Close Reading + Argumentative Writing Surrounding a Wordless Graphic Novel

As a continuation of our practice of close reading and argumentative writing, my students began their first U.S. History unit trying to answer the question “Is the U.S. still a Land of Opportunity?” Working from the ideas of Gerald Graff and Cathy Berkenstein’s book They Say, I Say: Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, we want to maintain the idea that if I—as a student—only talk about what I think, I’ll sound ignorant to the larger conversation going on around the world on a given subject. Students must recognize that yes, their opinions—the “I Say”—are important; however, their commentary needs to also reflect what others are saying—the “They Say”—regardless if they support or oppose one’s own argument.

As an entry event to our study of the Industrial Era, my students close read The Arrival by Shaun Tan, a wordless graphic novel.

“In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean. He’s embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life- he’s leaving home to build a better future for his family.

Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant’s experience through a singular work of the imagination. He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images. Because the main character can’t communicate in words, the book forgoes them too. But while the reader experiences the main character’s isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy” (Summary from Goodreads).

To start, each student was assigned 3-4 pages of the book to close read. They were to write a brief argument, stating what message they believed Shaun Tan was trying to share with his readers. Students used sentence templates from They Say, I say to strengthen the academic awesomeness of their arguments.

Academic Templates for Introducing Something Implied or Assumed:

  • Although Shaun Tan does not say so directly, he apparently implies that _____________ due to ______________.
  • Shaun Tan  apparently assumes that ______________ based on ___________.
  • The artwork suggests/hints/implies ___________ because __________.
  • Based on my understanding of _____________, I have to assume _______________.
  • What I know about ____________ makes me think that __________________. Continue reading

Book Review: The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss

I wrote the following post, “Using Picture Books in the Secondary Classroom”,  for  The Booksource Banter. It was originally published in the September 2012 newsletter.

By fifteen and sixteen, most high-schoolers only remember Dr. Seuss for his hat-wearing cat and persistent Sam I Am. Most high school teachers probably imagine the same titles when someone suggests that they use “picture books” in the classroom. Even though picture books have been shown to be an effective way to build background knowledge, many secondary teachers are reluctant to introduce Kid Lit into their serious, standards-driven lessons. The thing is, there’s more to Dr. Seuss than mischief and rhyme. His work has inspired some of the most powerful argumentative and analytical writing that I’ve seen from my sophomore U.S. History classes.Reexamining picture books, like Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book, allows upper-level students safe grounds for deeply exploring the social undertones found in political parables. Any teacher would agree that “tyrannical fascism” and “nuclear tension” are not most students’ favorite topics of study. Moreover, arguing the appropriate response to global threat is an incredibly heavy subject matter for tenth grade. However, after a short and amusing read-aloud, my students had a base of knowledge to build from towards understanding the complex politics of WWII and the Cold War.

The Butter Battle Book, which you—like me—may have passed over in childhood, tells a silly parable about the ominous nuclear arms race of the Cold War. Dr. Seuss’ obvious allegory depicts the world of the Yooks and the Zooks, where a ridiculous conflict over buttering bread could lead to the possible destruction of the world with each military trying to one-up the other in terms of superior weaponry.Introducing these somewhat classic picture books was a surprisingly easy transition for both my high school students and for me. From there, they grew eager for more contemporary young adult picture books, like Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow and The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. As publishers continue to strengthen this growing genre, secondary teachers will have more and more opportunities to blend picture books into their complex curricula.

Erica Beaton is a sophomore Humanities teacher in the Tech 21 Academy at Ceder Springs High School in Cedar Springs, MI. She is currently reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow and They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein.

Nerdy Style: Summer Book Talks

While the stereotype resounds that most teachers “have their summers off,” I had the awesome opportunity to meet up with some Michigan #nerdybookclub tweeps at the home of  Colby Sharp. Colby invited us  to make a guest appearance on his blog, sharpread, and share some of our favorite summer reads.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow with Niki Ohs BarnesShannon Houghton,  Travis Jonker, and Brian Wyzlic.