In developing my unit plan, I relied heavily upon chapter 1 of George Hillock’s book Teaching Argument Writing: Grades 6-12, (2011), specifically the “Slip or Trip” and “The Lunch Room Murders” activities (also available in Treat and Cabarga’s (2003)Crime and Puzzlement ), the Common Core standards for 10th grade ELA, and the evidence based claim worksheets from EngageNY and O’Dell Publishing. I incorporated fictional texts and media resources: I used five Sherlock Holmes (Conan Doyle) short stories and related youtube videos including clips from BBC’s Sherlock, and CBS’s Elementary. I knew the language of the texts would be difficult at first, but hoped the related media would ease them into the reading and prepare them for the hard work ahead. Lastly, I chose an episode of Dateline NBC (“Under the Desert Sky”) to use as the basis for the final paper.
After reviewing the standards and key learning in the unit, I introduced the important vocabulary (claim, counterclaim, ethos, pathos, logos, inductive and deductive reasoning, etc.) and displayed them on our word wall. We used “Slip or Trip” and “The Lunch Room Murders” as a starting point for developing evidence based claims and encouraging argument-based group work. Then, we began reading/watching clips of Sherlock Holmes. We focused on how the author crafted Holmes’ character, his reasoning and his logical constructs. We built our background knowledge and the ability to use evidence to craft arguments throughout the unit (both orally and in writing) in preparation for the final activity.
The Final Activity
Students watched Dateline NBC and took copious notes using 3 column notes (notes from the case, quotes and specific evidence, questions). We used ipads and laptops in small groups to review the case and the evidence. Once students felt they had come to a conclusion about the case, each student submitted an index card identifying their claim in one sentence (eg. “Based on the evidence, X was most responsible for the death of Y”). Students were grouped with like-minded peers and developed their evidence using oversized paper. Once they were able to articulate their claim and provide substantial evidence, they were partnered with someone with an alternate viewpoint and participated in constructive dialogue about their claim and the evidence. Following these activities, our students were equipped with claims, counter-claims and appropriate evidence to write their paper. I provided writing models and graphic organizers to help them write the essay and they crafted pieces as a whole class, others in small groups, and smaller chunks on their own. They peer reviewed, edited, and revised with partners and in small groups and turned in their best and most well supported final argument supporting their claim.
- Starting the year with the unit required strong classroom management skills. It provided a way to establish procedures for working collaboratively and allowed us to begin building common vocabulary we could use throughout the year.
- Students really struggled with the text at first but I think it will prepare them to read more difficult British Literature. Struggling students needed more scaffolding; the audio versions of the texts I made available helped, but they relied heavily on peer discussion to understand the texts.
- I was surprised by how many Sherlock fans the unit created; the library had a waiting list for the full-texts and many students began watching the television series on Netflix.
- The final papers showed me areas in need of work. Students provided ample evidence but their connection of details to the topic was weak. I also wonder if developing the rubric as a class may have given them a better understanding of the expectations.