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Unit Plan Overview on Self Discovery

This is a terribly thoughtful piece of curriculum with great potential to not only teach English but to teach students how to use what they learn in English class to make sense of life and make good decisions in life. Do not be afraid to use the term “empathy,” as it applies here in many ways and teaches aspects of empathy important to understanding self, others, community, democracy, and life in general. Your methods are clever and nicely justified by strong rationale that makes for sensible links between activities, the learning outcomes, and all of this nicely tied to critically important goals of the ELA discipline. Enjoy being taught by one who will be an excellent teacher.

By: Amy Horning

This unit will cover a period of four weeks and is all tied into a central theme of Self Discovery. I’ve selected this theme because I believe it’s an important concept for students to explore and the better that one understands self, the better they can understand and relate to others in meaningful ways. This lesson plan is geared toward seventh graders as they enter a new chapter of their lives called middle school. I feel it’s a particularly fitting theme for this age group because they’re experiences so much change in their lives from social issues to new surroundings to emotional and physical changes in both body and image. Thus, the goal of this unit is to help students understand how the elements of the English language arts can be used to understand more about themselves and the value in individualities, the importance of acceptance in both self and others, and how literary texts can give them tools to help relate to elements in their real lives.


Catalina Magdalena Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name by Ted Arnold


The first lesson in this unit is makes use of this children’s picture book based on a popular nursery rhyme. I’ve selected this lesson as the first one because I believe it will ease students into the theme of self discovery in a fun, relaxed and meaningful way. See the detailed description of this lesson attached as Lesson Plan #1 with Detailed Rationale.

Holes by Louis Sachar


The second lesson dives into reading the anchor text for the unit plan, Holes by Louis Sachar. This lesson plan is next because it’s the main text and will take students a couple of weeks to read. There are a variety of classroom discussions and mini-lessons within this lesson plan that will help students make meaningful connections to the text that relate back to real world experiences and their own lives. See the detailed description of this lesson attached as Lesson Plan #2 with Detailed Rationale.

“A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’Connor


This is a short story written in 1953 about a grandmother who takes a trip with her son and his family, consisting of his wife and three children. The son and his family are represented poorly: parents ignore and don’t discipline or reward the children; the two older children are disrespectful and troublesome; third child is a baby and represents peace. The grandmother is manipulative, bossy and talks incessantly. The setting is a road trip where the son crashes into a ditch and an escaped convict kills them, one by one. The grandmother goes through phases of self realization and redemption. Both she and the killer reflect on life, self and what makes someone a good person, ending with concepts of divine grace.

The objective of this activity is to introduce students to the short story genre, to use as a supplementary piece to the anchor text and classroom discussion in week three of the unit plan, and engage students in meaningful discussions about character, good and bad, conflict resolution and consequences of actions. As a classroom activity, students will showcase that they understand character development and its importance in literary texts by comparing and contrasting the troublesome but free kids in this story (John and June) with the not-so-troublesome yet convicted kids in the anchor text, Holes, who spend their summer at a juvenile detention camp. The kids at Camp Green Lake (the juvenile facility in Holes) all have nicknames that represent their characters. Students can use this concept to give nicknames to John and June from this short story that represent their character and discuss how they would or would not fit in with the main group of characters in Holes. Students will be assessed purely by observational techniques to determine their level of understanding of the short story, their ability to cross reference characters from different texts and their level of meaningful engagement in classroom discussions.


Poetry and Song


Poetry is an important literary genre and one that we’ll tie into this overall unit plan. Songs can be another form of poetry set to lyrical rhyme, and one that students might relate to easier than poetry, at least initially. In week four, after students have completed reading the anchor text, Holes, students will be introduced to a few pieces of poetry and songs to help wrap up the themes of self discovery and get them thinking internally about their own life struggles, what meaning they hold in the world, importance of self and others and so on. This will give them insight and time for reflection they need to complete their final letters based on the text, Holes, due at the end of the week. In addition, the purpose of these mini lessons this week is to introduce students to different literary genres.

First we’ll begin with the lyrical poetry: songs. I’ve selected two songs that deal with self reflection, meaning of life, internal struggles and the power to overcome. I think these concepts are important and tie into the overall unit on self discovery. The first song is “Lose Yourself” by a popular rapper called Eminen. It’s modern and one that most students will easily recognize, but perhaps haven’t taken the time to analyze the words without the music… to see the words as poetry capable of intense meaning in a compact format. The meaning of this song is that you have to work for what you want and take advantage of every opportunity given to you. Part of the chorus goes, “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment. You own it, you better never let it go. You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” Since this song is so popular and is the basis of a popular movie starring this rapper, we’ll just discuss its various meanings and what the lyrics mean to the students as individuals. To this rapper, the moment was his change on stage to sing. What is their moment to seize?



The second song is an older one that most students probably will not know. It’s a slow rock song entitled “Who I am” that was written and song by Nick Granato. Out loud in class we’ll read the lyrics, and then discuss initial reactions to the words as poetry and what they mean to them. Then we’ll listen to the song. The chorus of this song depicts the meaning: “And I traveled down this beaten path, too scared to look, too lost to ask, I did my best for being just a man. Well no I’m not the first, I won’t be the last, to make my way and not turn back on this journey only few can understand, down this long and winding road to who I am.” The words in this song are powerful, as are the ones in the first song. We’ll discuss the meaning of this song and more about the type of character they believe the songwriter to be, or at least how he’s represented through the song. As an activity to demonstrate the students understanding of these songs and the importance of words to community meaningful experiences in life and give us better understanding of character development, students will write a short script. They can select in setting and situation they want. They are to have a minimum of two characters: one being themselves and the other being either the rapper from the first song or the songwriter from the second. The two are to get into some sort of discussion, whether amiable or confrontational, about the meaning of life. Both characters need to be representative of who they are and in the piece their characters should be evident. This exercise will allow students to have fun in a creative format that shows they understand character development as well as other literary elements and that they have at least begun thinking in terms of what they themselves believe the meaning of life is and how they fit into the bigger picture around them, which will help them with the level of self reflection required for the final assignment.

Poetry. Next we’ll ease students from lyrical poetry (songs) into actual poetry. The same process will be used as above. Two pieces of poetry will be used to analyze side by side the quality and effect of each. First one will be a familiar one: “The Victor” by C.W. Longenecker. This poem is easy to ready, relatively easy to understand and interpret meaning from. In fact, so easy that it’s often criticized for its lack of literary depth. However, it does hold an important message and it’s an easy piece for students to analyze for meaning in themes such as courage, strength, will power and positive thinking. The second poem we’ll read as a class and analyze for meaning is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” This poem is more complex and will require a deeper level of thinking for students to arrive at a meaningful experience they can relate to self. For this purpose, we’ll tackle this one second. By reading them and attempting to analyze them one after the other, which will be down as a classroom exercise in week four of this unit, students can easily see the difference in complexity. While the first one may be easier to read and understand, the meaning is so directly stated that it doesn’t leave much room for debate on interpretation. The second one by Frost is more compact a poem and harder to understand yet will yield more conversation on meaning because it’s meaning is not so directly stated but more inferred as to leave it up to the reader to find personal meaning. After analyzing in class both poem, students will be asked to reflect on the meaning of life, specifically their life as it relates to the world around them, and to write as homework to bring back the next day their own poem that depicts their perspective on life. Again, this exercise will help them prepare for the final written letters, to dig deeper into personal analysis of importance of self and individuality, and to experience another form of literary genre.

Presentation and Movie Day


The students will have the weekend following the fourth week of lesson plans to finish up both letters. While it may make sense to end a unit plan on the Friday, I’d prefer to give the students the opportunity for a final review, and hopefully a thorough thought process, to finalize their two letters. They’ll be due on the following Monday. Student will be given the opportunity to read one of their letters to the class if they chose to, though some of these may be too personal to share. The unit will be wrapped up by watching the movie “Holes” to reward students for their participation in the unit, bring the book to life with characters. Prior to the movie we could spend a few minutes discussing what characters they’d cast for each “camper” from the story and why. Use some prediction and foreshadowing exercises to tie the book into what they expect will happen in the movie. By showing the movie, students will be able to see another perspective – that of the director as opposed to the author – of the same story. I’ve read the book and seen the movie and there are some differences, things left out, a few things added for cinematic value, etc. A wrap up discussion after the movie on what these differences are and if they made the experience more or less valuable could be valuable and a way to help students understand the strengths and weaknesses of both genres.

Resources


The resources we’ll be using in this unit are listed in order below:

  • Catalina Magdalena Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name by Ted Arnold

  • Holes by Louis Sachar

  • “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” – a short story by Flannery O’Conner

  • “Judge Gives 13-Year-Old Life in Prison for his Part in Robbery Spree Murder” – current news and local event story published by Reno Gazette-Journal

  • “Lose Yourself” – song lyrics by Eminem

  • “Who I Am” – song lyrics and music by Nick Granato

  • “The Victor” – poem by C. W. Longenecker

  • “The Road Not Taken” – poem by Robert Frost

  • “Holes” – the movie

Together these lessons will work to teach the students understanding in a variety of literary genres, give them experience analyzing text in various genres with specific attention to making sound assessments on the storyline that relate to them or real world situations, make them more confident learners who trust and value their individual opinions and insights and give them the tools to better understand self and others in a meaningful manner as to be more productive people, students, sons, daughters, friends, and members of our democratic society.

I think this is a good introduction to the unit.

Lesson Plan #1 with Detailed Rationale

By: Amy Horning


Description and Rationale


As a class, we will read aloud the children’s book Catalina Magdalena Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name by Ted Arnold and discuss the morals/themes of the story in small groups and then as a classroom paying particular attention to direct and indirect references from the text that support student’s findings of theme and character assessment. We’ll use this children’s story based on a familiar nursery rhyme as the opening piece to this unit to ease students into open dialogue about their own lives and to help them begin thinking about what makes them unique as students, daughters, sons, friends, individuals and contributing members of the world around them. I chose this book about Catalina because she’s a fun, fully rounded and developed character with unconventional traits that students, especially 7th and 8th graders, for whom this lesson is intended, will find humorous. Furthermore, this story works because it can be read and digested easily in a single class setting, utilizing the rest of the class period and potentially up to a week, depending on the level of student engagement, to fully develop discussions about theme and character for the purpose of helping them develop their own written piece that will demonstrate they have put thorough thought into an illustrated storybook about themselves, including elements of plot, theme and character, and, most importantly, that they were able to relate in a meaningful way to the struggles of Catalina as depicted in the story in a manner that helped them develop a better understanding of self and others around them.

In this story, the main character, Catalina, is easy to analyze because she’s not a real person, which puts her life problems at a slight distance from the students so they can analyze her strengths and weaknesses without directly or immediately tying similarities back to themselves. I think analyzing one’s self is a difficult task, and one that most children and young adults do not take the time to do. Personally, I think that acknowledging one’s own strengths or turning weaknesses into positive attributes is a lot harder than finding the negative in oneself. Like the saying goes, we’re all our own worst critics. By using a funny children’s story, I hope to lighten the mood enough to begin a longer unit on self discovery that will delve into mutli-genre reading such as complex texts, poetry, short stories, song lyrics, news articles, and more. By the end of the unit, students will show growth in literature comprehension and, hopefully, growth in self awareness, understanding and worth as it relate to the world around them by developing a multi-genre portfolio that tells the world who they are as a contributing member of society.

In this story, Catalina has bizarre characteristics that, in a normal world, would make her an outcast. Yet she gets by perfectly well, in the world of the storybook, because she embraces her differences, which is a valuable lesson worth discussing among students new to the junior high school world. The story is about her absurdly long name and all her unusual traits that make her who she is. The goal approach would be to put students in small group, eventually followed by whole classroom discussions, to begin discussing their feelings about Catalina and her traits. The goal of these discussions is to help students understand Catalina, and accept her abnormalities as strengths in her character that eventually lead her to a successful and happy life as a “normal” person in her world. The discussion should eventually bring kids to a closer connection to normality and what that means to them, and then eventually to begin discussing their own characteristics, both strengths and weaknesses, that together make them special. If needed to help progress move discussions in a meaningful direction, students can be prompted to discuss how Catalina is different and whether or not they believe she’s from this world or if the author intended her to be from a fantasy world, using reference from the text to defend their arguments. The goal of this prompted discussion is to analyze use of words, pictures and meaning to help the students define what normal is to them using Catalina as a starting point. A second prompted question to guide discussions in the small group settings as needed would be to discuss if the students believe that Catalina was a success, as depicted in the story, based on how she turned her weaknesses into strengths or not. This will help them learn to analyze text and meaning, to use reference from the text to support their findings, and to develop skills in verbal discussion to persuade others. The moral of the story is that even though you may be very different from others or appear to have odd traits, you can always turn a negative into a positive by embracing who you are and learning how to make the best of what you have in life, which, for many, may not be what they want or even what they feel is fair but everyone has the ability to make positive contributions to the world around them.

After analyzing the text and discussing how the theme, character and plot could relate to students today and particularly to each student personally, whether they chose to share these discoveries out loud or not, students will develop their own children’s story book. The book will need to describe who they are, what their struggles or unusually characteristics are, and how these characteristics could be turned into a positive. Student will put their real personalities and characteristics that are unique to them into a self-chosen storyline, complete with character(s) development, plot, setting and theme. The book should have illustrations that can be hand drawn sketches, cut out photos or even stick figures based on each student’s own abilities and what works best for their story. Students will have to put thought into images used in the story to ensure they assist the text in story development and audience understanding. While the tone of the sample story of Catalina is very humorous, their own storybooks can take on any tone they select that best fits their storyline. The goal of the writing exercise is to help put what students learned about themselves into a visual and written representation to share with the classroom and parents/guardians at home. These can also be posted online and collected to share with other classes throughout the years as they develop their projects. The final piece will demonstrate the student’s knowledge of theme, character development, plot and setting. Students will strive to have final products free of grammatical or syntactical errors for the purpose of better understanding of intended message to their audience. The final product should, most importantly, showcase their growth as explorers digging into their own souls to better understand themselves and how they relate to others around them with similarities, strengths, weaknesses and differences.



This is one of several lessons that will be part of a unit plan on self discovery geared toward middle school students. Each lesson will use language from various levels of complexity in a variety of formats to help students relate to themselves and others, as well as travel along a path of self discovery leading to a final multi-genre narrative of their own life story that demonstrate knowledge of standard English language and conventions but, most importantly, showcases that they’ve put thought into elements of the literary world presented to them to make valuable connections and meaning to life and their contributions to it.

Common Core Standards Addressed within this less plan based on Anchor Standards for College and Career Readiness


  1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

  2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

  3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

  4. Analyze words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning and tone.

  5. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

  6. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

  7. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective techniques, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

  8. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

  9. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, rewriting, or trying new a new approach.

  10. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

  11. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

  12. Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  13. Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Audience


I believe this particular piece of literature about Catalina as well as this lesson plan and the entire unit plan based on self discovery is well-geared for middle school students because they’re at such a pivotal point in their lives. This is the time where many students encounter “coming of age” experiences and having a dedicated unit plan on self discovery can assist these students as they work through elements common with this age range such as: making new friends in a new environment where students from several elementary schools are pooled together for the first time, fitting in with certain crowds, peer pressures, self doubt, bullying, sudden body changes and growth. The list of perceived challenges these students face at this period in their lives goes on and on. Not all but many middle school students feel conflicted and fearful of what they see in themselves and/or in the mirror as they enter puberty. This can lead to additional angst that’s unnecessary if they could understand that while their problems, whether perceived or real, may appear to be personal oddities to them but that communally we all have problems that help us relate to each other. They may see their different or odd characteristics as something weak when really it’s these personal traits that make up and define our individual characters. This lesson and unit plan will attempt to help students in the middle school age range embrace this concept to make them not only confident students but confident individuals better capable of tackling future challenges.

Goal


Students will be able to read text critically and be able to analyze meaning, both inferred and explicit, and discuss concepts of theme and meaning with others to better understand how the elements of literature can help them better understand themselves and others around them and specifically how their own strengths and weaknesses have value in society.

Objective


Following selected reading and discussions, Students students will showcase their understanding of the main theme expressed in the reading and, more importantly, how that theme relates to a better understanding of their own lives by:

  1. Participating in open discussions regarding author intention, character assessment of Catalina, plot and setting development and all the story’s contributing factors that work together to define normalcy and success as they understand it to be displayed not only in the fictitious story but their real lives as well; and

  2. Developing a well-thought out storybook, complete with illustrations, based on their own unique characteristics that showcase their individuality. Storyline should contain enough of their real character and life while developing elements of plot, setting and theme to demonstrate they were able to find enough meaning in the literature and discussions to begin assessing and better understanding self in terms of both contributions and value.

(Prerequisite: students will come into the lesson with an understanding of theme, plot, setting and character development. This lesson will further develop their understanding of each as well as their ability to relate experiences in text to their own lives.)

Activities & Finished Product


  1. Read Catalina Magdalena Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name by Ted Arnold out loud as a class.

  2. Break into small groups of 3 to 5 students, depending on classroom size.

  3. Give students the following questions to help initiate meaningful discussions but encourage each group to allow discussions to take on new meaningful directions that lead toward better understanding of Catalina and her unique personality and characteristics.

    1. Discuss how Catalina appears to be “different” and whether or not they believe she’s from this world or if the author intended her to be from a fantasy world, using reference from the text to defend their arguments. This gets the students focused on a goal and digging deeper in the actual text within a piece of literature to get at author’s intent and to focus on what defines normalcy. By using text as ways to defend one’s point of view or perception of meaning, students begin to develop better argumentative and persuasive capabilities. To define normalcy is difficult. Is it based on the conventions of the community you live in? The classroom? The school? The world around you? Who or what has the right to define someone as normal or not?

    2. Discuss if the students believe that Catalina was a success based on how she turned her weaknesses into strengths or not, using reference from the text to support their findings. Again, the attempt here is to further develop students’ abilities to develop persuasive verbal skills to help move others closer toward their understandings and beliefs by using elements of literature to defend their positions. This question helps students understand what conditions they think need to be present to consider one successful, what success is and how to find it in not only others but, hopefully, themselves.

  4. Bring small group discussions back into whole classroom discussions and talk about what they liked and didn’t like about the story. Have students brainstorm on what Catalina’s “issues” are and write them in phrases on the board. Once the board begins filling up with Catalina’s “issues,” have students begin discussion on if they’re familiar with any of her issues and if they can relate to any of them in their own lives or lives of others they know.

  5. Have students pick at least five “issues” of their own, either using the ones from the board or new ones, they feel are weaknesses in themselves. It can also be something that perhaps they don’t see as a weakness necessarily but as something that could be seen as unique by self or others. They should write these down but do not have to share them with the classroom.

  6. Students work individually to develop ideas for their own storybook, making sure the main character is based on their own unique characteristics. Students can use any tone for their story that’s desirable and assists audience in understanding who they are as individuals. They can use a fantasy approach or more of a realistic approach but the final product should represent self in character development and have some elements consistent with their life experiences that directly showcase in areas of plot, setting and theme.

  7. Students will be assigned to small groups. These groups will work together to help members progress their storyline as needed, clear up confusions and inconsistency that may exist between author intent and audience perception, make sure each member’s story meets the establish criteria in terms of character development, plot, setting and theme, and provide final copy editing or proofreading on each other’s work. After allowing the students at least one full day and an overnight homework assignment to develop their written stories, a day should be set aside for this small group peer assessment work to take place. By helping others in their group, students will gain a better understanding of their own areas of weakness as it pertains to elements of their own story.

  8. At end of week, student will turn in completed story books that have been edited by their smaller student groups before presenting them to the classroom in a fun read aloud session.


Assessment


Students will be assessed based on their willingness to contribute to group and classroom discussions, as well as the level of quality and meaning they’re able to communicate and share with others based on extractions from the text in a manner that relates the story’s theme back to a better understanding of self and others. Students will further be assessed by work performed in their group editing sessions as determined by teacher observations. Final assessment for this lesson will be based on the depth of personal growth and understanding of self as it’s showcased by individual students in their final storybook projects. Student’s personal understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses as well as elements that make them unique, and thus special, as individuals needs to be clearly evident in their final written product and will be the critical element most weighted in terms of assessment.

Lesson Plan #2 with Detailed Rationale

By: Amy Horning

Description and Rationale


As homework assignments and in-class reading time, we will read the book Holes by Louis Sachar and discuss the morals/themes of the story in whole class discussions with particular focus on character development and the author’s strong use of metaphors. During discussions, students will be encouraged to refer back to direct and indirect author references to help support personal opinions on literary elements, make connections drawn from text to reality, and identify use, purpose and meaning of metaphors.

I’ve selected this story by Louis Sachar as the anchor text for this unit plan on self discovery because of its well developed characters, hidden relationships, riveting plot and intense suspense that keeps readers guessing what will happen next the entire way through. I also like this text for use in this particular unit plan because it combines several storylines in one book and doesn’t carry out each one to completion, leaving it up to the reader to fill in several “holes” on their own. This story is about a 13-year-old boy, Stanley Yelnats, who believes he has a family curse. As part of this curse bestowed upon him by his great-great grandfather, he’s falsely accused and sent to a boys’ detention center where he spends his days, along with other troubled youth detainees, digging holes in order to build character through hard work. The “campers” at this detention center, called Camp Green Lake, all have stories of their own, complete with rich conflict of self vs. self, self vs. others, self vs. objects. They work through their problems and learn to deal with conflict as they learn to understand and accept each other. Along the way they discover a deeper understanding of self. When they realize they’re not just digging holes, they have to work together to unravel a sinister plot of the warden who is using the campers to find a hidden treasure. The symbolism and use of metaphor in this story is plentiful and provides great learning opportunities for students. The topic of troubled teens / tweens has many teachable and, hopefully, engaging discussion opportunities that will help students relate to literary text in a meaningful manner that allows them to make connections in their own lives. Furthermore, by exploring themes of troubled youths and juvenile detention centers, students can think about their owns choices and things they may have done wrong or know of another person doing wrong, which may help them make better decisions as they encounter future moments where they’re forced to make a decision that could lead them to troubled consequences, or better yet, provide them with thinking tools to discover their own treasures in life.

Through the reading and deep discussions on identifying multiple themes and detailed assessment of plot, setting, characters, conflict, imagery, foreshadowing of multiple storylines and use of symbolism and metaphors, students will demonstrate they have applied the morals of the story in a way that is meaningful to their own lives by writing two letters as if they’re campers at Camp Green Lake. First, students will have a homework assignment to research the juvenile detention facilities in their own community to learn more about the purpose of such facilities, how they work to rehabilitate offenders, types of offenses that qualify for a juvenile to be sent to such facilities, the purpose of a probation officer, etc. Next, students will be asked to think of their own past and find a situation where they believe they made the wrong decision. It can be a big mistake or a little one. Perhaps it’s one that held many consequences or one they’ve never faced up to in the past. One that is as simple as pushing their little brother down or taking out their parent’s car without permission. It’s up to the student to search their own past and find one situation where they feel they behaved the worst and did something that was considered wrong, either to themselves or others. The first letter will be to their parole officer taking responsibility for their actions and explaining why they believe they are rehabilitated. The letter should address the details of the worst thing they feel they’ve ever done either to themselves or to others, their feelings about being sent away to a detention camp, the things they believe they’d have to give up and/or would miss the most if they were sent away like the boys in the story were and what lessons they’ve learned from deep reflection on their past actions. The second letter can be directly to the victim or the parents / guardians of the victim explaining what possessed them to do such action, what other steps he or she could have taken to prevent what happened from happening and through use of persuasive writing try to explain to the victim / parents that you’ve changed enough that they should ask the warden to release you early from your sentence at the juvenile detention camp. Both letters will require students to perform self reflection on past actions (which should be a real event of something they did wrong no matter how slight they feel it might be), to analyze consequences of their actions, consider difference of approach and writing style for the two different audiences based on intent of message, develop stronger writing skills and gain knowledge in self enough to make better decisions next time they’re faced with a potentially troubling situation.

This is one of several lessons that will be part of a unit plan on self discovery geared toward middle school students. Each lesson will use language from various levels of complexity in a variety of formats to help students relate to themselves and others, as well as travel along a path of self discovery leading to a final multi-genre narrative of their own life story that demonstrate knowledge of standard English language and conventions but, most importantly, showcases that they’ve put thought into elements of the literary world presented to them to make valuable connections and meaning to life and, specifically, their contributions to it.


Common Core Standards Addressed within this less plan based on Anchor Standards for College and Career Readiness


  1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

  2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

  3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

  4. Analyze words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning and tone.

  5. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

  6. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective techniques, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

  7. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

  8. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, rewriting, or trying new a new approach.

  9. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

  10. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

  11. Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  12. Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Audience


I believe this story, Holes, by Louis Sachar is suited for middle school students because they’re at such a pivotal point in their lives. Students are left on their own more often, some for the first time. They have to make decisions, again, some for the first times, on major issues like peer pressuring, bullying, fighting, loving, hating, drugs, sexual relationships, social cliques, so on and so on. This is the time where many students encounter “coming of age” experiences and having a dedicated unit plan on self discovery can assist these students as they work through elements common with this age range as well as help them understand the importance of acceptance of actions, consequences and disciplinary measures. This lesson and unit plan will attempt to help students in the middle school age range embrace individuality, positive moral character development and a deeper appreciation of the variety of literary resources available to them in an effort to make them not only confident students but confident young adults better capable of tackling future challenges.

Goal


Students will be able to read text critically and be able to analyze meaning, both inferred and explicit, and discuss concepts of theme and meaning with others to better understand how the elements of literature (plot, character, setting and use of literary techniques such as metaphor and imagery) can help them better understand themselves and others around them and specifically how actions have consequences that cannot be ignored.

Objective


Following selected reading, classroom discussions and individual research on juvenile detention centers, students will showcase their understanding of the main themes/morals expressed in the reading and, more importantly, how that theme relates to a better understanding of their own lives by:

  1. Participating in open discussions regarding:

    1. author intent and perceived character assessment of all the campers with particular attention to their nicknames and how names can defy a person;

    2. plot and setting development, including concepts of juvenile detention centers and how that process works locally with particular focus on current affairs dealing with youth violence in the news;

    3. thoughts on what each character did wrong, how they feel their characters grew over the course of the story and by the end of the story are their nicknames still fitting of the depth of their final character perception; and

    4. what treasures in life did they give up during their time in detention and what treasures would they miss the most if they were to be sent away for a summer like the boys in the story were. Was the “treasure” they found at the end of the story worth the time they lost in their lives. Why or why not?

  2. Working on their own to develop two polished letters that will demonstrate a thorough understanding of the moral of the story and give readers a sense of personal self-reflection to help each student be better prepared to make good decisions when faced with future obstacles.

Activities


  1. Read Holes by Louis Sachar as assigned homework cover a two week period complemented with select aloud readings in class.

  2. During the first week of reading assignments, have students research local juvenile detention centers and report back in any format they feel appropriate that demonstrates to the teacher and other students what they have learned on this topic within their own community and that they’ve put time and effort into understanding the system. By allowing students the freedom to present this information in any format they see fit, this not only gives them student buy-in on the project but also leaves the mini-research assignment, which could otherwise be seen as dull, open to each student’s individual levels of creativity and/or strengths. The goal here is not the writing or the finished piece necessarily, but is simply to have them understand that the situation the “campers” at Camp Green Lake are in, while fictional in the story, are very real and could happen to any one of them. The research will also help them understand and relate to the story more and they continue to read it for the following week. At the end of week one, students will turn in their findings on local juvenile detention centers and share them with the class.

  3. Week two, students will have completed the reading of the text. Whole class discussions this week will focus on all aspects of literary elements but specifically dig into two elements of the story in further detail: conflict development where students will identify the various conflicts faced by the main character as well as how he progressed beyond those conflicts; and secondly the use of metaphors throughout the story. These topics will be discussed over a class period or two depending on student buy in and participation levels. Students will demonstrate their understanding in both conflict resolution and symbolic use of metaphors to help with audience understanding through verbal participation in classroom discussions. If the teacher doesn’t feel the classroom is participating as a whole and that students are not demonstrating verbally that they understand these concepts, a conflict resolution diagraph can be assigned where students create a visual collage of images and words that represent three major conflict areas the main character faces throughout the story: self vs. self; self vs. other, self vs. object. The conflicts should be depicted either graphically or in written text but should be easily identified as something holding the character back. Then on the same collage, students need to identify a corresponding progression for each conflict to show how the character overcame his adversaries. On the same collage, students should represent at least three visual images that depict the author’s use of metaphor throughout the story with a short written description that shows they understand the connection of the imagery to the importance of the story and what it’s communicating to the audience. I’ve worked with a teacher previously on creating such conflict and story analysis visual boards and they are fun for students while engaging them in the details and meaning of the story. However, since we are writing letters at the conclusion of this lesson plan, I’d leave it up to the individual teacher to determine if the class needs this additional finished product piece or if the wealth of conversation alone can justify student’s understanding in these areas.

  4. At the conclusion of week two, give students the weekend to think about the “worst” thing they’ve ever done to either self or others in preparation for week two discussions. Something perhaps in line with one of the campers at Camp Green Lake. It can be anything but should be real. If a student absolutely cannot think of, has never done or refuses to admit ever doing anything wrong, then they can make up a situation but encourage them to use something real to them in their lives or at the very least to someone they know.

  5. The following Monday, bring in a story on local youth violence from the news, preferably one that ended with negative consequences for the youth such as detention camp or probation. A recent one that goes far beyond the level of this particular story that has been in the news recently is the story of 13-year-old Jose Cruz, who had a record of violence and a juvenile parole officer since he was in fifth grade, and recently shot and killed a man in downtown Reno this year. He was tried as an adult and given a life sentence in prison. This is extreme but a story of this nature can be reviewed and discussed in class openly to wrap up the conclusion of the reading and tie it into local current events.

  6. Throughout this final week, students will read and compare two poems on self discovery, read one short story on self discovery and the meaning of life, and listen to two songs with the same theme. These will be presented as a way to wrap up the four-week unit on self discovery and give students opportunities to explore the value of different literary genres and further investigate their own understanding and importance of self. These are additional mini-lessons to the overall unit plan and are described further in the summary unit overview.

  7. From here, students will begin work on two final writing projects that will demonstrate their understanding of the text and their ability to take literary elements and relate them back to their own life in a meaning manner. Student must use the worst situation they either committed or were involved in and pretend that situation lead them to a summer at a juvenile detention center similar to that in the story. Based on this situation as well as deep self-reflection of the situation itself that they hopefully did over the weekend or will need to still do, they will write the first letter to their juvenile parole officer. The intent of the letter will be to show the parole officer that they understand where their actions where wrong, what they have learned from them and how they intend to make better decision in the future. The second letter will be to the victim or the victim’s parents (student’s choice). This letter needs to explain the purpose behind the actions, what conflicts the student was going through that may have led to the wrongful actions, students’ understanding of the consequence and how they feel they are now capable of making better decisions. In this second letter, the students need to ask in a persuasive manner for the recipient of the letter to contact the warden of the detention facility to request early release of the student. Students need to keep in mind the intent of both letters, the intended audience of both letters and how best to reach their goals for each. Each letter needs to be proofed and free of errors. Additionally, both letters need to make use of at least one metaphor and/or symbolism in a meaningful way that adds to the richness of the letters.

  8. Students will have one week to write, analyze, proof and rewrite their two letters.


Assessment


There are three main parts to this lesson plan: research on the local detention facilities; classroom discussions on the text and literary elements of the text; and the two written letters. There could be a fourth element to assess should the teacher decide to make use of the graphic collage depicting conflict resolution and use of metaphors. Thus students will be assessed in several ways throughout this lesson. Students will be assessed based on their willingness to contribute to group and classroom discussions, as well as the level of quality and meaning they’re able to communicate and share with others based on extractions from the text in a manner that relates the story’s theme of self discovery back to a better understanding of self and others. Students will need to demonstrate verbally that they understand the storyline, plot, character, themes/morals, setting and various other elements of literary use throughout the text such as imagery and metaphors. If students do not contribute richly in a way that showcases their understanding in these elements, a graphic collage (described above) can be assigned and used to further showcase student understanding in these areas. Students will further be assessed by their presentations and final product that depicts what they learned from the mini-research project on local juvenile detention centers, the process and purpose of such centers, and the role of a juvenile probation officer. This piece will be assessed on its ability in whatever media format the student chooses must represent their understanding of the juvenile penal system and show they made an effort to relate it to the story and their lives. The final piece of assessment will be on the two letters each student will write. The letter will be assessed based on the richness of content that showcases they understand concepts and themes represented in the text in areas such as actions, consequences, punishment, rehabilitation and discovery of self worth. The letters will also need to fulfill requirements of integrating a minimum of one conflict, resolution and use of imagery / metaphor to progress the piece in a meaningful manner. All work turned in needs to be clean, well thought out and free of errors in a manner that shows they were proofread and edited.



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