Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Who Is the Third Murderer? - The Most Awesome Answer Ever

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth hires two murderers to kill Banquo; however, three murderers show up to the scene.  The original two even make a note of it by asking this third interloper who sent him?  The answer that he was sent by Macbeth himself has a few flaws.

It would seem that Shakespeare meant to do something with this third guy, but never got around to fleshing it out, leaving English teacher geeks around the globe speculating here and there.  This third murderer recognizes Banquo, understands his habits around Macbeth's stables, and was able to give at least some of the original plan to the other two murderers so that they would accept him.  Yet he doesn't seem to know all of the plan since he was unaware of the light going out, and as a result, the main target got away.

You can find some more awesome images from Macbeth (including some really freaky looking witches) by going to the artist's (Amy Hood) web site.

So in my class of regular level students, I use this as an opportunity to get them to think deeper.  They find the clues and facts, list off everyone who could have been the murderer, and then find evidence to support their favorite suspect.  We get into a discussion over what the third murderer's motive was - to help kill Banquo and Fleance or to help Banquo and/or Fleance get away.

I tell them that on their test, they are going to have to accuse one character and then defend their statement.  We joked this year about people putting down Banquo as the murderer - a major feat since he was the one being killed at the time.

One student took this as a challenge and on the test stapled an extra sheet so that he would have enough space to properly accuse Banquo for being the third murderer of Banquo.  Here is his answer:

Banquo.  Banquo fakes his death in a simple process.  He knew from the witches that his child would be king and not Macbeth's children.  He knew that Macbeth was willing to kill to be king.  When Macbeth became king, Banquo knew it was only a matter of time before Macbeth would kill him. Banquo then got body doubles of himself and his son and sent his son out of Scotland.  When he heard of suspicious people meeting with the king, he knew it was time, and trailed the two murderers.  He declared his double to be himself so that the others wouldn't think otherwise.  When his son's double got away and met with Banquo for payment, Banquo killed him to tie up loose ends.  I believe that after the play ended, Banquo got his son to take over Scotland and then ruled through the shadows.

Flawed?  Sure, but he was so excited to prove that I was wrong when I said that Banquo COULDN'T be the third murderer.  It's not often that you get a regular level student to get this passionate about a test answer.  

This same kid followed up this response with the answer to this question:
Who is most at fault for what has happened in this play?

King James I.  Shakespeare wrote this play because of the big stink James made about a supposed "witch" visiting him.  If he had stayed calm and not made a big deal out of it, this play would never have been written.

Folks, it's hard to argue with this kind of logic.  :)

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Shameless Plug: Annotating the Witches from Macbeth (works for all levels)

 I love teaching Macbeth.  We break out the fog machine every time the witches make an appearance.  It's just a lot of fun.  I created a Google presentation for this that I have found to be great for a day or two lesson plans and can be used as a group project or solo.


The presentation presents Act IV scene i where the witches brew the pot and gives students to requirement to look up the ingredients to see what they actually could be or what they symbolize.  How deep you want them to go is up to you and largely based on what your students are capable of.

For my regular level students, I provide them with a list of websites to help them find what I want them to find.  For my AP and honors, I delete the links.

Here's what the second witch's potion looks like:

For my regular classes, it is an exercise in research and introduction to annotating.  For my upper level, I require more information on what the ingredient may symbolize.

If you are interested, you can find it here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/XET-Annotating-Shakespeares-Witches-7401238

And if you are about to introduce any Shakespeare unit, Macbeth or not, you may find this introduction useful help students grasp iambic pentameter and what it means by using the way the witches talk to show Shakespeare's command of the language: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/XET-Introducing-Shakespeare-to-Reluctant-Readers-7397714  It's title "Introducing Shakespeare to Reluctant Readers", but to be honest, it works great with my AP kids too.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Using Shirley Jackson to Teach Author's Technique

 The following lesson takes a 90 minute class to teach depending on the discussion you and your kids put forth.  You can, of course, break it up as you see fit.

We started the class by reading Shirley Jackson's "Charles".  If you've never read it, you find a copy here. It's a good break from the stories involving tragedy or death.  I like to have the kids read it in parts (narrator 1, narrator 2, Laurie, Mother, Father, Teacher) since we typically do a lot of individual reading activities. 

The story itself is short and fun and is a good way to teach situational irony and foreshadowing.  After we discuss these terms and we look at the clues we were given that give away the surprise ending (this is a good chance for those who figured it early to look smart by pointing out what it was that led them to see the truth).  At this point, many of the students are wandering how they missed it on the first reading. That's when we tackle how Jackson pulls this off - with narration. 

The mother is out narrator here and her view of her son contradicts elements in the story, but, being a mom, she gladly puts the blinders on and sees the best of her child and quickly dismisses any character flaws as being the result of this Charles kid.  Since she so willingly buys into it and since we have no reason to believe she is an unreliable narrator (and even more so since she does not believe herself to be one), we easily buy into her worldview.  Since she believes her child whole heartedly, we are forgiven if we miss that this kids is an intentionally unreliable narrator when retelling the events of each day to his parents.  Sure we have situational irony and foreshadowing, by the master writer here uses narration to deliver both of these in this story.

Now that they have an appreciation for Jackson, we jump in on her more famous work - "The Lottery".  At this point the students have some knowledge of our author, so may be looking for the ironic twist and try to figure it out.  I give them no warning about the story (other than it is a story that could have gotten me fired on my first year of teaching, but that is a story for a different blog post perhaps).  Since I want to do all of this in a day, I go with the old movie version (takes about 18 minutes):

The first round of discussion goes to what the point of the story is and it is rare that we get a student who off the bat realizes that this is about questioning why we do things.  If you want to hint to your students to help them find the answer, it lies in anything Old Man Warner (my hero) says.  After there has been some discussion on that front, we talk about the background here.  It was written in 1948, so people were not as open to change then as we are now.  That started with the '60s and progressed with the changing technology, but even now students can relate to groups that do not wish to let go of traditions they hold dear.  We talk about all the negative letters it got after being printed in the New Yorker and some of the disturbing reactions (people wanting to know where this took place so that they could go watch it).  

Once that is out of the way, we go for how she did it.  What technique is present here.  The answer, for me at least, is tone.  The first half of this movie has a lighthearted tone.  everyone is joking and catching up, the kids are playing, no worries in the world.  Once Old Man Warner speaks (my hero!), the tone gets more serious and increasingly gets more serious making any joke or light hearted statement seem more and more out of place. Even though we were looking for the ironic twist, we are so thrown off by this shift in tone that it amplifies the results.

After this discussion, we move to a book she is known for - The Haunting of Hill House.  Since this is a one day lesson, we don't have time to jump into the novel, but I do reel them in with this clip from the Netflix series by the same name (I know the two are very different in may ways, but the series does try to bring in the psychological horror like the book does - the ghosts react to the personal trauma the people bring to the house).  It's not too scary and no jump scares.

By the way, earlier in this episode, the boy found a hat in the house and brought it to his room, which you can see in this clip in the shadows.

Now that the students are looking for how the scene is developed, I usually have someone point out that the tension in this scene is the pacing.  The scene moves so slow and it is this that really drives the students to hold their breath like the boy in the clip.

It is almost time for the bell to ring, so we wrap it up by reminding how narration impacts the story in "Charles", tone impacts the story in "The Lottery", and pacing impacts the story in The Haunting of Hill House and they are given a challenge to start looking at how the authors achieve their greatness, not just what is the greatness achieved.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Using "Ordeal by Cheque" to Teach Inference

 Getting students to read between the lines is a bear.  For lower level readers, it is something they have not done before, most likely, yet it is typically heavy on state reading comprehension tests.  For AP level students, it is often something they can do, but do not feel comfortable relying on it for their analysis.

"Ordeal by Cheque" by Wuther Crue is the perfect story for this.  If you have never read it before, do so now.  I'll wait.  You can see a copy here.

With struggling readers, I put this up on the projector or tape large printouts on the white board as well as give them a copy to look at on their own.  Then we start looking at each check and focusing on the small details.  I am always asking what they think is going on.  Any thought is entertained regardless of how outlandish it may be.  We also entertain other students pointing out reason why an idea contradicts something in our text.  When we finally finish, I let them know that all that thinking they were doing about what could be happening in the story is inferring.  From that point forward, the word 'inference' is no longer as scary as it is when they only see it on state test practice.

With AP Lit students, I put them into groups and I only give them one page at a time.  I have printed each check as big as I can and I have them taped to the white board.  Students are in groups of 3 or 4 and start trying to figure out what the "real" story is here.  I ask them to annotate the story on the board by marking down what ideas they feel are important, details they notice, and questions they have.  Some will look up the amounts of money and figure out how much it is in today's dollars.  They always get excited when the first check to Tony Spagoni is revealed.  Again, we focus on what is happening outside of the checks.  In the end the take away is that all of these thoughts that they have is where good writers like to lay their story.  The text is great, but what happens between paragraphs and off screen (so to speak) is just as rich.

I have noticed that when I use this with standard classes, they are fine to stick with their class-created interpretation.  The AP kids, however, have thought of so many ways to interpret the events that they want to know what the "real" story is.  When I let them know that this is all of the story they get, they are frustrated (but not in a negative way).  The first year I did this and saw how amusing it was that they felt that there was not enough closure, I asked them if they had ever read "The Lady or the Tiger".  I was shocked to find out that they had not, so for fun, a few days later I gave them the story to pick apart, but kept the final paragraph off of their copy and sealed in an enveloped pinned to the wall.  The board was labeled LADY and TIGER and they had to provide their evidence for which one they thought was behind the door.  They scoured the story and when we only had a few minutes left in class, I read the final paragraph to them.  Let's just say I was lucky the bell rang to release class!  :)

Thursday, September 7, 2023


Chiasmus is a literary term where words, grammar, or ideas are repeated in reverse order.

A good example of this is any dialogue of The Sphinx from the movie Mystery Men.

Famous examples of this term:

"Fair is foul and foul is fair." - The Witches, Macbeth, Shakespeare

"By the day frolic, and by the night dance." - Samuel Johnson

“Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” - John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

A Different Type of Reading Check - Using Spark Notes to Check Reading

 Checking for reading is always tricky.  You want to reward those who read and at the same time, you don't want to punish the kid who struggles to remember what they read.  My typical fall back for lower level classes is the open note quiz.  That way they can use their notes (if they bothered to take any) to help them recall what they read.

However, I saw the other day on a Facebook group someone sharing an alternative that they like to use that I found quite clever.  The teacher's name is Katie Jo and this is all her idea, not mine, though I wish it was!

The Spark Note Check

Give the students a copy of the Spark Notes summary of the chapters that were assigned.  Ask students to fill in a detail or two (or I guess however many you wish to assign) that the summary missed.  She says that she changes up the summary source so that students don't just use Cliff Notes or something else to get around the Spark Notes short comings.  She also said that the only downfall she's encountered is that it takes longer to grade than a traditional quiz.

I love it and can't wait to try it.  If you have an alternative way to check for reading, please post in the comments!