I like to have a “theme” for the year, a guiding idea or question that keeps students focused on a reason: why are we doing this? With my twelfth grade class, most of or texts and activities centre around the power of persuasion. We read non-fiction articles with the intention of discovering how authors persuade us to believe their messages. We discuss and debate controversial and timely issues, and they write persuasive essays and conduct debates, using what they have learned to persuade others. Then we move on to Macbeth and look at it through the same lens: how do the witches and Lady Macbeth persuade this strong, brave hero to do the nasty deed? What does his willingness to do it show us about both the power of persuasion and human nature? Next it’s Animal Farm and the same question is asked again. How do the pigs persuade the animals to follow and why do they get sucked in so easily?
USING GUIDING QUESTIONS ALL YEAR
All year, whether we are doing reader’s workshop or a class literature study, we will take time to reflect on, discuss, and write about these questions: “What are you learning about the power of persuasion? How can it be used for good and bad? How can you harness that power yourself?” Their final assessments are based around what they have learned all year in terms of the guiding question. Projects, essays and presentations will require them to synthesize ideas from a variety of texts as well as their own thoughts and learning. What I like most about this approach is that they can’t just “google” an answer to a traditional essay question that is based on one text. The fact that they have to stitch together ideas from several texts means that they have to do a lot more thinking for themselves. And, this approach does more than focus the students and our studies; it also gives them a real life skill. They learn to identify persuasive techniques that may be used to suck them into something and they learn persuasive skills that they can use for good reasons–college letters, job applications, relationships, etc.
We use the same approach in my tenth grade class, but this time the guiding question is “What causes intolerance and how can we learn to be more tolerant?” As with my tweflth grade class, students reflect on this question all year, and at the end of the semester they create a website that illustrates their learning, plus do a “mockingbird project” where they have to stand up for a mockingbird in the community. The boys in this picture used their musical talents to busk downtown; the money they raised was used to buy supplies for a local women’s shelter.
Guiding questions with an inquiry approach really work for me and my students. When they see that they are learning something with a real-world application, they certainly get more engaged. Give it a try!
You can find several of my inquiry units HERE