The purpose of this blog is to develop a unit plan using the planning method called backwards mapping. Backwards mapping is when a teacher starts with the specific educational standard that they wish to teach and designs the lessons in their unit around satisfying that standard.
The Educational Standard Chosen
I have chosen the following English Language Arts Common Core State Standard and I will be adapting it to a Grade 6 class:
Interpret 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 or tone.
To meet this standard students must first understand what the terms “technical, connotative and figurative” refer to, in order to determine the meaning of the text selection.
The technical, literal or denotative meaning could be roughly explained as the most obvious meaning. The connotative meaning is something that makes reference to emotions or to some external knowledge or association that the author expects the reader to be aware of. E.g. According to Dictionary.com the word “modern” strictly means “belonging to recent times”, but the word’s connotations can include such notions as “new, up to date, experimental”. The figurative meaning is the meaning that can be derived from the use of a literary device. E.g. The metaphor “He is burning up” means the person is extremely hot. The connotative meaning of this is that he probably has a fever.
In addition to this, students will need to know how to define and identify the tone of a text and provide examples from the text to support their conclusion. Sixth grade pupils will already be able to identify the central theme of a text, but identifying the tone takes their analysis of the text a step deeper.
According to LiteraryDevices.net, “Tone is the attitude of a writer [or interlocutor] toward a subject or an audience. In written composition, tone is generally conveyed through the choice of words or the viewpoint of a writer on a particular subject. (Every written piece comprises a central theme or subject matter. The manner in which a writer approaches this theme and subject is the tone.) The tone can be formal, informal, serious, comic, sarcastic, sad, and cheerful or it may be any other existing attitudes.”
Once my students are able to do all of the above, they will be required to compare and contrast how the use of specific words affect the meaning and tone of the text.
Why this Standard?
I chose this standard because it is one of the anchor standards for college and career readiness in reading. As such, this standard represents basic skills students will need to master when they enter high school next year. Another reason I chose this standard is because I think it builds upon the knowledge and vocabulary that sixth graders should already have gained in previous grades. For example, in order to fully exploit this standard, pupils will need to build upon a good workable vocabulary and a solid understanding of text concepts. Furthermore, they will need to demonstrate proficiency in:
- identifying various literary terms,
- defining various literary terms,
Students will also need to demonstrate proficiency in engaging higher order thinking skills such as:
- analyzing the meaning of specific sections of the text both from a literary perspective (i.e. determining the literal meaning or the figurative meaning) and from a general knowledge and world current events perspective (i.e. determining the connotative meaning),
- evaluating which literary device is being utilized in a particular text selection,
- synthesizing their understanding of the text with their knowledge of the author’s background and the time period in which the text is set.
In addition to the Common Core State Standards, my lessons will need to adhere to the curriculum framework and guidelines of the European School of Costa Rica, where I am volunteering. The European School uses an IB World Diploma Programme Model as its curriculum framework. (See the diagram of the curriculum framework below.)
This programme emphasizes international-mindedness, creativity, action, and service. Language acquisition and learning about individuals and societies are also ranked highly in the programme; it is an educational programme that emphasizes humanities versus mathematics, sciences and technology. The International Baccalaureate (IB) learner profile (in the diagram below) explains the intellectual and character traits that an IB teacher attempts to cultivate within their students.
I do not have any native English speakers in my sixth grade class. English is my students’ second or third language. Nevertheless, as a result of them having eight years of immersion in an English-speaking school environment (since kindergarten), they now speak and write English at almost native level.
Additionally, there is a Character Growth Rubric sourced from Character Lab that is used to assess students’ conduct and maturity on a daily basis – including in non-academic activities (e.g. Morning Music, lunchtime, field trips and hikes, Cultural Days, etc.).
The unit I will design based on this standard will be entitled Literary Devices. It will span approximately thirty-two lessons. The timetable I follow for my grade six class entails eight English lessons per week; therefore, I should cover this unit in four weeks.
- The first lesson I will do with my students to embark on the Literary Devices Unit is to read a poem which contains numerous figures of speech. Poems are a great source of literary devices and I particularly like the poem I Sing the Battle by Harry Kemp, sourced from EReadingWorksheets.com. The learning exercise would consist in students memorizing the poem and practicing it in preparation for performing it in front of the class. Students will make a drawing of a figurative scene from the poem. This drawing will be their visual prop when they recite the poem. Alternating with the class presentations, I will discuss with students the definitions of personification, similes, metaphors, alliteration, mood and theme. I will solicit their participation in identifying these figures of speech in the poem and listen to their explanations on how they concluded what the mood and theme of the poem are. At the end of the class presentations, students’ drawings could be displayed on the bulletin board near the classroom that is reserved for that purpose. (These learning experiences fit in well with what the students in this class are already accustomed to doing: each month students must memorize a poem selected by the teacher and recite it in front of the class. Each poem must be accompanied by a hand-drawn illustration.)
I Sing the Battle By Harry Kemp
I SING the song of the great clean guns that belch forth death at will.
“Ah, but the wailing mothers, the lifeless forms and still!”
I sing the song of the billowing flags, the bugles that cry before.
“Ah, but the skeletons flapping rags, the lips that speak no more!”
I sing the clash of bayonets, of sabres that flash and cleave.
“And wilt thou sing the maimed ones, too, that go with pinned-up sleeve?”
I sing acclaimed generals that bring the victory home.
“Ah, but the broken bodies that drip like honey-comb!”
I sing of hosts triumphant, long ranks of marching men.
“And wilt thou sing the shadowy hosts that never march again?”
- My second lesson in the Literary Devices Unit is drawn from the Race to the Top Series by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It will consist in starting to read as a class the book Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. This book contains a lot of rich vocabulary and figurative language. Students will have reading chapters assigned as homework and must take notes on the chapter while reading it in their Reading Notes Notebook. After taking notes, students will share with the class figurative language they discovered in the chapter and the tone of the chapter, citing examples which support their conclusions. Each student must identify at least one sentence or word in each chapter which uses a connotative meaning. In addition, students will be invited to ask me about words or figures of speech which they did not understand. Sometime throughout the reading of the text, I will have students complete a worksheet in which they analyze how the words the author chose to use in selected phrases or sentences affected the meaning and tone of that paragraph or chapter. In this way we will satisfy the educational standard above and cover all the literary devices on my syllabus list. Viz. simile, metaphor, oxymoron, hyperbole, illusion, imagery, onomatopoeia, personification, irony, sarcasm, pun, idiom, metonymy, synecdoche, litotes, tautology, understatement, allusion. (This is another learning exercise which fits in well with what students are accustomed to doing in their 6A class because they often have a book assigned to read and must take notes on it in their Reading Notebook.)
- My last lesson in the Literary Devices Unit will involve essay writing. Students will be told beforehand to study connotative meanings and identify positive, negative and neutral connotations. They will write an essay about a personal journey they took. During the essay they will be required to use at least five different types of literary devices, not including similes and metaphors (which they are already quite familiar with). I will request that they limit simile and metaphor use to only one of each throughout their essay and use a connotative meaning at least once. Knowing that English is my students’ second language, I will pay particular attention to thoroughly teaching connotative meaning, which I have found that, in general, they are quite weak at identifying and understanding.
My mentor teacher at the European School has provided me with a specific rubric with which students are to be evaluated during activities which involve Teamwork. Most activities at the school are collaborative and as such, this rubric counts towards 30% of the final grade designation. Furthermore, two other rubrics are used to evaluate students’ Critical Thinking – one rubric being more detailed than the other for more complex exercises. In addition to these, yet another rubric is used to determine pupils’ General Competence in completing exercises. These last three rubrics are all sourced from university websites (Northeastern Illinois University and California State University) and they all emphasize research. (All rubrics included below.)
It might at first seem like these rubrics are too advanced or rigorous to use with primary school students, but amazingly, due to the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme’s focus on research, the sixth grade students at the European School are already quite good at conducting scientifically rigorous research. It is truly extraordinary to encounter 11 and 12 year olds who are so capable in their research – and even know to cite their sources! Another novel experience for me is that the European School does not use numerical grades or the traditional letters (A through F) to designate students’ competence or lack thereof. The rubrics are used in combination and varied weightings to arrive at a designation of: U = Unsatisfactory; NI = Needs Improvement; S = Satisfactory; and E = Excellent, (called the E-S-N-U Grading System). I researched this grading system and discovered that apparently in the early twentieth century it used to be the most popular elementary school grading system in the United States (source: Wikipedia). Moreover, in line with the school’s philosophy and the IB Framework, conduct is considered very important. For more on this latter, please refer to the rubric for Character Growth described above.
- About half-way through the unit I will assign a quiz to the class as a formative assessment to see how well they know all the definitions of the literary devices and whether they can correctly think up examples of them. This quiz will have both examples of figurative language they are familiar with and things that are completely new to them. We will grade this quiz as a class by switching papers in pairs. The class will come to a consensus on the answers through participation from everyone and citing examples from specific quizzes. Depending on the median grade of the class, I will re-teach various literary devices and skills related to the standard.
- Summative assessment in this unit will include a timed imaginative essay which uses at least five literary devices. The tone in which the essay must be written will be assigned to the students from a choice of two. In addition, the imaginative essay will be inspired from a connotative sentence given to them. E.g.
“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” (Voltaire)
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” (Bill Nye)
- After essays have been marked in accordance with the rubrics, they will be handed back out to students. Pupils will work in pairs to improve their essay based on the points on the rubric and feedback from their partner. This is a form of informal peer assessment and at the same time is a learning experience because students must re-write their essay and improve on it. Giving feedback to their peer and re-writing their essay incorporating both the teacher’s and their peer’s feedback will help students to think critically and improve on their analysis skills. The final essays will then be marked again by the teacher, revised by their partner and the student will type-up the final copy with corrections.