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Demonstrating Understanding of Richard Wright's Rite of Passage
|Grades||9 – 12|
|Lesson Plan Type||Standard Lesson|
|Estimated Time||Five 50-minute sessions|
- read Richard Wright’s novel Rite of Passage purposefully, with an eye toward demonstrating their understanding in a written assessment.
- develop a well-supported plan for recommendations for the protagonist’s future, accounting for the identity of the audience and the complexity of the character’s situation.
- demonstrate an understanding of the use of counterargument in persuasive writing.
- Introduce the novel by sharing with students the Rite of Passage Performance Task Description. Students may be taken aback by receiving the “final paper assignment” before even opening the book, so assure them that having the prompt will help focus their reading and will make writing easier.
- Discuss the Performance Task with students, helping them begin to understand their role (as social worker, advocating for what is best for Johnny within the legal system), their audience (a judge in the juvenile system), and their task (to use the book as “evidence” and provide a vision for Johnny’s future tied to some specific recommendations). Without having read the book, their understanding of the task will be basic at best at this point; this is fine.
- Students will be intrigued by what is implied in the body of the Performance Task. Consider asking them to predict, either through discussion or in writing, what the book may be about.
- Help give focus to the connection between the task and the act of reading the novel by sharing the Making Sense of Johnny’s Situation T-Chart, where they can record their positive and negative impressions of Johnny’s experiences over the course of the book.
- As students read (in whole class, small group/partner, and independent settings), they should continuously refer to the Performance Task Description and Making Sense of Johnny’s Situation T-Chart to make sure they are ready to make recommendations and draft the document to the judge. The notes students take on the T-Chart can serve as excellent informal checks for understanding as they read.
- When the class has finished reading Rite of Passage, they should be ready to start drafting some recommendations for Johnny. Before they begin thinking through the assignment analytically, give students time to freewrite in response to the question: “What should happen to Johnny? Based on the experiences he’s had in the past day, where can you see him in five years? Ten years? Beyond?”
- Give students time to write and share some of their ideas with a few classmates.
- Review with students the Performance Task Description and provide them with the Recommendations Planning Chart.
- Remind students that at this point, they are merely brainstorming ideas. They will likely not write about all the recommendations they consider at this point, so it is not a problem if their recommendations do not work well together. In fact, you might encourage students to try to think about recommendations that contradict one another so they think through a range of possibilities.
- Depending on your students’ familiarity with persuasive writing, you may wish to show the ReadWriteThink video Persuasive Techniques in Advertising online video (http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/persuasive-techniques-advertising-1166.html?tab=3#tabs). Although its focus is on advertising, the application of pathos, logos, and ethos is relevant to any sort of argument or persuasion. For other ideas on teaching persuasive writing, see the Related Resources section of this lesson. (Formal instruction on persuasion will require at least an additional session, either at this point, or interspersed throughout the composition process.)
- Give students time to think and write about several possible recommendations. They should use their Making Sense of Johnny’s Situation T-Chart to start seeing connections between events in the novel and their recommendations in the assessment. Encourage them to think about whether they are appealing to the judge’s sense of emotion, logic, or both in each case.
- Circulate the room and provide guidance and feedback, answering questions and helping students find direct textual evidence, when appropriate.
- Save some time at the end of class to have students briefly share all of their possible recommendations. As each student shares, the rest of the class should be listening for recommendations they had not considered before.
- Close the class by reminding students that they should be making recommendations that work together to offer a vision for Johnny’s future. Allow them a few minutes to begin writing in response to the final prompt on the Recommendations Planning Chart. For the next session, students should have a sense of the vision for Johnny’s future and the specific recommendations that will support it.
- Optional: As homework, direct students to the Bio-cube tool and ask them to compose a biography for Johnny’s life after Rite of Passage to help them think about what recommendations would suit him now.
- Begin this session by asking for a few students to share their vision for Johnny’s future and the recommendations they will make to support it. Allow classmates to provide feedback on how well the recommendations match the vision statement.
- Remind students of the Performance Task Description, focusing specifically on the audience for the document they will write: a judge in the New York City juvenile justice system in the 1940s. Direct students to the resources listed in the Websites section and give them time to read through some of the articles. (If students are able to access the Legal Defense Fund video, encourage them to watch the first 5 minutes and then the section on African Americans in the judiciary, at around 8 minutes. Alternately, you may wish to show segments of the video before students look at the other sites).
- Lead a discussion that helps students draw appropriate inferences about who was likely to be a judge in New York City at the time, and what shortcomings might exist in the juvenile justice system as they relate to an African American teen at the time.
- Ask students to synthesize the day’s learning by writing about the likely audience for their letter to the court. Who would likely be hearing the case? What dispositions might he or she bring to the case? What biases within the system might Johnny face?
- Collect student responses and, before the next session, compile some of the most important ideas to share with students on the white board or chart paper.
- Begin the session by projecting, reading aloud, or sharing copies of the student responses from the previous session. Ask students to think about what these circumstances suggest for someone writing on Johnny’s behalf.
- Distribute the Final Recommendations Chart, stressing how it builds off the work students did in their initial brainstorming. Point out two key differences
- Beginning with the vision for Johnny’s future in mind—When students were brainstorming, their vision for Johnny’s future came last because the recommendations implied it. Now, a clear vision statement should unify all the recommendations students will make.
- Inclusion of a column for counterarguments—Now that students have considered the possible audience for their document, they need to consider how the judge might respond to their recommendations. Share with students possible signal words for addressing counterarguments, such as
- While I understand that … , I believe that … because …
- Some people may believe that … but I feel that … because …
- Although there is reason to think that … please consider …
- Ask some students to share some of their recommendations and model how you would think through a possible counterargument (based on the potential point of view of the judge and court), using the signal words about and evidence from the novel to develop a sentence or two addressed directly to the sensibility of the judge that is the document’s audience.
- Encourage students to incorporate at least one address to a counterargument, probably in the vision statement itself or in the recommendation with which the judge is perhaps least likely to agree.
- Give students time to plan their document using the Final Recommendations Chart.
- Begin the session by sharing with students the Performance Task Evaluation Sheet. They will notice that the performance standards were shared with them before they began the book.
- Review the standards with students before they begin drafting. Circulate the room as they begin moving from their Final Recommendations Chart to a first draft.
- If students get stuck moving from the chart to the draft, remind them that this is a formal letter, but they are communicating directly to the judge. They may wish to use the first paragraph to familiarize the judge with the case and provide his or her vision for Johnny’s future. Subsequent paragraphs can offer up the specific recommendations supported by references to the novel.
- When students have completed their drafts, have the creators of the judge identities read the recommendations addressed to them. They should use a Performance Task Evaluation Sheet and provide feedback to the author to prompt revision before the writing is submitted for evaluation by the teacher.
- When students submit their final draft for evaluation, ask them to submit a second copy. Have students trade papers and prompt them to write a brief letter from the perspective of the judge to the social worker explaining his or her views on the recommendations.
- Use the Performance Task Evaluation Sheet to facilitate formative peer feedback and to assess students’ final written product.