Being able to design and implement an effective unit plan is absolutely essential to any prospective teacher. My philosophy involves teaching the classics, as well as introducing our culturally diverse students to a variety of young adult literature. I believe that by being exposed to a combination of the two, students will find something relevant, and that speaks to them as individuals regardsless of their interests, preferences, and/or beliefs. In his book Teaching English by Design, Peter Smagorinsky discusses the importance of approaching a unit plan from a constructivist point of view, which has guided my teaching toward a more creative, student-centered curriculum in which students are active participants, while avoiding the type of pre-packaged, teacher-centered activities that cause students to check out.
Here are a few of the unit plans I have developed for use in a high school classroom. I have attached the units for both To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hunger Games. The unit for Othello was constructed while student teaching, and it was done over a six-week period. Some of the essential questions for the unit included:
- How might a person's surroundings affect their personality?
- How do the effects of racism affect a person's self-esteem?
- Is there such a thing as "motiveless malignity?"
This unit culminated with our students' participation in the New York City Student Shakespeare Festival, where they decided to explore different forms of hatred: racism, sexism, classism, and jealousy and how these are tragic flaws of humanity / human nature.
House on Mango Street contains an intimate look into the life of a young girl of Hispanic descent. I think this book presents adolescents who are of the same ethnicity an opportunity to identify with elements of their own culture, most likely a rarity for them in traditional literary choices. It would also serve as a helpful reference for bridging one culture to another and for bringing students’ culture into their classroom. Students of other ethnicities would have an opportunity to learn about the culture while still reading about elements with which they can identify, such as alienation and trying to assimilate within a peer group. By reacting personally to Cisneros’s stories, students can generate discussions, debates, illustrations, and stories from their own families. This book also offers a chance to examine varied sentence structure and elements of good writing, such as similes, metaphors, and other forms of descriptive language.