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Horizontal divider M.G. Gannon

So, Let’s Talk about Gatsby

posted: 5.13.13 by M.G. Gannon

Who can resist having a conversation with students about Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D spectacle served up this week for our viewing pleasure? Everyone in our field seems to have strong feelings, and perhaps some sinking fears, surrounding this event.


Some 300 juniors and 14 teachers from our school will be walking across town on Thursday to take over our local movie theater and have our moment with Luhrmann’s Gatsby on the big screen. We’ll be reading the various reviews of the movie this week, and I’m thinking it’s a wonderful way to enjoy using some hard-won rhetorical skills to talk about how Luhrmann has interpreted this revered novel. Few get out of high school without reading this novel. It is one of the relatively few required texts that continues to span the generations. This new film offers an opportunity to rethink the text, its intentions, and how we use this staple in our curriculum.


Sources you might use:


“Shimmying Off the Literary Mantle: The Great Gatsby, Interpreted by Baz Luhrmann” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times (May 10, 2013)


“All That Jazz” – David Denby, The New Yorker (May 13, 2013)


“The Great Gatsby: Try Again, Old Sport” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker Blog (May 10, 2013)


The Great Gatsby: Baz Lurhmann’s 3D Update is an Exuberant Mess” – Peter Suderman, (May 10, 2013)


“Why I Despise The Great Gatsby” – Kathryn Shulz, New York Magazine (May 6, 2013)


“Baz Luhrmann says The Great Gatsby is a Love Story. Is He Right?” – Tom Shone, Guardian (May 9, 2013)


The Great Gatsby: A Glitzy Spectacular that Misses the Point” – Hermione Hoby, The Telegraph (May 11, 2013)


“Why I Sort of Liked The Great Gatsby – David Edelstein, New York Magazine (May 13, 2013)


“A Grating Great Gatsby – Christopher Orr, The Atlantic (May 10, 2013)



“Perhaps Baz Luhrmann Should Have Just Made a Musical Great Gatsby After All” – Bruce Handy, Vanity Fair (May 10, 2013)


“The Colbert Book Club on The Great Gatsby” – The Colbert Report, various video clips, May 2013


“A Darker, More Ruthless Gatsby” – Alexandra Alter, The Wall Street Journal (April 19, 2013)


“The Grating ‘Gatsby’” – Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal (May 9, 2013)


The Real Great Gatsby – Barbara Chai, The Wall Street Journal (May 6, 2013)


“The F. Scott Fitzgerald Songbook” – Will Friedwald, The Wall Street Journal (May 8, 2013)


“The Road to West Egg” – Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair (May 2000)


Possible activities might include:

  • a classroom debate either on the novel as required reading or the movie adaptation and its faithfulness to the text, citing from these articles to support a position
  • a classroom conversation or paper on the novel’s validity as required reading in the American Lit curriculum
  • a classroom conversation or paper on theme as presented in the text version vs. theme as presented in the movie version

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Categories: Film, Literature, Synthesis
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Carol Jago on “One Today”

posted: 1.28.13 by guestblogger

Today’s guest blogger is Daniel McDonough, Executive Editor & Executive Marketing Manager for Bedford/St. Martin’s.

President Obama selected poet Richard Blanco to deliver an inaugural poem at last week’s ceremonies. It was a historic choice, as Blanco became the first immigrant, the first Latino, and the first openly gay inaugural poet. While Blanco’s  poem, “One Today,” has generated plenty of reaction, not much of it is specifically designed to bring the poem into the classroom. If you are interested in teaching the poem, The New York Times selected educator and Bedford/St. Martin’s Carol Jago to provide teaching tips and lesson plans for “One Today.”  Use this link to access Carol’s incredibly rich unit centered around the inaugural poem:

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Categories: Assignments, Audience, Close reading, Literature, Poetry
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Horizontal divider Nathan Odell

Exercise: Close Reading for Gender

posted: 12.21.12 by Nathan Odell

Over on Theresa Frohock’s blog some prominent fantasy authors are trying to settle an age-old debate: Can a reader tell whether a scene was written by a man or a woman just by detecting clues in the prose? The contest has begun, and the task is as follows:

THE TASK: Tell us, based on the prose, whether the scene was written by a man or a woman. At the end, I want to tabulate the results and see if readers can really tell the difference. If you want to, you may say why you feel a particular scene was written by a man or woman, but you don’t have to.

Yes, as a scientific study, it is full of holes and sucks, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. This little test is an itch that I’ve been wanting to scratch for a long time, especially when I read the Fantasy Reddit and I don’t see a single woman listed for best novel in 2012. I know women released books in 2012. Perhaps I’m hanging out in all the wrong places.

Or maybe the “female-authors-equal-romance-y/YA-ish-themes” connotation is true in readers’ minds, so you all are skipping novels by women entirely. I wonder. And when I think too much, I tend to get into trouble … or hold a contest.

THE CHEESE: You have a chance to win free books.

This sort of contest could easily be adapted into a layered exercise in close reading for students. Not only do they have to read closely—looking for nuances in diction, making inferences based on the content—but they need to take a stance on the effect of those choices, namely whether they perceive a masculinizing or feminizing effect. We should, of course, reinforce that this is simply an interesting exercise—detecting gender is not the usual purpose of close reading—but sometimes limiting the scope of the task has benefits. And, ultimately, there’s roughly a 50% chance that students will absolutely insist that they have detected the gender only to be absolutely wrong, which will yield some important lessons about gender stereotyping. And for an encore: passages from George Eliot.


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Categories: Chapter 2: Close Reading, Close reading, Literature, Tone
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Controversy strikes the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

posted: 12.17.12 by guestblogger

Today’s guest blogger is Daniel McDonough, Executive Editor & Executive Marketing Manager for Bedford/St. Martin’s.



The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was unveiled in Washington, D.C. last year. The centerpiece of the monument is “The Stone of Hope,” a 30-foot-tall sculpture of Dr. King emerging from a block of white granite. The memorial also includes a wall of quotes that features excerpts from fourteen of King’s speeches. However, the memorial has been greeted with controversy. No, not because it was sculpted by Chinese national Lei Yixin from Chinese granite. Well, maybe that will be a controversy, but one for another day. The controversy in question is the decision to remove a quote that appears on the Stone of Hope. The quote reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” The only problem is that the quote is a paraphrase. The full quote, which was changed due to size considerations, reads: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” The change was picked up on by a journalist from the Washington Post who wrote about it in 2011.

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Categories: Argument, Assignments, Debate, Documenting Sources, Rhetorical Purpose/Strategy, Synthesis
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Horizontal divider Jesse Tangen

Inferno Not So Inferno-ish

posted: 9.5.12 by Jesse Tangen

If I told you I like to assign Dante’s Inferno for 10th grade Pre-AP summer reading, you’d say I was sadistic. But when students focus on the familiar elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, they begin to love The Divine Comedy. However, asking students to look past language that seems antiquated and overwrought in order to focus on Dante’s meaning takes hard work. That’s why I was intrigued by a new translation of Inferno by Mary Jo Bang, a contemporary poet anthologized in the Best American Poetry series and known especially for her collection Elegy. Using accessible free verse, Bang hopes that “this translation does what the original does in terms of raising issues of honesty and scruple, responsibility and religious hypocrisy.¨


To convey Dante’s meaning to a contemporary audience, she replaces his allusions with popular references to everything from South Park to the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil.” South Park appears in the third circle of Bang’s version of Inferno, the wet muckpile reserved for the gluttonous. Dante listens to one of the souls condemned to sit under the constant downpour of sewage:


I used to be called Cartman, sometimes Little Piggy;

The fault that did me in was gluttony. As you can see,

Because of that, I’ve been ground down by rain.


It seems that the cheesy puffs have finally caught up with him.


Maybe having Virgil described as a “street-savvy teacher” who was “once in a turf war” or the butt-tooting demon as “Badass” makes this version an easier sell to students than the classic Allen Mandelbaum text that I’ve been using for years. So was Bang going to make my job easier?


Surprisingly, I’ve found that this contemporary approach to Dante is sometimes more difficult for beginning readers. In many cases, the contemporary syntax often strives for artistry and results in complexity. The leaps in context from one line to the next can make many passages hard to grasp. However Bang’s version mostly does away with the contextualization, modernization, and reiteration that old texts require.


Bang’s contemporary allusions are perfect for teaching a high school audience about the complexities of translation. Concentrate on a single Canto and bring in multiple versions, such as those from Mandelbaum, Pinsky, and Longfellow. Specifically, you might compare Henry Longfellow’s perfect rhymes with Robert Pinsky’s often imperfect rhymes in their English renditions of terza rima. Nearing the top of Bloom’s taxonomy, these comparisons also lend themselves to evaluative questions: Which translation of Inferno is more effective? Why?


These re-invented translations are a great way to show students that these classic texts are still being discussed today. If you like Mary Jo Bang’s approach, you might also want to look into Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey. Depending on the students’ maturity level and school policies, also try Jonathan Goldstein’s jocular re-telling of much of the Old Testament in Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible! (you can listen tosome segments here).

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Categories: Allusion, Audience, Literature, Tone
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Horizontal divider Carol Jago

Can Fiction Influence Real Life? You Bet!

posted: 8.20.12 by Carol Jago

My sister and I spent the first 14 years of our lives bickering. Again and again my poor mother was forced to play referee. I still remember the time, we must have been about 10 and 11, when Nancy was indignant over something outrageous I had said and demanded, “Who does Carol think she is?”

My mom replied calmly, “Find out what she’s reading.”

It has ever been thus. As a child and now as an adult, I can’t help myself from taking on characteristics, borrowing speech patterns, and aping the manners of characters that attract me in the books I read. Occasionally the pathology goes deeper. Having “lost” myself as a young reader in the world of Black Beauty, I became completely convinced that I was brilliant on horseback – despite the fact that I’d never been near a horse in my life. My certainty was strengthened when later I became enchanted with how well Anna Karenina rode (and looked in her riding habit).  Who needs riding lessons when I could just pick up a book?

It was with great relief that I learned of new research out of Ohio State University demonstrating that readers who lose themselves in fiction often appropriate traits and attitudes from fictional characters. I wasn’t sick. Just highly susceptible.

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Categories: Literature
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The Rhetoric of AT&T’s Texting Ads

posted: 8.15.12 by guestblogger

Today’s guest blogger is Dan McDonough, Executive Editor & Executive Marketing Manager for Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Like millions of Americans, I spent quite a bit of time watching the Olympics this summer. There were some good commercials that could easily be pulled into an AP English Language Course for analysis. To me, the most striking were the AT&T ads against texting and driving. It seems like a topic that kids would immediately be able to connect with, and since they may have seen the ads in the past few weeks, it might be a way to dive into rhetorical analysis at the start of the year. Texting and driving is something most kids should be able to discuss with some understanding on the first day of class.  Here is one of AT&T’s ads:

The argument is pretty straight forward, “No text is worth dying over.” You might ask students what kind of appeals are made in the commercial. Additionally, you might ask them if there is any additional impact to this ad because the young man who died was a United States Marine. You might ask them to analyze how much screen time different elements receive (i.e. the family, the mom, the portrait of the Marine, the actual text message), and the effect that has on the viewer.  More specifically, you might just come out and ask them: What is the effect of having the actual text message on the screen for so long.

As a next step(s), you can go to AT&T’s website where you will find a whole slew of additional information:

The site has details on a “NoText Pledge Day” as well as a variety of other ways to get involved.  Additionally, there are a variety of additional videos and resources to be found on the site.  You can ask kids how the site expands on or augments what is found in the TV ads.  How does the site use data and evidence in a way that the TV ads don’t?  Ask them to assess which aspects of AT&T’s campaign they find most effective and why.

To deepen the discussion and bring in some verbal texts, you might have them read the debate on the issue between Radley Balko and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy from a 2009 issue of U.S. News and World Report.

Hopefully this activity will be one students find and engaging and have something to say about.  It should help you get your students into the proper mindset for an increasingly complex study of rhetoric and argument over the course of the year.

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Making the Case for a New National Monument

posted: 7.10.12 by guestblogger

Today’s Guest Blogger is Emily Richardson, who currently teaches Advanced Placement English Language and Composition, American Literature, and Western Humanities in a suburban Chicago high school.  She also blogs and presents about contemporary pedagogical practices in the English classroom.


Teaching AP is my form of cardio.  More precisely, it feels like a race.  I always feel like I could have done more, taught more, provided more, assigned more. Instead of living in regret, however, I’ve learned to plan smarter. The key to teaching this course without wasting away into a frail version of yourself is to create assignments that incorporate as many key skills as possible.

In my class, there are several goals I continually instill in my students:

1.)    Write with voice, passion, style, and purpose

2.)    Know your audience and how to persuade them effectively

3.)    Develop arguments that are well-reasoned and striking

4.)    Be able to utilize multiple sources to defend an argument you are constructing

To hone these skills simultaneously, I have developed a project that begins with my students doing an in-depth study of “The Gettysburg Address.”  We study the rhetoric of the piece and examine the persona that Lincoln was conveying through the construction of his brief speech. This usually takes two full class periods. Then, on the third day, I provide students with 5-7 statues of Abraham Lincoln from various stages of his life and career. Their responsibility is to defend which statue they feel best represents the persona of “The Gettysburg Address.” Of course there is no exact answer, but I want to encourage students to think about how written words are translated visually and to practice defending a complex argument.

This carries the class into a discussion about the purpose of a monument and what it is intended to commemorate. We begin brainstorming a list of things that need to be considered in constructing a monument.  The list ranges from political concerns (like “what message would this monument send to other nations” and “is the monument tied to the current administration”) to aesthetic concerns (such as “does the monument fit in with its surroundings” and “what text should be written on the monument”) to financial concerns (like “how would money be raised to pay for the monument” and “does this subject warrant the effort to procure donations”) to even environmental concerns (like “what materials would best survive shifting weather”). To help contextualize these issues, the students research the controversy surrounding the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. This monument serves as a segue into their actual group project.

In deciding whether to construct this monument, the National Park Service had to determine whether Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy symbolized American culture and history enough to be commemorated on the National Mall. This concern prompts the following task for the groups: Determine what you think the next monument constructed on the National Mall should be and what it should look like. Then, construct a thoughtful and stylized speech advocating your choice that would persuade the National Park Service to select your proposal.

I don’t have much I need to tell the groups with regards to guidelines. Their study of “The Gettysburg Address,” statues of Lincoln, and the major considerations behind the construction of monuments has effectively prepared them; frequently, they do more than what I would have requested. Some groups end up researching who/what is currently included and lacking from the National Mall. Many others go through a digital tour of the area to pick a location that best reflects their vision. I only require them to cite at least five sources in their speeches and to provide an artistic rendering of their monuments.

Once all of the students’ monuments have been created, I up the ante by inviting our principal into the class. Each group selects their strongest orator to deliver an impassioned speech (typically in 4-5 minutes) and answer pointed questions from the principal. The principal then selects the group that he feels had the strongest argument and most persuasive pitch. Including days in the lab and time to work in class, the project takes a full 8 class periods. However, I can easily justify the time spent because it is an organic way to prepare my students for any of the following prompts that they might see on the exam:

1.)     “Then synthesize information from at least three sources and incorporate it into a coherent, well-developed essay that argues a clear position on ______….”

2.)    “Then write an essay in which you analyze the rhetorical strategies….”

3.)    “Then synthesize information from at least three of the sources and incorporate it into a coherent, well-developed essay that identifies the key issues associated with….”

4.)    “Then write an essay that examines the extent to which _____ holds true today.”

5.)    “Defend, challenge, or qualify the position that….”


This project provides students with test prep that doesn’t feel particularly cumbersome or test-driven.  Instead, it achieves the fundamental goals of the AP exam:  challenging students to think critically and thoroughly.

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Categories: Argument, Assignments, Audience, Nonfiction, Synthesis, Tone, Visual Rhetoric
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Rhetorical Pomp & Circumstance

posted: 5.9.12 by guestblogger

Lance Balla is the English Curriculum Developer at Bellevue School District in Washington, and an AP workshop leader and table leader.

The end of the year provides a unique opportunity to examine the commencement rituals with your seniors. Though many of us share memories of tired commencement speeches filled with worn adages and uninspiring “advice,” there are plenty of examples of speakers who have surprised their audiences with addresses that were witty, thoughtful, and even stirring.

A commencement is in a sense an auto-antonym (a word that has two meanings, and whose meanings are also the opposite of each other, such as cleave), in that it signals both an ending and a beginning. Speakers at graduation are charged both with summing up the high school experience, while at the same time gesturing towards the possibilities of a new beginning after graduation.

When I work with commencement speeches in class, I begin by asking students to discuss whether they are more interested in the summation of the school experience or the speculation about what the future holds. This leads both to a discussion of their expectations for a commencement speech, as well a chance to review the basic rhetorical situation:

  • who is chosen to speak at commencement
  • who is the audience
  • and what really is the purpose?

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Categories: Assignments, Audience, Nonfiction, Rhetorical Purpose/Strategy, Tone
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Horizontal divider Renée Shea

Lighten Up! Rhetoric with YouTube

posted: 5.8.12 by Renée Shea

A lovely little rhetoric video has come over the email transom recently.

It is not only charming and clever, but also helpful.



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Categories: AP Test Prep
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