases.

Assessment: Use information in the text and from one of the other informational readings to support the following statement:

Taking an active role in the American civil rights movement required courage and dedication to purpose.


Writing:  Students will use two of the texts read as part of the literature of the civil rights movement in a critical lens essay which will ask them to use literary elements/devices as vehicles for analysis.

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