Alligator River is a short story that will have your class yelling at each other, screaming at each other, becoming enraged at each other. And that’s fantastic, productive learning. This story is about five characters caught up in a story that brings so many different assumptions to the forefront.
It’s a perfect way to address bias, encourage groupwork, develop the need to compromise, and get students actively engaged in full-class conversations.
English Course Pack: Unit One – Literacy Skills
This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit One: Literacy Skills, which focuses on creating a strong foundational understanding of literacy skills, PEE paragraph writing, and embedding quotations as textual support.
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1.02 – Alligator River
Step One: Read the Story to the Class
Read the story to the class. Simple, right? Simple is often a great way to start. You don’t even need to explain what the story is about, or what the focus of the text will be. That will come in the later parts.
Step Two: Tell the Students Why you Read the Story
Tell the students they’ll rank the characters from Best to Worst. What does “best” mean? What does “worst” mean? That’s something they can self-select, so long as they can justify their responses.
Step Three: Read the Story… Faster!
Read the story again, so they’re reading-with-meaning. Now that they understand the task at hand, and are returning to a familiar text, they will be listening with purpose.
Feel free to read it faster now. Challenge yourself to see just how fast you can read.
Step Four: Individual Ranking
Give students ten minutes to rank the characters – without talking to their peers (time for that soon!). Ten minutes seems like a lot of time, but students are doing a lot of work considering each of the characters, ordering them, and then adding an explnation for their choice.
Some students will complete this faster than others. The focus should be to keep student-to-student talk to a minimal during this portion of the class, ensuring that the ideas students record reflect their own beliefs, not those of their elbow partners.
Step Five: Group Ranking
Create groups of 4 or 5 in your classroom. Tell the students that they need to create a new list from best to worst that everyone in the group agrees with. This is where some of the yelling begins. There are often a lot of feelings, and because “best” and “worst” and self-defined terms, students may actually agree with each others’ reasons, but not their rankings.
Ensure that no disrespectful behaviour occurs during this section. Wander around the classroom. Learn who is quick to speak, who is quick to listen, who is quick to try and silence voices, who is quick to and who is quick to try and ensure all voices are honoured.
There’s a lot of observational learning that happens here. Do not sit at your desk and miss this opportunity.
Step Six: Bringing Groups Together
Have students combine two of the large groups (In most classes this should create 3 or 4 large groups across the class. You can break up your Step Five groups if you have an odd number).
Once again a final list must be created that everyone in these larger groups agrees with.
Instruct students to send a representative to the board to record their final lists for the entire class to see. Alternatively, have them edit a google sheet that is being projected. Whatever format you use is fine. The important thing is that all students can see all the lists.
Step Seven: Explaining Choices
Have the representative that wrote the list for the class to see choose someone from their group to explain the list. This rewards their initial effort, and also allows them to self-select themselves if they want to.
Step Eight: Supporting Choices
Once all three lists have been explained, compare and contrast them. Ensure students are respectful of all choices. Indicate that what matters isn’t the order, but that the order can be explained and fully supported.
Students don’t need to agree with something, but they do need to be able to support and understand the support.
Step Nine: Sharing Your List
Now’s the time to throw a curveball and share “your list”. Ensure that students know your list is no more correct or incorrect than theirs. Try to have your list contrast theirs, so you can highlight points that weren’t raised yet. Your list doesn’t have to actually be what you believe in the moment.
Now, you’ve shown that you’re not on a higher level than they are, and that all ideas are equal provided they are backed up by the same level of quality support.
You can explain that your class was thrown into chaos by discussing one short story, not even a page long, and that it was all because we approach texts through our own lenses. Describe how our lenses are shaped, and how that impacts how we view texts (be they visual, audio, written).
By the end of this class your students will understand that this is a course where they can share their ideas freely, as long as they support those ideas. They will know that their voice is welcomed and respected even if they have a viewpoint that differs from that of their teacher.
English – Unit One: Literacy Skills
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1.16 – The Movie Poster Assignment (English Lesson)
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1.15 – Movie Posters: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
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1.14 – Teaching the Media Triangle (English Lesson)
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1.13 – In-Class Writing: Topic Journals (English Lesson)
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1.12 – The Swan as a Metaphor for Love: Short Story – Connecting (English Lesson)
The Swan as a Metaphor for Love is a short story written by Amelia Gray and can be found online at Joyland Magazine. It is…
1.11 – Connecting: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
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1.10 – Determining Importance & Summarizing: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
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1.09 – Taylor Swift: Short Story – Questioning (English Lesson)
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1.08 – Questioning: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
The Questioning slide deck follows the same framework that all the literacy skills slide decks do. It starts by asking students what the skill entails,…
1.07 – Made out of Meat – Short Story Visualizing and Inferring (English Lesson)
Terry Bisson’s story, They’re Made Out of Meat, is a perfect way to put inferring into practice. After reading the story aloud, students are asked…
1.06 – Inferring: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
This slide deck introduces students to the literacy skill, Inferring. It is designed to be moved through slowly, scaffolding an understanding of Inferring for students…
1.05 – The Drawbridge: Character Monologues (English Lesson)
The Drawbridge Character Monologue assignment builds upon the now-familiar text that was explored in 1.04 – The Drawbridge: PEE Paragraphs, asking students to consider the…
1.04: The Drawbridge: PEE Paragraphs (English Lesson)
The Drawbridge PEE Paragraph activity brings together all of the learning that has taken place so far. The beginning of the lesson should be run…
1.03: Embedding Quotations: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
Embedding Quotations is a necessary skill that students will use throughout their years in secondary and post-secondary education. This slide deck introduces the idea of…
1.01: The Nametag Project (English Lesson)
The Nametag project begins the school year with students creating a piece that visually represents who they are and presents the challenge for them to…
English Course Packs: Full Units
Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry
Unit Three: Literature Circles
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)
Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!
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