Anthropomorphism Day 1: Fables and Folktales

Anthropomorphism has been popular since Aesop's time as a way to make human traits universal and easier to digest. Stories like the Uncle Remus stories have further this with racial and ethnic identities.

This 90 minute lesson is the first day of the Intro to Anthropomorphism Unit. It covers the Toirtoise and the Hare, Br’er Rabbit, Chapter 3 of The Grapes of Wrath, and the definition of anthropomorphism.


Students will be able to define and identify allegory, fable, moral and anthropomorphism by reading and annotating “The Tortoise & the Hare,” “Mr. Rabbit Meets His Match,” and Grapes of Wrath Chapter 3, co-creating a definition after each.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How do stories connect the traits of animals and humans to get at deeper ideas?

What makes a fable?

Inquiry Exercise:

(15 Minutes)
Opening journal entry: What is a fable? How is this different from a myth, a folktale, or just a story?

Small group discussion of their answers. Key in on moral, key in on animals, key in on universality. Hopefully tie to human nature.

  • What is the purpose of a fable?
  • Why do fables use animals to tell their story?
  • Do you connect to fables?

Introduction to New Material:

(5 Minutes)
Today we’re going to be looking at 4 texts. We’ll be starting with one of Aesop’s fables, “The Tortoise and the Hare.” We’ve already begun discussing what a fable is and what it does. We’re going to be looking at how fables create the meaning they do and how we connect to them. In other words, what makes a fable effective.

We’ll be introducing two key terms today that will relate to the short pieces we read: anthropomorphism and allegory. I know that first one seems daunting, so let me break it down for you really quickly: the prefix, anthro, relates to humans or people; the root, morph, you probably recognize as a way of saying to change. The second one is a literary term you may have run across. You’ll have the opportunity at the end of class to look up actual definitions, but for now, we’ll be building our own definitions in the same way we constructed our class norms at the beginning of the year.

Kindly collect this unit’s annotation guide and a copy of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” You’ll notice the annotation guide has two new symbols on it: a smiley face and two side by side triangles. The smiley face will be used when you find something you think relates to human nature, while the two triangles (I like to think of them as fangs) will be used when you find something related to animal nature.

Guided Practice:

(15-20 Minutes)
Students will read, briefly the tortoise and the hare, annotating as we go. Annotations will be matched on the dot projector with a brief discussion of what annotations were made by the teacher and what annotations were made by students and why. The story will then be read a second time (since it’s so short) to see if we missed anything or see anything new.

(10-15 Minutes)
Alright, now that we have the story annotated, we’re going to split into small groups to come up with our definitions.
Groups will be divided by a poll of prior knowledge of the term, trying to make sure every group has someone who thinks they know what anthropomorphism and allegory mean. Groups will be provided large sheets with which to list ideas and create a word web, with a space for a rough definition at the bottom. This practice should be established withe the class prior to this, otherwise, it will take an entire class to introduce them to co-definition. If it’s been established beforehand, it shouldn’t be hard to let them work in groups before coming back together and sharing their definitions to come up with a class definition.

(15 Minutes)
I’m going to leave this definition up on the projector/board. Turn the page to “Mr. Rabbit Meets His Match.” In your group, I want you to work together to read this story and and figure out what happens, how it’s different or the same from the previous one. We’ll come back together to discuss what we find and how it relates to our two terms after. Do the same annotation we did before.

After students have completed annotating and reading, which may take time due to the language, we’ll talk about how they felt about the piece, some historical racial connotations will be provided, and, once a group points out the tortoise cheated, we’ll show the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “Tortoise Beats Hare” (10 minutes) to make sure everyone gets it.

Is this a fable? Are these allegories? What human traits to the animals show? Are they positive or negative or both? How do you know? Does this change our definition of anthropomorphism?

Independent Practice:

(20 Minutes)
We’ve worked as a class and in groups on these two stories, and you got to watch a cartoon. Pretty good day. We’re going to shift gears just a bit and read my favorite chapter of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. I want you to read it and annotate it on your own, just like we did as a class and in groups. If you really need to work with a partner, you can work with your tablemate.

When you are done, pull out your journal and rewrite, in your own words, definitions of fable, allegory, anthropomorphism, and moral. I’d also like a sentence or two about how they connect to each other.


(5 Minutes)

We’ll be spending this week, and some of the upcoming weeks, examining allegory, anthropomorphism, fable and myth, building on what we did today. If you didn’t finish annotating Chapter 3 of the Grapes of Wrath, please do for homework. I will post photos of our class definitions to the Terms page on our website if you need them. Check in with your tablemates before you leave, as you’re responsible for helping your community members and you know our expectations of support. Support is a pre-established class norm that makes tablemates responsible for assisting assigned partners, informing them of missed information, and working together to make up for deficiencies.

This week, we’ll be writing a story using anthropomorphism and allegory to address something important to you. On Friday, whether or not the story is done, we’ll be recording interviews. You’ll have the chance to interview a classmate about their story, record it, and have them explain how their story uses allegory and anthropomorphism to address their issue or event. If you haven’t finished it by then, you will finish your story over the weekend and record a reading of it, possibly with your classmates voicing different characters. The recording will need to be a minimum of 2 minutes long per person and we’ll attach the Q&A to the end.

Tomorrow, we’ll have a special guest coming in to help us for the day. Think about what we talked about today and be ready to ask our guest questions in relation to those topics.

Continue to Anthropomorphism Day 2: Myth, Morality and Origin
Return to Intro to Anthropomorphism Unit

Sentence Starters, Video Games, and Perspective

Elegy for a Dead World is a game in which players finish sentence starters to explore and write their own science fiction story. It can help students learn how to write and what sort of descriptions can forward a story in different ways.

This 25 minute lesson uses the game Elegy for a Dead World to help teach students how to write a story and what sort of perspective they can bring that will change a story.
(Estimated Running Time: 23-25 Minutes)


Students will be able to write a short science fiction story using sentence starters and the game Elegy for a Dead World.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How do things change when we view or interact with them?

  • No matter how thoroughly we present information, people can take it different ways.
  • Writing is a selection process where we decide what details are most important.
  • If the goal of writing is to communicate, we need to be able to choose exactly what and how we wish to communicate our ideas.
  • The reader/viewer plays a part in what information is communicated.
  • We often cannot choose who views something or how.
  • When we are the reader, it’s important to recognize what the author/creator might have wanted and what perspective we bring to the reading that may change things.

Inquiry Exercise:

(5 Minutes)
Imagine you’re an alien from another world and you’ve come to earth for the very first time. You find yourself in your real bedroom and as you’re looking around you find an unfamiliar object. What do you find and what do you think it is? What is it really? Take three minutes to write about your object.

Introduction to New Material:

(1 Minute)
Today we’re going to be working on sentence starters and playing a game. Before we can play, though, I’m going to walk you through what sort of sentence starters to expect and we’ll try a few before you jump into the game.

Guided Practice:

(5 Minutes)
How would you finish this sentence? Display a sentence starter from Elegy for a Dead World.

Take a moment to finish it and then we’ll read a few and talk about what we like, what we don’t and why. Students should brainstorm their own end. Those that feel comfortable can share and we’ll discuss them with the following questions to give them an idea of how to finish a sentence:

  • Which ones did you really like? Why?
  • What do the good sentences have in common?
  • What do you think this person brought to this sentence?
  • What sentence surprised you most? Why?
  • What do you think could make this sentence stronger?
  • What more would you like to know about this sentence?

Individual Practice:

(10 Minutes)
Fire up Elegy for a Dead World and go to town. At the end, there’s an option to print your story. Normally, it would take at least a half-hour to play through this game and get a story, so, since this is a mini-lesson, we’ll take turns filling in the sentences. How we finish the sentences changes where the game goes, so when you have the chance to play on your own, consider what’s different each play through.

If you choose to extend this to a full lesson, have students play individually, discussing the differences in where the game goes. Additionally, collecting their stories at the end can give you a good idea of how they’re writing. Playing through again a few weeks down the line can give you a comparison for growth.


(2 Minutes)
Hopefully you’ve seen how our perspective can change the way we read and write things. Thinking about how visitors to our writing read things when we’re not clear, we can take this further and realize exactly how technology, imagery and iconography can change the meaning of our reading and writing.

Syntax and Semantics Through Serenity and Genre

The film Serenity is a amalgam of genres and provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the syntax and semantics of genre conventions.

This 25 minute lesson teaches the syntax and semantics through an examination of genre and the way it works for the film Serenity.
(Estimated Running Time: 28 Minutes)


Students will be able to define syntax and semantics by identifying the syntax and semantics of a genre of their choice in a short journal entry.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How do syntax and semantic change the way we read something?

  • Semantics is how the words/meanings/visuals function within a genre.
  • Semantics is needed to create meaning.
  • Syntax is the grammar and structure that separates each genre.
  • Syntax is needed is needed to separate and make understanding easier.
  • In combination, the two work together to create or break expectation and narrative.
  • Both exist outside of language.
  • Both can be applied to difficult issues to see how misconceptions are created and perpetuated.

Inquiry Exercise:

(2 Minutes)
What elements do you expect to see in a western? How about a science fiction story? Write their answers in list form on a whiteboard or large post-its. We’ll need this list later.

Introduction to New Material:

(3 Minutes)
Genres function a lot like language. We’re going to watch a quick video and then we’re going to look more closely at the ideas of syntax and semantics:

Watch the video from 1:02 to 2:04. Pause to identify syntax and semantics of genre.

The video just defined them for us. Let’s write that down.

Semantics: “The visual markers of established film types. These are the icons and images we associate with each distinct genre.”
Syntax: “The grammar and the structure that makes each one distinct. These are the thematic and narrative conventions we associate with the genre in question.”

Alright. We have our list of things we expect in each genre. We’ve just defined syntax and semantics. Now we’re going to see if we can connect the definition to our list.

Guided Practice:

(10 Minutes)
Go down the list and label each item syntax or semantics. Converse about why is fits each one. Ask if other genres use that item or convention.

Once the list is complete, ask them for specific examples that weren’t listed to expand the list.

Continue the video to 10:06 so they can see the long list of conventions covered and the ways in which Serenity uses or break away from them.

Individual Practice:

(10 Minutes)
So you can see that the semantics of a genre is the iconography and what, in any given moment, would let you recognize the genre. The syntax, meanwhile, are the elements of the plot, the tropes, and the pieces of narrative that set that genre apart.

For the next five minutes I’d like you to choose another genre: horror, romance, vampire stories, coming of age stories, adventures, whatever you like. You can work with a partner or alone. Brainstorm the syntax and semantics of the genre and create a few sentences that identifies each in your journal. If you’re working with a partner, you both need to have it written in your journal and you need to list your partner.


(3 Minutes)
We had a chance to look at the syntax and semantics of genre today. These ideas, the way something can be broken down into it’s parts, allows us to see the actual meaning beneath the words and structure. It also allows us to play with the meaning, words and structure.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at semantics and syntax related to language and the specifically the language of racism in regards to the arguments about Syrian refugees and the way they mirror the same arguments against Jews in the 1940s and other minorities and refugees in years past.

Toulmin Model of Assessment

The Toulmin model allows for judges to realize how assessment is rationalized and given gravity. It allows educators to openly discuss their understanding and codify their decision making process in a way that includes and addresses students.Image taken from “Alligators of the Mind” by Mr. Eure.

This 20 minute lesson has teachers define the Toulmin model of evaluation and apply it to a theoretical final product. It’s based on “Reading the Data: Making Supportable Claims From Classroom Assessment” by Stephen Adkison and Stephen Tchudi. (PDF)
(Estimated Running Time: 18-24 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to list benefits of Evaluation as Pedagogy by developing definitions for the steps of the Toulmin Model and applying them to evaluating a theoretical final product around a current event.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

  • Pens and paper!

Essential Question(s):

Why and how are properly trained teachers more effective than standardized tests at evaluating students?

  • Teachers are more effective than standardized tests at evaluating students.
  • Standardized tests are limited in their scope.
  • Teachers have the ability to adjust to the needs of the student.
  • Teachers can recognize their privilege and positionality while tests do not.
  • Standardized tests only hold value when viewed through the lens of a skilled evaluator.
  • Evaluating students is essential to education.
  • Teachers are already trained through experience to evaluate more than scores.
  • A student’s performance goes beyond their scores.
  • Teachers who aren’t properly trained may not be better than standardized tests.
  • Even an experienced teacher may need to be trained to evaluate more effectively.

Inquiry Exercise:

(2-3 Minutes)
What was your SAT, ACT, or GRE score? What does that mean? How do you know when you’re successful in school?

Introduction to New Material:

(2 Minutes)
My reading this week presented the stories of three students and then analyzed how their teacher assessed each scenario and student. It presented a model of evaluation known as the Toulmin Model which aids in creating, maintaining, and evaluating an assessment rubric.

The Toulmin model attempts to adjust for different forms of data, from standardized tests to behavioral and environmental data. It takes this data and applies five steps: Warrants, Backings, Claims/Conclusions, Qualifiers and Rebuttals. Today, we’re going to build definitions for each of these five statements and see if we come to the same conclusions that the Toulmin Model is based on.

Guided Practice:

(10-12 Minutes)
Take out a sheet of paper and a pen. Mark down Warrants, Backings, Claims/Conclusions, Qualifiers and Rebuttals, leaving enough space for notes in between each.

Let’s begin with Warrants. What does warrant mean? Lead students toward defining it as a “grant of permission” or “reason for action.” Why would we need warrants in assessment? Lead students toward the idea that a teacher is a “trusted expert,” and that warrants show us that we’re qualified.

Ok, so now that we’ve acknowledged that we are warranted to evaluate, let’s define Backings. What does it mean to back someone or something? Lead students toward the idea of support. Why would we need backing for our warrants? There’s good chance this will already have been discussed when delving into warrants, making this a simple matter of connecting back.

Now we need to define Claims and Conclusions. This is the heart of the evaluation process. What is a claim? Lead students toward hypothesis or theory. What is a conclusion? How are claims and conclusions related? I don’t think there’s any doubt that evaluation is a series of claims and conclusions, but there will likely be a longer, meandering conversation about whether data is able to draw a conclusion or make a claim.

The Toulmin Model might seem a little backwards to you at this point. We started by defining warrants and why we’re qualified, proving it, and then making claims and conclusions. Now, we need to define qualifiers. What is a qualifier? Lead them in the direction of evidence. Draw a comparison between the relationship if Warrants and Backings and the relationship of Conclusions and Qualifiers. Are qualifiers alone enough? What sort of places could we find qualifiers? Make sure to lead students to thinking about cultural contexts, race, and the power of the system here.

Finally, and this is my favorite, we need to define Rebuttals. What is a rebuttal? Lead students toward the idea of counter-arguments. Did you ever argue with a teacher over a grade? What was the outcome? Lead students to recognize their position of power as the teacher and that to do justice to their students, they need to look for the things they missed.

Individual Practice:

(3-5 Minutes)
Take a few minutes and read over your notes and codify your thoughts. Now that we have a definition, I want to see how you apply these definitions. Imagine you’ve taught a lesson around the Mizzou protests that resulted in the president and chancellor stepping down. Consider choosing a more contemporary current event or topic when you teach this. Write a sentence each explaining what your Warrants, Backings, Claims and Conclusions, and an example of one or two rebuttals might be when evaluating your students’ final products. You can imagine any final product you wish. Finally, what trainings would you need to make you a better judge on this topic and product and how would this differ from a standardized test on the same subject?


(1-2 Minutes)
The biggest benefit in my mind to the Toulmin Model is the idea of Rebuttals. We have to seriously consider how we’ve positioned ourselves as judges. We need to take into account the factors we may have missed in our fallibility. And, most importantly, we need to recognize that even if we accurately and effectively prove to ourselves and our students that we have and effectively evaluate the work, there may be more that we’ve missed.

Emerging Bilinguals and Bow-Ties

Learning in a different language can be a challenge when not given enough time. Bow-ties are a formal language many don't speak, and learning to tie one can mimic the needs of emerging bilinguals.

This 20 minute lesson shows teachers how to tie a bow-tie and addresses emerging bilinguals and dual language learners by drawing a comparison to the language of formal wear. It’s based on “Disciplinary Literacy for English Language Learners” by Almanza de Schonewise and Klinger. (PDF)
(Estimated Running Time: 15-20 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to define bow tie, Windsor knot, four-in-hand knot, and half-Windsor knot, Sheltered English Instruction, and Collaborative Strategic Reading.
Teachers will be able to identify elements of Sheltered English Instruction in the lesson.
Teachers will be able to demonstrate how to tie one or more of the four knots.
Teacherss will be able to critique Emerging Bilingual strategies on the basis that the strategies listed in the article are primarily designed for equal or majority English speaking classrooms.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

  • Bow-ties
  • Neck-ties
  • Image guide to tying a bow-tie (PNG)
  • Video of tying a bow-tie
  • Instructions on how to tie a bow-tie

Essential Question(s):

What do does “success” mean in regards to EBs?

Big Ideas:

  • Emerging Bilinguals can be academically successful.
  • Success for Emerging Bilinguals is defined in academic terms.
  • Success for Emerging Bilinguals emphasizes English.
  • Success for Emerging Bilinguals is often considered indoctrination to US academia.
  • Success for Emerging Bilinguals can sometimes ignore cultural needs or differences.
  • Because success for Emerging Bilinguals is in English academia, even good Emerging Bilingual programs may ignore a student’s capabilities in their other language.
  • Emerging Bilingual programs are reliant on English instruction and English classmates.
  • Emerging Bilinguals need vocabulary to be successful, as grammar is often innately learned.
  • Emerging Bilinguals need time to process to be successful, since they lack automaticity.
  • Emerging Bilinguals need support in both languages outside the classroom to be successful.
  • Emerging Bilinguals need a sense of self-worth that is not maligned by their slower learning curve.
  • Academia and Administration define the needs of Emerging Bilinguals instead of the Emerging Bilinguals themselves.

Inquiry Exercise:

(2-3 Minutes)
What is an Emerging Bilingual or Dual Language Learner? How is language and dialect different? Can we consider students with dialectical differences similar to emerging bilinguals?

Introduction to New Material:

(5-7 Minutes)
In their article, Almanza de Schonewise and Klinger discuss many of the issues facing the education of Emerging Bilinguals. In the latter third, they outline three techniques and give vague overviews of their application to help EBs: Sheltered English Instruction, Vocabulary Instruction and Collaborative Strategic Reading. The first and last of these describe specific methodologies that can be applied in a classroom, while vocabulary instruction merely encourages differentiation and lists a few techniques to do so.

In Sheltered English Instruction, the intention is to slow down and provide EBs with more space to succeed. In Collaborative Strategic Reading, EBs are partnered up, preferably with a successful English speaker, in order to better success and be supported. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Because my French isn’t good enough to be comfortable putting you at a disadvantage, we’re going to use my class privilege and discuss language and skill within upper class gentrification. More specifically, I’m going to teach you how to tie a bow-tie using some of the methodologies of Sheltered English Instruction.

There are dozens of different types of knots . The Boy Scouts offer badges in knot tying, and most are used in camping, climbing and sailing, all leisure activities for those people in privilege. In addition, there are four common types of neck-tie knots: Windsor, Half-Windsor, Four-in-Hand Knot, and a Bow-Tie Knot. Each has its own level of social statement when with the upper-crusters.

The Four-in-Hand Knot is your basic neck-tie knot worn by most business men; it’s simple and straight forward, though it occasionally ends up a little lopsided.

The Windsor Knot is the king of neck-tie knots, requiring extra loops that prevent the lop-sidedness and create a perfectly triangular knot. At boarding school, we were required to wear ties three days a week, and those that could tie a good Windsor were often treated with more respect.

The Half-Windsor also creates a more triangular knot and is less lop-sided, but doesn’t use as much tie in the knot; for people who couldn’t afford extremely nice, thin, silk ties, this allowed thicker, cheaper materials to mimic the slightly fancier Windsor knot without puffing out.

I do have some neck ties here for you to play with, but we’re going to concentrate on the ultimate formal neckwear: the bow-tie.

Guided Practice:

(3 Minutes)
In front of you, you have a bow tie. You also have a visual diagram, a list of instructions, and my tablet with two or three videos showing you how to tie it. In Sheltered English Instruction, they emphasize choosing less material, hence why we’re only using bow-ties, and delving into it in greater depth to allow more processing time. I will walk you through tying a bow-tie once right now. After, in your independent practice, I want you to use a video to help you tie it, the picture to help you tie it, and the instructions to help you tie it.

Demonstrate and explain how to tie a bow-tie, have them tie it along with you.

How many of you had tied a tie before? How many of you know how to tie more than 3 types of knots? If you knew 3 or less, you can think of this exercise as mimicking the experience of being an emerging bilingual in the classroom. How does that change how you feel about the repetition of tying a bow-tie?

Individual Practice:

(3-5 Minutes)
Ok, so now, you will tie your bow-tie without my help 3 times, using each of the guides provided. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right; it’s difficult. While you’re doing this, reflect on which aid, including our group tying, worked best for you. Also consider whether you think your best knot happened because of the materials or because you were given the time to practice.


(2 Minutes)
Knots have a certain language of their own. Additionally, neck ties and bow-ties speak specifically to a class difference and an expectation of etiquette. When working with EBs, we can give them vocabulary, effectively dressing them in a tuxedo, and they can functionally pass in their English classrooms, but we’re doing them a disservice not being patient and letting them gain a deeper understanding, i.e. knowing what each knot will say to people already indoctrinated to this other culture. As you think about the techniques you’ll use to deal with EBs, make sure you consider whether you’re providing them the tools for social mobility or if you’re merely playing dress-up.

Critical Literacy and Co-Constructed Meaning

Since reading is a conversation between the author and audience, critical literacy allows a reader to gain more control over the context of texts. In this Qwantz Dinosaur Comic, "ryoma" is defined wholly through context clues and the reader's critical literacy.

This 25 minute lesson gives students a basic sense of how critical literacy and awareness help a reader gain more control over the meaning of a text by reading and creating Dinosaur Comics.
(Estimated Running Time: 25 Minutes)


Students will be able to demonstrate some or all of the four suggested techniques by constructing and analyzing Dinosaur Comics.
Students will be able to critique each other’s comics by examining how critical literacy techniques affect their reading.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How can a reader’s sense of control help them?

  • Critical literacy can offer readers control
  • Having control is empowering for readers
  • Readers are more likely to engage with a text if they have a sense of control
  • As teachers, we can create a sense of control
  • A text is controlled by different factors including the language, the author, the reader’s background knowledge and the reader’s skill
  • A reader can have control of a text
  • A reader can never fully control a text
  • The more control a reader has, the more engaged they’re likely to be

Inquiry Exercise:

(3 Minutes)
Lay out a series of Dinosaur comics. Pick one. Read it. After reading it, consider whether or not you understood it, whether you found it funny, and what you think someone would need to know in order understand it. If you didn’t understand it, think about what you feel you were missing. Share your comic with a partner. Allow them to read it as you read theirs. Explain how you felt about each one and what you felt you needed to understand it.

Choose another comic, lather, rinse, repeat!

Introduction to New Material:

(5 Minutes)
Chapter 3 of Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives focuses on the types and features of narrative texts. It offers several examples of simple routines to engage with a text. Each routine attempts to fulfill one of the four steps of critical literacy.

TSRD defines Critical Literacy as “the practice of evaluating information, insights and perspectives through an analysis of power culture, class and gender.” TSRD suggests four techniques to do so:

  1. Question the Commonplace in a Text
  2. Consider the Role of the Author
  3. Seek Alternative Perspectives
  4. Read Critically

Since we’re working with these four questions, let’s look at one of these comics and dissect how each technique can be applied to Dinosaur Comics.

Firstly, what’s the “commonplace?” What’s commonplace in a comic? What’s commonplace in these comics? How do you think Dinosaur Comics plays on the commonplace in comics?

Next, the author, Ryan North, chooses what text goes in these comics and how that text relates to the images. What can you tell us about North based on your comic?

Each comic has a topic that’s different. What is your comic about? What in your background allows you to read or not read the comic? How was your partner’s reading the same or different?

Finally, what does it mean to read critically? How does Dinosaur Comics require or encourage you to read critically or not? How are you involved in creating meaning when reading the comic? Do you feel included in the process?

Guided Practice:

(5 Minutes)
Take a copy of a blank Qwantz comic. Today, we’ll be making our own comics. Because we want this to be focused around our control and sense of agency, I would like you to write the four techniques of critical literacy on the comic, one outside each of the four edges. Keep these techniques in mind as you make the comic, since the people reading your comic will need to either experience them or experience the lack of them.

We’re going to choose a common theme. Brainstorm a theme. What elements do you think we need in the text to make the comic about this theme?

(If this hasn’t been established during the intro/inquiry) Because Dinosaur Comics uses the same image over and over, how can we use that repetition, that representation of the commonplace, to our advantage?

Now think about the theme in relation to your life. I want you to brainstorm silently for a minute a few things you think you’ve experienced in relation to the theme that others may not have. Think about how you would include that.

One of my favorite things about puns or jokes is that they often use double meanings for the humor. Find a term or two from our brainstorm list and think about possible alternate meanings and whether you can use them to add depth or make a joke.

Finally, the majority of comics, especially Dinosaur Comics are referential. Do we need to do anything more to bring us to thinking critically?

Individual Practice:

(10 Minutes)
Now that we’ve written up a comic together, we can already see that even variations on a theme come out differently.

This time, I want you to go through the process on your own. Afterward, we’ll trade comics, and as we read each other’s comics, I’d like you to think about how much control you have over what the comic means and how much control you feel your partner allowed you in reading this comic.


(2 Minutes)
Critical Literacy is really a means to create agency and grant control of a text to a reader. The techniques it suggests and the routines TSRD recommend allow students to gain that sense of control. The best authors and books allow the reader at least some control, but by expanding beyond the text and using the four techniques, the reader can effectively take more control and therefore engage more fully.

Flow and Police Brutality

Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson by police while unarmed; it resulted in riots and more. Creating a sense of connection to the world is one way to inspire flow in our lessons.

This 25 minute lesson directly addresses police brutality and creating a sense of connection with students through flow. The material is difficult and may require trigger warnings for sensitive students.
(Estimated Running Time: 21-28 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to define flow.
Teachers will be able to rewrite in their own words the three recommended features of implementing flow.
Teachers will be able to reorganize elements of the lesson to create a sense of flow.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How can we organize lessons to increase engagement and provide a sense of self-worth?

  • By letting lessons build to a crescendo of success, students will feel more accomplished.
  • A lesson that creates a sense of flow is more fulfilling.
  • Learning, like work, is more successful when it’s fulfilling.

Inquiry Exercise:

(1-3 Minutes)
Show a picture of Michael Brown. Who is this? Hopefully students will be able to identify him, but if not, mention of his name will undoubtedly lead to conversation. Why is he important? What issues does conversation about him raise? How does seeing this picture make you feel?

Introduction to New Material:

(2 Minutes)
This week, we’ll be discussing “Flow.” Flow is defined as experiencing something so intensely that nothing else matters. Wilhelm and Smith say there are three things we can do as teachers to encourage and foster flow, making our lessons more effective.

First, they suggest that we structure instruction to directly and explicitly address questions of genuine importance. Second, we need to expand notions of text and curriculum, and what counts as meaningful reading and learning. Third, we need to expand notions of competence, especially student competence, and find more ways to highlight, celebrate, name and extend it.

Tonight, I am going to walk you through a series of alternate texts that I feel can connect and expand a unit on police brutality. Afterward, we’re going to select from these materials certain ones that you feel could create a sense of flow and identify how each will help foster that sense of flow.

Guided Practice:

(10-12 Minutes)
I will place on the table six physical materials: the picture of Michael Brown, Batman Issue #44 (September 9, 2015) which deals with police brutality and gentrification, a print out of the lyrics for Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” and a print out of three different Police Brutality infographics, one highlighting police opinion and on focusing on racial discrimination. I will also open my laptop and present them with seven interactivities: “Justice Renegade” video that explores what a video game version of police brutality might look like, the Wikipedia page for the Shooting of Michael Brown, the New York Times Q&A What Happened in Ferguson, the Huffington Post’s Police Brutality page cataloguing recent news about the topic, the Youtube video for Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” the body cam footage of the shooting of Sam DuBose, and an opportunity to play the small game “Police Brutality,” in which players attempt to intervene against police brutality. After walking them through each of the materials briefly, we’ll have a discussion about what they feel would work best to use to create a sense of flow.

In front of you are a collection of media about police brutality. Additionally, the web browser on my laptop, I have six tabs open to relevant items and an additional program open that can be used. As we look at each one, I want you to point out if it’s genuinely relevant, whether you think it’s a more traditional resource or if it expands beyond traditional texts, and whether you think it would be an effective tool and exploring it will make us feel competent as experts in our field.

As we look at them, we’ll briefly discuss each one in the manner stated above.

  • Where do you think the best part to start is? Why did I start with the photo of Michael Brown?
  • How do you make sure that elements of a difficult topic have trigger warnings addressing student need?
  • How do you know if something is relevant and flows well?
  • Which of these tools provide enough information to show expertise? Which need help from other sources?

Individual Practice:

(3-5 Minutes)
Now, I have each of these things listed on small slips of paper and there is a glue stick in front of you. Select from the slips which items you would use in a lesson or unit on Police Brutality and glue them onto our worksheet (see below) in the order you’d present them. Next to each one, write a sentence or two saying why you placed it there and whether it introduces, expands, or creates a sense of competence. If you think of something from your own experience you’d like to include, write it in.

Before you get too far, here’s a print out of an article from Ijeoma Oluo about actions you can take about Police Brutality. Pay attention to the bold headers, though you can read more if you like. Think about how the pieces you select and glue could lead to one or more of these activities as a final class project. Also consider what novel or work a unit like this might be centered around and when in the unit you might want to introduce it so that it’s part of the flow.


(5 Minutes)
Creating Flow is about engaging in something important and relevant, expanding beyond traditional texts, and creating a sense of competency. While this is by no means an all-encompassing lesson, it provide a wide variety of elements, many of which can be found easily online, that can engage the students in a broad and relevant conversation.

Addressing the Cultural Needs of Students

Addressing the cultural needs of students requires an awareness and willingness to adjust to the student's needs. Fly fishing techniques might not work for an ice fisherman.

This 30 minute lesson is intended to inform teachers about the ways in which recognizing and addressing student’s cultural needs can require a lot of specific information and active awareness. This is inspired by and based off the essay by Lisa D. Delpit entitled “Skills and Other Dilemmas of a Progressive Black Educator” (PDF).
(Estimated Running Time: 27-33 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to explain the need for active assessment to properly tailor the learning experience to the cultural needs of students by examining, researching and writing about an object and the cultural knowledge needed to identify and understand its use.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

  • Lobster forks or another culturally relevant object
  • Objects/Photos of objects that are culturally relevant/unique/obscure

Essential Question(s):

What factors might keep a student from being successful in a proven methodology?

  • Students are less successful when they feel marginalized or underrepresented.
  • Students may have factors in their home life that make learning difficult.
  • If a teacher isn’t aware of a students needs, the student will be less successful.
  • Not all factors affecting student success can be controlled or addressed in the classroom.

Inquiry Exercise:

(3-5 Minutes)
Have you heard the saying, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime”?
How many of you have heard the terms skill-based learning or fluency-based learning?
Without defining them, how do you think they might be connected to the adage about fishing?
Which do you think is skills-based and which is fluency-based?

Introduction to New Material:

(5-8 Minutes)
Delpit explains that skills-based learning is intended to take provide students the means to translate their knowledge into commonly accepted forms. She implies that fluency-based learning grants students the opportunity to explore and create self-motivated opportunities for learning.

I’m going to tell you the story of the greatest fisherman in the world. While I tell it, I want you to consider our discussion of skills-based learning and fluency-based learning and the fishing adage.

Once there was a man who claimed to be the world’s best fisherman. Every day, he’d wade into the river in his waders, stick bait on his hook, and cast his line into the river. Every day, he’d bring back bigger, better and more fish than any fisherman around.The fisherman won every contest, rose to every challenge, and simply couldn’t be matched at his skill.

“I bet people could learn a lot from watching you fish,” said one of the other fisherman. This gave the world’s greatest fisherman an idea. He could travel the world and spread his knowledge of fishing to every corner of the globe, and then everyone would be able to eat like kings.

Knowing that fishermen listen best to other fisherman they respected, he decided he would go out and challenge the best fisherman in each place and, once he had earned his respect and shown how great a fisherman he was, they would listen and tell others, teaching them everything they needed to know.

First, the fisherman traveled to the ocean. He found a commercial fisherman on a renowned boat. He challenged the fisherman, showing him his rod and his reel, his tackle-box and waders, his bait and his bucket. He showed him how to cast his line and patiently wait. But the commercial fisherman just laughed. “That won’t work here,” he explained. “The sea is too rough. We use large nets that we drag behind the boat and collect enough fish in two days for the week.” The fisherman was disappointed that the commercial fisherman didn’t like what he had shown him. Clearly he knew other ways to fish.

Next, the fisherman headed north to the frozen tundra where food was scarce. He found a renowned ice fisherman in the village ice house. He challenged the fisherman, showing him his rod and his reel, his tackle-box and waders, his bait and his bucket. He showed him how to cast his line and patiently wait. But the ice fisherman just laughed. “That won’t work here,” he explained. “The ice stays frozen all winter and weather is too cold to stand outside cutting and fishing in big holes. We stay in huts with small holes cut deep into the lakes and catch all the fish we need with patience.” The fisherman was disappointed that the ice fisherman didn’t like what he had shown him. Clearly he knew other ways to fish.

Finally, the fisherman headed back home. As he got closer, the towns that he stopped in grew more receptive to his teaching.

In one small town he found an orphan boy and decided he would teach him to fish like a king. He called the boy over, showing him his rod and his reel, his tackle-box and waders, his bait and his bucket. He showed him how to cast his line and patiently wait. But the just looked at him like he was crazy. “I’m sorry, mister, but I don’t have the money for all your fancy tools. Besides, why would I waste my money on that when I already know how to tickle a trout and catch it with my bare hands?” The fisherman was dumbfounded. He was shocked the boy could catch a fish like that.

When he returned home, the fisherman told all his friends what he had seen. There were dozens of ways to fish, and not everything he knew would work in every case. Moreover, the fisherman found himself changing how he fished, using some of the things he had learned to be an even better fisherman.

In this story, the fisherman was a master of his modality, fishing with a rod and reel in rivers. Why wasn’t he successful in bringing his technique into other realms? What sort of reasons did the other fisherman and the orphan boy give for his techniques not working?

Guided Practice:

(4-5 Minutes)
I have here an object (in this case, a lobster cracker and lobster fork, though any culturally specific object would work). Get out a piece of paper and write a paragraph telling me what it is and how you know. Afterward, we’ll come back together and share our object and how you know.

Allow students to share their explanations, then explain what it the object really is. Follow up with some or all of the following questions:

  • How would someone know what this is?
  • What specific cultural knowledge do you have or would you need to understand the object?
  • How does trying to recognize this object mimic recognizing the needs of your students?
  • What sort of questions would you need to ask in order to understand this object with no prior knowledge?
  • What do you think the ramifications of making assumptions and getting it wrong would be?

Individual Practice:

(10 Minutes)
Select a number of other objects or photos of objects that are culturally relevant, obscure, and unique. You cn duplicate items or photos, but definitely have a variety.

Choose one of these objects/photos that you don’t recognize. Take a minute to do the same thing we just did, telling me what you think it is and how you know. Then hop on google, figure out what it is and write that as well. If you’re having trouble, I’ll help you find the object. Finally, add a third paragraph explaining three ways in which someone could’ve learned this and why it is or is not be obvious to people who don’t have this background.


(5 Minutes)
Collect assignments and grade based on whether they recognized valid cultural/economic deficiencies for their chosen object.

Delpit’s argument is essentially that not everyone has the same resources at their disposal and will react differently to different techniques based on their needs. All of our techniques are meant to “teach a man to fish,” so to speak, but different students will need different techniques based on their circumstances. Experimenting with fluency-based learning, in this case exploration of the object, can be fun and might even be partially successful, as some of you could infer your objects based on other factors. Skills-based learning, in this case represented by looking up the objects, can provide us the tools effectively deal with an area with which we’re unfamiliar. Either way, it’s most important to recognize the deficiencies in our model and adjust to the needs of the students.

Protherough’s Stages & Progression Building

High Fives are awesome, and can be used to teach Protherough's stages of learning.

This 25 minute lesson is intended for teachers to show them how a progression works and how literacy and other skills can be broken into steps to aid their students and themselves. It also delves into Protherough’s stages of learning and can be taught in conjunction with its mentor text, “The Range of Activities” in Developing a Response to Fiction (pp.184-199).
(Estimated Running Time: 22-25 Minutes)


Teachers will be able to identify the steps of a progression by combining steps on notecards into a progression.

Essential Question(s):

How do you teach a task or skill?

  • Teaching something requires teachers not only to know how to do something, but how to learn it.
  • A task or skill can be broken into steps or stages.
  • By breaking something into steps, teachers can see where different students are in their learning.
  • Moving progressively toward a goal allows teachers to adjust to their students on the fly.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

  • Hands
  • Notecards with a few of Protherough’s stages listed, one task per notecard
  • Good attitudes
  • “The Range of Activities” by Robert Protherough, Developing a Response to Fiction (pp.184-199)

Inquiry Exercise:

(3 Minutes)
What does progressive mean?

Introduction to New Material:

(2 Minutes)
Protherough forwards a theory that includes 6 stages of reading, analyzing and responding to a text. These stages are:

  1. Pre-reading activities
  2. Reading
  3. Emphasizing personal response
  4. The first sharing
  5. Developing and structuring response
  6. Synthesizing responses

The first two steps set us up to learn a the skill of literacy, and the sixth step is effectively what schools have traditionally expected. The middle steps, however, are key to learning a skill. Today, we’re going to learn to do high fives! We’re going to this by breaking down the act into steps, examining how we feel and react, and sharing the experience while we codify and structure high fives.

Guided Practice:

(5 Minutes)
I know you’ve probably all given a high five or two before, but we’re going to go through this as if we didn’t know. Additionally, I’m going to teach you a trick that, if you didn’t already know it, will take your high fives from lame to game!

  1. Partner up.
  2. Practice a low five, where one person holds out their hand and the other hits it. Figure out how hard is good, how solid is desireable. Note the sound and impact. Remember, in a high five, both hands will be moving meaning twice the force.
  3. With hand raised to should height, put your hands together palm against each other at your desired contact point.
  4. High five the air, so we don’t have injuries. Watch each other and think about what your partner is doing well.
  5. Consider the elbow and how it’s working. This is your next level Pro Tip: if you stare at your partner’s elbow when you high five, you’ll nail it nearly every time.
  6. Take it to a full high five! Let’s see how we’ve done.

There are numerous next level high fives, from high tens using both hands, to high fives in which we swing it back around and get a reverse high five on the down swing. If you and your partner are bored with a standard high five, consider the variations. Every student is different, so be prepared to let some students dwell at a specific stage where they need more work or take them the next level.

We’ve just gone through a six step progression for high fives in order. You should be able to see how each step builds on the last toward a high five.

Individual Practice:

(10 Minutes)
Now, we’re going to breaking down reading in the same way. While we won’t be working through a progression, we’re going to look at a few of the progressions that Protherough lists and see if we can’t put them back together and figure out which step goes with which.

In front of you you have a notecard with a task listed on it. The task matches up with one step in a six step progression. Take a look at it, think about it and  consider how it could help someone learn to read. Your goal is to find the other five steps in your progression by moving and collect with them. You can’t have two of the same steps in a group and everyone must find a group. Ready? Go!

Once students have grouped up, ask them to write down their progression with one or two sentences explaining how it flows. This can be collected as the exit ticket assessment.


(2 Minutes)
The text, unlike the note cards, have nearly 100 example activities organized by stage. Protherough spends a lot of time noting that things like individual journals and book response notebooks provide students a chance to use reflect and connect with a text more concretely and are often overlooked.

Once you understand Protherough’s steps, there are an infinite number of ways to traverse them if you simply use your creativity. Additionally, by practicing these steps, students should be able to build toward analyzing a text and formulating topic ideas for a paper.

Now, before we end I have one final request: I need a high five from each and every one of you! You know, to make sure you learned!