Prefatory Statement

“Take a Stand” unit is a 5-6 week unit that encompasses both reading and writing.   It challenges students to rethink the immediate world around them by reading literature from a variety of authors and choosing an issue pertinent to their own lives in which they want to see change.   At the end of the unit, each student will turn in a unit portfolio which will include their final writing project complete with a proposal for publication, the required journal responses, an MLA bibliography evidencing the research for the writing project, several drafts and peer editing forms for the writing project, and several other assignments that reveal the student's writing process and development as a critical thinker.


This unit is designed to align with the Minnesota High School Graduate Standard, Inquiry and Research.   The standard is Issue Analysis, and this particular unit focuses on subpoints A, E, and F.   Subpoint A is concerned with gathering information, subpoint B deals with seeing the issue from many viewpoints, and subpoint F is about evaluating multiple positions and proposed solutions for the issue.   Each of these areas stand as specific content in the process of the unit.   It is expected that students will show understanding and mastery of these three areas by the end of the unit.  


Students will benefit from this unit in many ways.   They are given almost total freedom in choosing a research topic and forming their own voice about the issue.   They are responsible for completing their own research and meeting the deadlines in this unit.   The nature of the unit is set up to allow a lot of “room to move” for students; therefore, the writing workshop days are often structured loosely to allow students to make their own priorities on learning.   The “Take a Stand” unit empowers students to create a piece of writing that is focused on a clear purpose and written for a real audience.   When the students turn in their portfolios, they will also be turning in an extra copy of their writing piece in an addressed envelope to the chosen audience.   Writing with this identified clear purpose brings meaning to the student, especially when they have the choice of audience.   The literature chosen in this unit is meant to represent a variety of cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, which by nature represent different voices.   This will give chance for students to identify with a voice or even a specific issue, to see the world through another person's eyes, and therefore to challenge their own worldview.  


Class Specification

This unit is intended for high school students, grades 9-12.   Depending on the class' abilities, the material could easily be altered and adapted to different grade levels.   Also, if one wanted to adopt the unit into a middle school classroom, the literature could be changed to suit the reading audience, but the writing content of the unit could remain the same.   Perhaps a teacher would want to eliminate some of the portfolio requirements and create more structured writing workshops for a middle school unit.   This unit is appropriate for all groups of people.   However, the placement of this unit in the term or school year is rather important.   It would not be a good unit to kick off the school year or term.   Students should have a sense of the class, individual students, and the teacher; some students will choose topics that are highly personal and the level of trust and safety created in the class will be a factor in some students' choice of topics.   Therefore, the unit should fall sometime after a general sense of the classroom environment is established.   Because of the choice and variety, this unit is appropriate for all socio-economic groups.   Few materials are actually required of students for this unit: a folder (for the final portfolio), an optional notebook, and access to a word processor, which is hopefully available to the students at school.   The material in this unit is sensitive to a range of reading and writing abilities.   However, it may be helpful to the students if they have some kind of experience with poetry by the time the unit begins.   If a teacher is planning to incorporate research into another unit later in the term, the “Take a Stand” unit would be beneficial to be placed before the other research units, since so much time is devoted to teaching research and organizational skills.   It is a comprehensive introduction to good   research techniques.


Significant Assumptions

I have built this unit on specific beliefs about how students learn and what they are already competent of.   Students learn when they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and when they are given greater control over their own learning; they learn when they can find meaning in the material.   “Take a Stand” unit is founded on valuing process.   Students will show evidence of their learning in terms of a process.   They will have examples of written responses, drafts, and other activities that reveal the changes that have taken place in the students' thinking and writing goals.   And that is exactly how students will best acquire the concepts of the unit: to reflect upon their own process.   Students are individual learners who possess learning styles unique to themselves.   Therefore, lessons, teaching methods, and activities must cater to their different learning styles, emphasizing combinations of audio, visual, and kinesthetic approaches.   According to Howard Gardner, people also possess different intelligences; people tend to be stronger in some areas than others.   I believe teachers should capitalize on this concept by making their classrooms conducive to multiple intelligences.   Students also benefit from a variety of approaches to projects, such as individual work and group work.   I believe that students become better writers by writing.   Some students at the high school level have been thinking abstractly for some time, while others are just beginning; teachers need to teach concepts like metacognition and critical thinking.  

I assume students already have minimal public speaking skills; they should have had some time in front of the class by the time they begin this unit.   I assume they have reading and writing skills appropriate to the class they have been placed in.   I assume they have the ability to form opinions and judgments about topics.   And I assume they are familiar with their classmates and teacher by the time this unit begins.   I must also assume some of them have not had the experience of working on a portfolio and being evaluated on the basis of a contract system.  


Desired Outcomes/State Standards/Objectives to be Met

By the end of the unit, students will have learned:

•  How to gather information on their research topic and organize it in an MLA bibliography.

•  How to identify areas of conflict surrounding their research topic and examine the different viewpoints among various groups of people concerning the issue.

•  How to evaluate multiple positions and proposed solutions for their research topic.  

•  How to analyze evidence from various sources concerning the issue.

•  How to identify motives of groups or individuals and analyze the practicality of their proposed solution.

•  How to propose their own solution to their topic based on clear evidence in their research.

•  How to analyze a piece of writing through the eyes of someone different from themselves.

•  How to create a portfolio that reflects the processes of their thinking and writing throughout the unit.

•  How to write with a real purpose for a real audience.  

•  How to understand that life reflects literature and literature reflects life.

•  How to understand that writing can bring about change.


See also the Learning Activity and Assessment Task Performance Package



Possible Whole-Class Activities


•  Whole-Class discussions: “The Unknown Citizen,” The Oval Portrait , “This Blessing,” “Kiswana Browne”

•  Current events activity

•  Kinesthetic Issue Continuum activity

•  Circles of Community Class List

•  Split class in half: write questions about each others' research topics

•  Invite a speaker from the community and discuss involving the community


Possible Small Group Activities


•  Unit writing groups (the teacher should do this)

•  Discussion groups for the literature discussions

•  Learning pairs for the current events exercise

•  Ongoing peer revision and feedback during writing workshops

•  Literature circles


Possible Individual Activities


•  Guided journal responses (minimum of 6)

•  Circles of Community exercise

•  Conflict-Communities-Compromise writing activity

•  Research a person who has gone before you, then give a presentation to the class

•  Solution evaluation exercise

•  Research, draft-writing, peer-editing, and organizing research into a bibliography

•  Constructing a unit portfolio


Ongoing Activities


•  Personal and research response journals

•  Writing workshop activities, such as peer-editing and conferencing

•  Research

•  Reading logs (for the “A” contract grade)




Student Resources


•  Notebook or at least a folder with paper to hold journal responses.   Also use the folder for holding literature and exercises handed out in class.

•  Separate folder for final portfolio.

•  Access to a word processor.  

•  Copies of “The Unknown Citizen,” The Oval Portrait , “This Blessing,” “Kiswana Browne,” Montgomery Boycott , From Tolerance ,


Supporting Materials for Teachers who Teach the Unit


•    “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden.

•  The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allen Poe

•    “This Blessing” by Barney Bush.   Found in Native American Songs and Poems: An Anthology , edited by Brian Swann.   New York : Dover , 1996.

•  Access to the film, Braveheart .

•  The Freedom Writers Diary with Erin Gruwell.   New York : Broadway, 1999.

•  Naylor, Gloria.   The Women of Brewster Place .   New York : Penguin, 1992.

•  Collins, Paul.   Community Writing: Researching Social Issues Through Composition .   New Jersey : Lawrence Erlbaum Ass., 2001.

•  King, Coretta Scott.   Montgomery Boycott .   1969

•  Forster, E. M.   From Tolerance .  

•  Handouts and assessment tools, provided.

•  Creativity with classroom space.   Try to use a lot of classroom bulletin boards and/or wall space for unit-related décor.   There will be many opportunities to display research work, presentations, etc. on the walls to encourage and motivate students while reflecting on the learning taking place.




The grades for this unit will be determined according to a contract system. At the beginning of the unit, each student will decide, according to the requirements, which grade he/she will aim for. The student can change his/her grade at any time after first conferencing with the teacher. The only way a student can earn their chosen grade is by satisfactorily completing all of the predetermined requirements on time. Most of the requirements will be displayed in a final portfolio; some requirements will be noted on a checklist. Each student will discuss their progress with the teacher during time set aside for conferencing or any time before or after school. The teacher will also record "good faith points" (Romano) as students participate in discussion and show clear effort during the unit. These points will also be discussed during conferences. Each student will be given a final assessment when they turn in their portfolio; rubrics will help determine each student's grade. There are also several self-assessment tools that students will use as they consider their own grade. The minimum grade a student may contract for is a C. The requirements are as follows: journal responses, a journal response self-evaluation, the solution evaluation document, three drafts of the final writing project with two peer feedback forms, a bibliography containing six sources (only two may be internet), a publication proposal for their writing artifact, a final copy of the writing, and finally a portfolio self-evaluation. Students who contract for an A or a B will have additional requirements including a book project and movie analysis, respectively (Contract materials included).

Week 1, Day 1




Objective/Standard :   By the end of this lesson, students will have learned:

•  To form a personal opinion about a relevant issue based on evidence

•  To draft a written document for a real audience based on their own opinion

•  To understand what to expect in the upcoming unit and what is expected of them in reference to the unit objectives


Rationale :   It is best for the world for students to be placed in mock real-life scenarios where they are challenged to synthesize the knowledge that they already have with new knowledge and form a reasonable judgment based on the two.   It is also crucial for students to be aware of purpose and audience when they begin to rationalize their opinion in terms of sharing it with the larger audience.  


Method :   Do not have an advance organizer on the board today.   The content of the lesson will be impromptu-style, asking students to think critically on the spot.

•  Grab the students' attention by announcing some late-breaking (but fictional) school or local news that will potentially affect them.   This intro will require a little bit of acting.   For example, one could pose the following scenario:   “You're never going to believe what I just heard when I was making copies in the office!   The school board met last night and they are more than seriously considering changing (Name of School) to year-round schooling, beginning next year!”   Of course this topic would be rather irrelevant to a class full of seniors, so be creative with your audience.   Expand upon this, briefly noting some reasons that were “brought up” in favor of and against the issue.

•  Allow students a few minutes to ask questions and voice concern over the issue.   (Make up your answers for now).

•  Bring the discussion to the chalkboard.   Begin by making a pro-con list of ways this decision might affect the students.   The suggestions may follow a general negative theme, so have some reasoning prepared beforehand for both sides of the argument.  

•  When the list seems fairly balanced, take a minute or so to highlight the main arguments.   Then ask students to take a stand for what they feel is the decision that best suits the needs of the student body and the larger community.

•  Have students move to separate sides of the room to represent their opinions.   Then students form into groups of three.   Their assignment:   Begin drafting a letter to the school board that proposes a supported argument in favor of or against the “potential decision.”   The group member responsibilities are as follows:

•  One student records the discussion by outlining the main points.
•  One student is the taskmaster.
•  One student will begin drafting the letter when the outline is complete.

•  Allow the students sufficient time to begin this task.   Regroup the class when about 6 or 7 minutes are remaining.

•  Discount the whole issue; tell the class you made it up for a specific reason, to introduce the new unit.   Then briefly describe the unit and talk about the unit objectives, what will be expected of them.   Assure them that you will spend sufficient time tomorrow talking about the unit in greater detail.


Homework :   Give them copies of “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden to read for tomorrow's class.   They don't need to do a thorough analysis, but they need to have some idea of what is taking place in the poem.


Assessment :   I know students will have met the objectives if:

•  Each student verbally participates in the class discussion/debate

•  Each student forms their own opinion regarding a solution to the issue

•  Each student participates in their group roles to begin a letter of opinion

•  Students have questions about the new unit either in class today or tomorrow



Week 1, Day 2                            “Posing Concepts”


  1. Read “the Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden in class.   Discuss.   Who is the speaker of this poem?   How would you describe him/her?   What is important to him or her?   Do you think the poet's ideas about “the unknown citizen” are the same as the speaker's view?   Explain the final two lines of the poem. Consider your own experience: What does this poem suggest about our society and about individuals in that society?   What might the opposite of the unknown citizen be?
  2. Watch Braveheart clip.   Discuss.
  3. Journal response:   use today's discussion to reflect on society's influence on the individual, as well as the individual's influence on society.   How do we find a balance between insisting on our individuality and respecting social norms.   Or do we need to?
  4. Hand out and discuss unit contracts at the end of class.   See attached materials.



Week 1, Day 3                           “Tolerance versus Resistance”



Objective/Standard:   By the end of this lesson, students will have learned:

1.   To see that oppression exists in today's society

2.   To create a definition of "tolerance" and "resistance" for themselves

3.   To compare the plight of two people in the texts

4.   To find examples of tolerance in American society, and therefore broaden their view


Rationale :

This lesson matters to the world because it challenges students to consider relevant top-

ics that deal with oppression historically and currently, and by reading "the other voices"

in literature they are empowered to think critically about oppression that exists in the very

world around them.


Method :

1.   Anticipatory set:   ask students to take out a piece of paper and freewrite a short list of

words for each word you prompt them with.   Say the words "oppression," "resistance,"

"tolerance" with 15-30 second pauses in between.

2.   Pass out copies of The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allen Poe.   Read the story aloud. Allow

five minutes or so for the students to review the story silently.   Highlight the vocabulary

words that might be confusing ahead of time and discuss them as a class.

3.   Pass out copies of "This Blessing", a poem by Barney Bush. Preface   the poem by

introducing Bush as a Native American author.   Then read the poem aloud.

Allow four-five minutes for students to silently review the poem.

4.   Instruct students to make a rough comparison between the two pieces of literature in

their journals.   Look for things like diction, symbols, structure, voice, and characters.  

(6 minutes)

5.   Form students into their cooperative (writing) groups.   Have the following questions on

the chalkboard or on a transparency so that all students can read:


1.   One person briefly summarize the plot of The Oval Portrait in your group.


2.   One person brieftly summarize the plot of "This Blessing."


3.   In what places have you seen art (or something else) regarded higher than what


seems like anything else?


4.   At what time have you seen a person or group of people exploited or made to be


obedient for the sake of someone/something else?


5.   To what extent do you see examples of "Mrs. Radcliffe" in this community or


country today?


6.   Use the text to describe the speaker in "This Blessing."


7.   What do you think it means for someone to have to "recreate [themselves] a


hundred times over?"


8.   How would you compare the speaker in "This Blessing" to Mrs. Radcliffe?


9.   Extending from the two texts, find examples of tolerance and resistance in to-


day's society.

6.   Students may remain in their groups, but when 10 minutes of class time remains,

bring the discussion to the larger class.   Reflect on the questions, particulary # 4, #5, #8,

and #9.  


Homework Assignment :   Instruct students to read from Tolerance by E. M. Forster.   Tomorrow be ready to turn in responses to the following questions:



1.   What is Forster's main purpose in writing this essay?


2.   Why do you think he uses everyday details in his argument?


3.   Do you agree or disagree with Forster when he says that tolerance is a negative virtue?


4.   Do you think that the world is becoming a more tolerant place in which to live?   Why?


Assessment :   I know students will have met the learning objectives if:



1.   They are able to integrate the themes in the texts into their own lives and think of



example of oppression today.



2.   They begin to analyze the definition of tolerance and resistance.



3.   They are able to understand the speaker and the characters in the poem and short






4.   They turn in tomorrow's homework with insightful and carefully thought out answers to



the Forster excerpt.


               of the world and the people in it.










Week 1, Day 4                                             “Read and Respond”


•  Collect homework.

•  Independent reading: “Kiswana Browne”

•  In small groups, bridge yesterday's discussion with today's story.   What do you see happening with tolerance and resistance?  

•  Whole class:   finish discussing as a class.




Week 1, Day 5                                             “Read and Respond”


•  In cooperative groups, read selection from The Freedom Writer's Diary , by Erin Gruwell.   Pass out copies for each group of the following pages:   22, 36-38, 63, 131-133, 152-153, 167-169.

•  Introduce the idea of writing for a real audience, using the Freedom Writers as an example.

•  Review the literature we have read so far.   What character do you feel you can relate to/have related to?   Make this a journal response.   It will be included in your final portfolio.

•  Collect signed contracts.


Homework:   collect current events from the news, magazines, newspapers, or the Internet.   Come to class next time with several current events to share.



Week 2, Day 1                                             “Current Events”


•  Students form pairs and discuss the current events they brought to class.

•  Search through newspapers and magazines to find individuals whose stories show tolerance or resistance.   Cut them out.   Cite them.   Hang them on a designated wall or bulletin board.   Find as many as you can.

•  In closing, what did you find?   Any surprises?

•  Save your current events for class tomorrow.



Week 2, Day 2                                             “Two Sides”


•  Bring out yesterday's current events.

•  Each student receives several blank note cards.

•  Draw a continuum on the card:   Agree……Disagree.

•  Students hear an issue and take a stand by making an “x” on their line.

•  Next, they jot down three reasons (supports) as to why they stand there.

•  The extremes stand up on opposite sides of the room; some remain somewhere in the middle.

•  Each side states their argument and debates the issue.   Students may change their minds and move at any time.   *try to include a broad range of topics for this activity.   With each issue, students will draw a new “x.”



Week 2, Day 3                                             “Circles of Your Community”


•  As a class, discuss and define “community.”

•  Have students create a list of communities they belong to in their journal.

•  Describe a problem or conflict that exists in as many communities as you can.

•  How does it affect you?   Others?

•  On a big poster board, begin to make a list of communities one may belong to.


Homework:   By now, students should have an idea in mind as to what they would like to research.   For tomorrow, each student needs to bring their research topic to class.



Week 2, Day 4                                             “Developing Dynamic Topics”


Objectives :   By the end of this lesson students will have learned:

•  what is expected of them regarding their final portfolio

•  how to create questions related to students' research topics

•  what kind of questions others have about their own research topics, which will help them to see different avenues of possible research


Rationale:   It is best for the world that students begin to consider a wide range of aspects associated with their unit topic so that they will be better prepared to find a variety of solutions to the issue presented, and therefore broaden their own critical thinking and understanding regarding issues related or unrelated to their research topic in the future.


Method :

•  Begin class by asking the class to share some books they have chosen to read for the book project.

•  Introduce the writing portfolio.   Hand out the related assessment tools:   portfolio rubric.

•  Begin the activity for the day, which is designed to help students expand their thinking about the topics they have chosen so their research will be more focused.   To start, every student must write his/her unit topic on the top of a piece of paper.

•  Split the class in half and form two separate circles with desks.

•  Students will begin by passing their piece of paper to the person on his/her right.   This person will read the topic and write down one or two questions he/she has about the topic, such as a specific question, a research-related question, or even an idea for a resource.   Students will continue to pass the sheets of paper around in the circle until they are returned o the original student.   Note:   it may be helpful to mandate a 2-minute time limit for each topic to avoid a pile-up of topics with a few students.

•  When every student has had his/her paper returned to him/ her, allow a few minutes for review.   Students may have questions for other students.


Homework :   an official paper topic proposal is due, along with genre ideas for the writing project.   The proposal should be typed, if possible.   The goal is to confirm the topic, ideas for research methods, and possible genres that would best fit the presentation of the topic.


Evaluation :   I know students will have met the objectives if:

•  They have questions about the portfolio

•  They create thoughtful and relevant questions for one anothers' topics

•  They ask for more feedback from fellow students when each student reviews his/her own questions



Week 2, Day 5                                             “Conflict—Communities—Compromise”


•  Collect topic proposals.   Attach to contracts.

•  Students receive the CCC handout.

•  Review the expectations for completing the document

•  Review the assessment for the document

•  Assign a due date, but allow the rest of class time to work on it

•  Students who finish early may begin conferencing with the teacher.



Week 3, Day 1                                             “Read and Respond”


•  Students read excerpt from Montgomery Boycott by Coretta Scott King while conferences take place.

•  Response journal questions:

•  Describe what you were feeling when you read this nonfiction piece

•  Do you think a boycott is an effective means of protest? Use examples to explain why.

•  Conference with students.   Record their contract grade and return their contracts; they will include this checklist in their final portfolio.   Also, have students begin to think about their specific audience for their project.

Homework:   Compose a journal entry that Rosa Parks may have written after the famous arrest.   Use sensory detail in your descriptions; be thorough.   Due tomorrow.



Week 3, Day 2                                             “Conferences”


•  Beginning research:   task is to start researching a person who has “gone before you” in your own research topic or a related issue.   Prepare a short (5-minutes) presentation to the class which will include:

•  A highlight of the person, the system or community they challenged, and the outcome

•  A picture of the person

•  A bibliography that contains 4 sources (max 2 internet0

•  Finish conferencing with students.


Homework:   Start thinking of a person who you could interview for your research and use as a source in your final bibliography.   This interview may take place via written correspondence, telephone, or in-person.   Brainstorm a list in your journal.



Week 3, Day 3                                             “Research”


•  How do we gather information?

•  Who is credible, especially on the web?

•  Look at both/all sides of the issue

•  Plagiarism

•  MLA bibliography

•  Provide lots of examples



Week 3, Day 4                                             “Library Research Day”


Draw names for presentation order, or ask the students how they want to set up the order


Homework:   continue research



Week 3, Day 5                                             “Library Research Day”


•  This is the last class time to work on presentations

•  Spend past of class going over peer-editing guidelines for the project: how to be an effective peer editor.   Pass out the provided forms.


Homework: continue research



Week 4, Day 1                                             “Community Speaker”


•  Invite someone from the community to come and speak to the students about his/her own experience.   This person will share a time when they challenged a system and took a stand on an issue.

•  Discuss ways that students could involve the larger community (outside of school) with their projects.

•  Journal reflection.

•  Presenations begin tomorrow.   Review the presentation order.



Week 4, Day 2                                             “Presentations”


•  For the presentations, students introduce their research topic by giving 5-minute presentations highlighting the person, etc.   Presentations will be evaluated by the teacher and three classmates.

•  Pass out critique sheets.



Week 4, Day 3                                             “Presentations”


In closing, make a checkpoint: find out what students still need at this point.   What obstacles hve they encountered ith their research or other?


Homework:   continue research



Week 4, Day 4                                             “Presentations”



Week 4, Day 5                                             “Solution Evaluation”


•  Hand out the solution evaluation sheet.

•  Review the expectations for completing the assignment.

•  Review the assessment for the assignment.

•  Assign a due date, but allow the rest of class time to work on it.


Homework:   students have been considering their audience.   Come to class next time with a completed draft of the writing project to turn in with a formal publication proposal.   Provide examples and answer questions.



Week 5, Day 1                                             “Bibliography”


•  Collect publication proposals and first drafts.

•  How to organize research into a bibliography.

•  Review expectations for mastery learning.

•  Finish presentations.

•  Sign up for conferences.

•  Set up booktalk and movie presentation order.


Homework:   Continue research and work on bibliography.



Week 5, Day 2                                             “Writing Workshop”


Use this time for:

•  Conferences

•  Peer editing

•  Research

•  Writing



Week 5, Day 3                                             “Writing Workshop”


Use this time for:

•  Conferences

•  Peer editing

•  Research

•  Writing



Week 5, Day 4                                             “Writing Workshop”


Use this time for:

•  Conferences

•  Peer editing

•  Research

•  Writing



Week 5, Day 5                                             “Booktalks and Movie Analysis Presentations”


•  Remember to hand out peer evaluations (3 for each speaker)

•  Homework is to continue finishing the necessary elements for the portfolio.



Week 6, Day 1                                             “Booktalks and Movie Analysis Presentations”


•  Hand out the final portfolio checklist and self evaluation forms.   Students will include both when they turn in their portfolios.

•  Homework is to continue finishing the necessary elements for the portfolio



Week 6, Day 2                                             “Booktalks and Movie Analysis Presentations”


Collect all portfolios, which must include all of the contract requirements, an addressed envelope with a copy of the project (for publication submission), and the final checklist (includes the contract grade).   I'll stamp and mail them!



Week 6, Day 3                                             “Portfolio Grading Conferences”


View Dead Poet's Society while conferences take place.



Week 6, Day 4                                             “Portfolio Grading Conferences”


View Dead Poet's Society while conferences take place.



Week 6, Day 5                                             “Portfolio Grading Conferences”


View Dead Poet's Society while conferences take place.