Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Who's to Blame? - A Great Class Discussion Lesson

This is my second year doing this and I think I have honed it down to a good 45 minutes to hour-long discussion lesson. 

I got the idea/inspiration from a podcast titled Alarmist.  The format of the show is to pick an event in history, say the sinking of the Titanic, the assassination of JFK, the Donner Party, the Superbowl XXXVIII halftime controversy, and many others like it.  They discuss the event and then start listing (well, they say they are listing it on a board - I'm just an audio listener so I will take them at their word) all the people and traditions and beliefs and anything else that is a factor.  The patriarchy is a common one that makes its way on their list.  Once their board is full, they start eliminating or combining until they have three.  One gets a warning, one gets a slap on the wrist, and the other goes to Alarmist jail.

So I began thinking - this would be awesome to use in a classroom discussion.  So I tried it out last year with my AP kids on who is to blame for Myrtle's death in The Great Gatsby.  It worked ok, but not with the flair I wanted.  I feel that maybe squashed some of the discussion by wanting to list everything first and then talk about it.  This year I did things a little differently. For one, I didn't read Gatsby this year, so I chose The Lord of the Flies.  Our mission was to decide who was to blame for Piggy's death.

It started with this:

The students were given some time to discuss and think about all the contributing factors.  Once I felt they were ready for the challenge, we started taking suspects.  This time, I let each suspect be defended or argued before we moved to a new subject.  That was the key to success.  After a LONG discussion of students getting very heated (but in a good way), the board was packed.  At that point, we marked out some suspects (Isaac Newton was argued for discovering gravity, but we released him from being a person of interest), we combined some suspects into others (Piggy's Auntie and parents were combined and then moved under the umbrella of Piggy), until we finally narrowed it down to our three main contenders: Roger, Human Nature, and Piggy.  

I did it again with the next class and they had the warning going to Roger, the slap on the wrist going to Piggy, and Jack going to AP jail.

This format could be used with almost any book.  Who's to blame for Macbeth's violent run?  Heathcliff's atrocities?  the hanging of Justine Moritz? the suicide of John the Savage?  You get the point!  And the amount of prep work for you is low - assuming you did your job earlier to get your kids ready for deep thinking.  Since there is a huge argument component, this works for AP Lang just as well.

It was so much fun!  They really reached deep and even the silly suspects (the color red, for instance) were vehemently fought for by their arresting officers.  How this would work in a lower level class, I am not sure.  I can only vouch for this in an AP class setting.  Try it and let me know how it worked in your class! 

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