A few years ago, I created a demonstration lesson to use during interviews for teaching positions. Although I had intended it only as a demonstration lesson, I ended up liking it enough to try it with students. After getting some positive feedback from students and colleagues, I’ve elected to share it with a wider audience.
The lesson involves having groups of students design tattoos they think figures from the Colonial Period in American literature may have chosen. This would be a way for them to demonstrate their understanding of the influences in the lives of these early writers. The true objective of the lesson would be for the students to describe these influences. Designing the tattoos would serve merely as a novel way of doing this. They would have to explain why a particular writer would have chosen such a tattoo using evidence from class readings. In Common Core terms, the lesson has a few objectives, namely citing textual evidence and integrating and evaluating multiple sources of information.
Originally, I designed the lesson for high school students in an American literature course. I envisioned using it with a heterogeneous class of students having highly mixed abilities and learning preferences. The class would have had several special needs learners. My aim was to use it as a summative assessment at the end of a unit on writers from the early Colonial Period, but it could be used as a formative assessment during such a unit. A history teacher could readily adapt the unit as well.
I’ve used the lesson. It has worked with the classes I’ve taught. What I’ve liked about it is how incorporating tattoos into a discussion of literature has hooked the students. They’ve had the opportunity to create something, but they’ve had to be able to connect it with class readings. Using a group dynamic with specific roles has given different students different ways of participating and demonstrating what they’ve learned. I’ve found groups might need more than one period with this lesson, depending on the length of the period and just how involved the students decide to get.
What follows is the actual lesson plan, along with some annotations. Teachers can adapt it however they wish to suit the needs of their students or the requirements of a given curriculum.
Subject: English Language Arts (American Literature)
Objectives: SWBAT describe the influences (values and common experiences) of writers from the Colonial Period of American literature
Common Core Alignment:
SWBAT cite textual evidence (CCSS Literacy RI. 11-12.1)
SWBAT integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media of
formats (CCSS Literacy RI. 11-12.7)
Student journals, lined paper, or word processing program (for journal assignment)
Whiteboard and dry erase markers, smart board, or chalkboard
American Literature text used for course
Colored pencils or markers
1-2 class periods
The teacher gives students the following journal assignment: “List every reason you think people get tattooed” (the teacher reads the prompt to the group, reminding students to write freely without stopping to adjust conventions; the prompt will be on the whiteboard for students to begin on their own at the start of class; an alternate prompt might be for students to consider tattoos people in a given profession or with a particular hobby might have, such as a firefighter or SCUBA diver)
- After 5 to 7 minutes, the teacher asks at least 3 students to share their responses; the teacher records these on whiteboard
- The teacher reviews the recorded responses with the class, asking which reasons might have been relevant 400 years ago (referencing the time period of the current unit); the teacher underlines these selections on whiteboard
- The teacher asks students to cite the 3 broad groups of Colonial Period writers (based on their lineage) that the class has studied during the unit (ideally 1 group per student; the students should cite Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans)
- As the students answer, the teacher lists each group on the whiteboard and has student volunteers cite at least 1 writer under each broad group along with a detail about or description of that person’s life (an example under Africans might be Olaudah Equiano, a former slave who became an abolitionist writer)
- The teacher explains the objective of the lesson, which will be to describe the influences of selected writers from the Colonial Period; the teacher might need to emphasize that the objective is to explore what influenced these writers, not what influence they went on to have
- The teacher separates the students into groups (the method for doing this will vary according to class structure and student needs; some classes will have pre-established groups; the procedure for this step is for each teacher to decide; groups of 3 would be ideal, but other groupings could work)
- The teacher gives the assignment in writing on whiteboard (this should be written before the lesson, but covered to this point), as well as in print to each student group, explaining it orally at least twice: “In your groups, design a tattoo you think one of the writers we have been studying in class may have chosen to get and explain in writing the reason for the design” (this can be modified in several ways; the teacher might select a specific writer for each student group or might assign each student group 3 specific writers, 1 from each broad group of writers studied)
- Groups will need to discuss the design and are permitted and encouraged to use the text as a reference; the final product will be a drawing of the tattoo and a written explanation of the significance of the design; the explanation must be a paragraph in length and must contain one clear reference to a class reading (again, requirements can be altered according to available time and ability of the students)
- If desired, the teacher can model an example for the entire class or for selected students (models for Equiano could include open shackles representing his own release and his abolitionist efforts, or a sailing vessel representing his time serving during the Seven Years War)
- The teacher will have at least 2 students repeat directions for class
- Each group should have a recorder, a researcher, and an artist; roles can be split
- The teacher distributes (or has a student distribute) paper and pencils (if students have access to drawing programs on tablets, they should use these)
- The teacher circulates around room as students work and acts as a facilitator and monitor for the remainder of the lesson
The finished drawings and accompanying descriptions will be the assessment. Drawings will not be scored for quality. However, the written descriptions must cite some relevant detail from the writer’s life or situation. Teachers can create rubrics to fit with any existing scoring system.
Once again, teachers can adapt the lesson as needed and can use it as a culminating activity or as a way to check for understanding during a unit. The basic principle of the lesson could be used as an alternate assignment for a student who might struggle with a more traditional assignment. My hope is that another teacher can use this and get the positive results I found.
Written by Jeff Hartman