Monday, July 24, 2017

In Pursuit of Civil Conversation

Guest Post by Mary Knight
author of Saving Wonder, winner of the 2017 Green Earth Book Award

As I’ve traveled to schools for author visits since the publication of my debut novel, Saving Wonder, teachers have been telling me how concerned they are about the divisive rhetoric their students are witnessing from our country’s leaders. 

In the spirit of encouraging the practice of civil conversation, I’ve created the following lesson, which invites students to activate their empathy as they see an issue from the “other’s” point of view. It also offers practice in close reading, as well as writing dialogue within a scene. I use Saving Wonder as a model text in this lesson, although I’m sure examples of civil dialogue exist in other novels as well.

In Saving Wonder, my protagonist Curley Hines has a conversation with the new coal boss (Mr. Tiverton) who is threatening to blow the top off his mountain through a devastating mining process called mountaintop removal. A lot is at stake for both characters, but they nevertheless have a civil (albeit passionate) conversation that allows each to express his point of view.

The following is an abbreviated lesson with a corresponding writing prompt. It assumes that students have at least read up to Chapter “P.” If you’d like an extended version with a fun, optional activity, please contact me through my message page at my website: I’d love to hear what you think and if you use the lesson, your results!

A Lesson on Civil Dialogue

Before engaging the lesson, explore the concept of “empathy” with your students. Say: One of the ways authors inspire readers to care is by writing with empathy. Does anyone know what empathy is? Empathy is the ability to walk in another person’s shoes, to see the world through another person’s eyes or point of view, or to imagine what another is feeling. You can empathize with someone who is feeling happy or sad or any other emotion. Invite students to think of examples from their own lives where they’ve empathized with another person or animal (pet).

Before reading and/or rereading Chapter “P,” pgs. 154-163, ask: Do you think Mr. Tiverton is a “bad guy” in this novel? Ask for a show of hands, yes and no. Then ask: Why do you think that? Be sure to remain neutral. After opinions have been expressed, invite your class to reread the following, saying: Let’s (re)read the following chapter and see what our thinking is then.

Read and/or reread the scene.
After reading: On a T-chart, title the page: “Red Hawk Mountain.” Under that, make two columns: one titled “Curley’s Viewpoint” and one titled “Mr. Tiverton’s Viewpoint.” Use a different color for each point of view. Ask students to first list what Curley thinks and feels about mining Red Hawk Mountain and the mountain itself, referring to the text as often as they like. Invite them to do this by “empathizing” with Curley, by putting themselves in his shoes.

After this feels complete, facilitate the same process with Mr. Tiverton. Be sure to invite students to step into the shoes of Mr. Tiverton. How does he see Red Hawk Mountain? What does he think and feel about the mining process? Again, invite students to refer to the text as often as they like.

After you’ve completed this exercise, ask again: So, who thinks Mr. Tiverton is a bad guy? Why or why not? It’s okay for students to still hold the opinion that he’s a bad guy. That’s not a wrong answer; it’s an opinion. Ask: Regardless of what we think of Mr. Tiverton, do you understand his viewpoint a little bit better after stepping into his shoes? When we empathize with someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we agree with them, right? Still, empathy can help us understand someone else’s viewpoint, an important skill in a world with lots of different perspectives.

Reader’s theater: If there’s time, “play out” this dialogue (pgs. 158-163) between the two perspectives through a Reader’s Theater activity, encouraging each actor to look at the chart and “step into the shoes” of his or her character, “seeing what he sees” and “feeling what he feels.” Encourage them to: “Read from the heart of your character—like you are passionate about everything you are saying!” Reading with empathy encourages fluency!

After Reader’s Theater, ask the actors: How did it feel to play your part? Is there anything more you understand about your character after speaking his words?

Ask the rest of your class: After watching and listening, do you feel any different about Mr. Tiverton now? In what ways does the author help us empathize with each of her characters?

Writing with empathy: Using the above dialogue scene as a model text, ask students to: Write a scene like the one we’ve just acted out, where you and a parent, a sibling, a teacher or a friend are having a conversation about something that means a lot to you . . . and the other person holds a different perspective or opinion than yours. Offer examples of family or school issues students might want to explore in their writing.   

Once students have decided on their “issue,” ask them to create a T-chart—two columns on a sheet of paper, one representing the writer / narrator’s viewpoint and the other column representing the viewpoint of the other character in their story. Encourage them to “step into the shoes” of each character and write down each character’s feelings as well as ideas and thoughts about this issue. 

Ask students to write at the bottom of this brainstorming page, where the conversation is taking place and whenAfter they’ve done this pre-writing activity, invite them to write a scene between themselves and another person using dialogue that explores two different points of view.

Bio: Saving Wonder is Mary’s debut novel, published in 2016 by Scholastic Press, and selected for numerous honors, including the Green Earth Book Award for Children’s Fiction, a Parents’ Choice award, and a Children’s Book Council Notable Book for Social Studies. Mary is also working on a professional development book called, CoreEmpathy: Transforming the Literacy Classroom, with her writing partner and literacy specialist, Christie McLean Kesler.  

No comments:

Post a Comment