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To Kill a Mockingbird Essay


So who better than an English teacher, to help you out figuring out some common English class assignments? You can consider me your secret weapon. So let’s look at the compare and contrast essay. Let’s also look at an Open Book test, that’s something that’s deceptively easy. We’re also going to talk about Setting Analysis. I know that’s something I very commonly ask my students to do. If you’re ready, we’re going to go through different strategies for each of those assignments, so that you can stay on target.

The compare and contrast essay is one of the most popular teacher assignments. You know why we like it? It’s making you think on a lot of different levels. You have to know information on two different topics, but most people can do that. When you’re showing similarities and differences, it’s showing kind of a higher level of thinking. So that’s our reasoning for why we like to see you make these different comparisons.

Let me give you an example of the kind of assignment I would give for "To kill a Mockingbird". It’s a long one and it's very teacher's pick. Compare and contrast Bob Ewell and Mr. Cunningham, looking specifically at how they deal with their place in the social hierarchy of Maycomb County. What fears do they have in common? How does each man’s behavior in response to that fear differ? That is a mouthful, I know it is. But we can break it down using a graphic organizer. It’s going to make it a lot easier.

Now I’m a fan of the good old-fashioned Venn diagram. It might not be your cup of tea, and I was thinking about you, so check out the bonus materials. If you don’t like the Venn, there’s a couple other graphic organizers there for you to choose from. But, just for this, it’s effective, it’s quick. So we’re going to use the Venn for this one.

The two things or the two people that we are comparing, are Mr. Ewell and Mr. Cunningham. So each of those will be one of the circles. Now it’s important that at the beginning, so you don’t have a mental block, think about anything you can about either of these people. Don’t worry yet if it's significant, or if one person does it, one person doesn’t. Just do like a mind dump. Get as much as you can out on your paper as quickly as you can before you forget it all.

For example, I know that Mr. Ewell has nine kids. I know that he drinks. I know that by the end of the story, he doesn’t really change. So I’m trying to think of a distinct way to say that, maybe just stays the same. It’s not poetry but again it’s also not great handwriting. But at the same time, we just want to get all our ideas down as quickly as we can.

What about Mr. Cunningham? He’s not featured quite as much. You might have to go back a little and look for him. But he is a farmer, and where Bob Ewell stays the same, Mr. Cunningham actually starts feeling remorseful about his racism. He’s very much affected by what Scout says outside the jail house. So let’s maybe put remorse in here. With the Venn diagram, these are things that go with each person. The things in the middle are the things that they have in common.

So what do these guys have in common? Well, they’re both poor, we can put that in. As for their roles in everyday life, they are both fathers.

You should certainly take this further yourself if this was your assignment. But in the interest of showing you what happens next, we’re going to move on. What I would recommend doing in this situation, is plugging this in to a traditional five paragraph essay structure. Do you recognize this? It’s called the Inverted Triangle method. What I would do here, here is your introduction, here is your conclusion, remember you’re going to go from very general down to specific. At the end you’re going to go from specific back up to general.

With a Venn diagram, you have those three different parts; one person, the other person, and then what’s common. That’s what I would suggest plugging in to this structure. So you could talk about Mr. Ewell. You could talk about Mr. Cunningham. Then you could just talk about their similarities or their differences really. Basically you set yourself up with your Venn diagram a kind of roadmap for really easy to put together five paragraph essay. That wasn’t too bad was it?

I know when I was in High school, when I heard the words Open Book Essay, your first reaction is, "Oh! Sweet easy A. Sweet I can just go through the book, copy a passage easy peasy," not so much. As a teacher, I’ve seen that this is some place where kids choke all the time. I look at across my classroom and I see them doing this, for like 45 minutes out of the hour. They don’t know what to write about, they don’t know where to start. So it’s really important, even though it sounds so easy, Open Book essay, you’ve got a plan in place.

Let me give you an example of the kind of assignment I would give, or the topic I would give if this is the kind of test we were having in class. Choose a passage from the text of To Kill a Mockingbird that you believe expresses an important point about a character, or the message of the story. Copy the passage onto your paper and write about what you found so important about the passage. That’s as genuine as you can get. That’s something I’ve used with my classes before.

It’s great if you read this topic, and immediately have an idea about what you want to write about. You might look at that and say well obviously I’m going to write about the passage where Atticus says it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. But what if you’re stuck and clueless? You’re sitting there with no idea about what to write about. The clock is ticking, you’re starting to freak out a little, here is a little secret I’m going to give you. On an Open Book Essay, when you have the book in front of you, try if you really can’t think of a passage that’s jumping out at you. Try checking the first chapter or the last chapter of the book. The opening and the conclusion is really where the author is setting things up, and then wrapping things up. So usually you can find a pretty important passage in one of those two chapters. That’s a little secret. So don’t tell everybody about it.

Once you’ve found your passage, the next thing you need to do, is get a plan in place so you don’t just rumble. It’s really good to have some kind of an organizational tool to keep you on the right track. My suggestion is a graphic organizer. One that looks like this is great. Not too much information, not too little. We would be addressing three major ideas. We can put those in the ovals, and then fill in the rectangles with supporting ideas. What’s important though is, when you pick your passage, if you couldn’t fill out all the shapes on the graphic organizer, you’re probably not going to have enough information to write a whole comprehensive essay. So make sure you can fill out everything here, before you decide and commit to that particular passage.

Let’s say that we picked our passage. Let me give you an example. This is one I’m not sure what chapter it is, but it is when Scout is in the wheel, the tire and she’s rolling and rolling and ends up in Boo Bradley’s yard. This is her speaking, “Atticus’ arrival”, because all of a sudden her dad shows up, “Was the second reason I wanted to quit the game. The first reason happened the day I rolled into the Radley front yard. Through all the headshaking, quelling of nausea and Jem-yelling, I heard another sound, so low I could not have heard it from the sidewalk. Someone inside the house was laughing.” So what I would do next is figure out what those three main points in the graphic organizer are going to be.

My suggestion to you is that the first one be context. What do I mean by context? You need to set the passage up. Remember your teacher is going to be reading this. It could be any passage from the entire book. So give a little bit of background that shows that you understand the context in which this passage is going to come from. I would also then probably, if you can, take a marker or pen to whatever it is you’re going to write about. You can start highlighting different ideas that you might have. This is going to help you when it comes time to fill in your graphic organizer.

If I said context was going to be the first thing, we were going to do, the next one might be Atticus. And the third major idea could be Boo Radley. Just a little thing like highlighting a word, it's going to help me stay on track if I blank out and start not knowing what’s right anymore. So here is what we’ve set up so far. We’ve got our passage selected, we’re going to do one column about context, one column about Atticus, and one column about Boo.

Here are the things that I would include when it comes to context. I would include the idea that this is Scout talking. The passage is from her point of view. I would include the idea that she’s rolling in a tire. I would include the idea that she ends up in Boo Radley’s yard. You don’t have to get super complicated with lots of details, but we need to know what’s going on with the passage that you’ve picked. So you can start there.

Next, we’re going to talk about Atticus. Let’s go back to the passage and maybe highlight some of the things that we would like to use when we get to explaining and elaborating our ideas on Atticus. Firth thing I would point out here, is that, his arrival has an effect on Scout. So she says that he is a reason that she wanted to quit the game. This is significant, because it shows the relationship between Scout and her dad. We can also see that she knows what’s going to happen when her dad gets there. He is all about fairness and he’s all about protecting people. So we know that this is what's making her have that reaction that she needs to stop playing the game, and stop messing around at Boo Radley’s.

To fill in the column about Atticus, we could have his effect on Scout. That he is protecting Boo, and Scout anticipates that. And that he’s all about fair treatment. That’s what’s making Scout want to stop, because he knows she might get in trouble, because he’s going to say that they’re teasing him.

Let’s go back to the passage and look for some stuff about Boo. The first thing to think about was the fact that he instils fear in people. She really is freaked out because of where she’s landed. She’s never been that close to his house before. So this would probably be the first reason. You know that these kids have made him out to be this horrible monster. They’re completely intimidated by him, and have such a fear for him, even though they don’t know him.

The next thing is the idea that we can’t see him. She only hears him. He remains this elusive, mysterious figure and we don’t see him. The only thing we hear is this laughing. It might seem ominous, I imagine it being like a villain laugh. But really if we think about it, and we consider what we know about Boo later on, I think he’s probably just laughing because he thinks it’s funny. He’s getting this good-hearted laugh at children playing. It’s pretty basic in terms of a human reaction to something funny that happens. Although Scout might see it, because of the instilling fear thing, she might see it like a scary villain laugh.

To fill in our final section, Boo instils fear. Boo is unseen. Boo still shows the goodness of his personality. That’s going to be really important later with his laughter at what’s going on.

Now that our graphic organizer is filled, you’ve really made a great roadmap for your essay. All you have to do now, is take that information and plug it into your traditional, just like we talked before, your traditional five paragraph essay. Introduction, conclusion in each of those three rows, context, Atticus, and Boo can be one of your body paragraphs. So that’s all you need to do. It’s not that hard and it’s foolproof. You’re not going to freak out. You’re going to know exactly what to do. If you don’t, you can always go back to your graphic organizer. That will get you right back on track.

For the last common assignment I’m going to talk to you about, we’re going to talk about setting. That Setting assignment, maybe you’ve seen it before. I know I’ve used it in class. Examine setting of the novel. Analyze its significance, and explain why this particular setting is integral to the novel as a whole.

I can hear you groaning. I know it’s kind of open ended again, but this is the kind of stuff that’s going to show up in your classroom and I’m going to help you figure it out. So before we really get into our strategies, are you a 100% sure you know what setting is? Let’s do a quick review just to make sure we’re on the same page.

Setting is the time, place, physical details and circumstances in which a situation occurs. These are all really important, not just time, not just place, but all these things together are really what creates setting. Setting also includes the background, atmosphere or environment in which characters live and move.

The biggest mistake I see with kids is thinking that, setting is just where something is. It’s also when something is. It’s also all this background information. So that’s setting, hope you’ve got that. Pause on it for a minute. Let it digest if you need to, then we’ll go back to our assignment.

We’ve got this idea of examining setting in the novel. We’ve got our review of the things that go into setting. So when we look at this, we want to think about the things that we just reviewed. The place, the time, the background, the atmosphere, these are all going to go into what we do when we talk about our setting.

The first step in attacking this assignment, I would say in your own words, describe the physical setting. So for this book, I would talk about Maycomb. I would talk about the South. I would talk about the time period. I would put that into my own words.

Now if this is a paper that you have to write, or an Open Book test, you could really throw a quotation in here that backs up what you’re saying in your own words. So if you have that option, I would definitely use it. Quotes do a great thing in terms of showing atmosphere and your teacher is really going to like it. So I might include this in my essay.

"Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” I just love the way the language sounds. That kind of has a lot to do with the mood and the atmosphere of the setting. So if you can throw in a quote, go ahead and do it.

The next thing that I recommend doing, when we’re talking about setting analysis, is to show the setting in a larger context. Now what do I mean by that? What we’re going to do is take a little step back and look at the bigger picture. Think about the social and historical context. Do you remember when we talked about that in the first episode? You might want to put a little bit of that in.

The last step is to determine why this particular setting is necessary for this novel to be successful. If you’re not really sure, think about if you change the setting. For example if we took Maycomb Alabama in 1930, and switched it to Maycomb Alabama in 2008 or 2012, how would that affect the story as a whole? We know that that would make the differences, because it’s not necessarily the same race problems and stuff like that. Maycomb's small town setting also if we put it in New York City, would it be the same? Would those provincial ideas of prejudice still be what people believed? Probably not. So that’s a way to kind of,if you’re a little stuck on what to do, imagine that in a different setting. It might show you what’s important and significant about the setting that it is in.

I hope that wasn’t too bad. Now we’ve got the game plan for whatever your teacher throws out at you. Remember in the bonus material section I’ve got a Cheat sheet for you, with other common assignments and the episodes that correspond to them. So you owe me big time, but it’s there for you to use, so check it out.

So while you were pretending not to watch High School Musical 3, while your little sister was watching it in the next room, here is the gist of what you missed. We talked about three very common assignments that you might get when you’re doing his work in your English class. So we talked about a compare and contrast essay. We also talked about an Open Notes essay. We’ve got a plan in place now.

The other thing we talked about was Setting Analysis. We have a game plan for that as well. So I’ve really given you some great strategies. So tomorrow in third period, when your English teacher springs one of these up on you, you’re going to be totally ready.

Now in our next episode, we’re going to go for one more teacher fav and that’s Quotation analysis. We’re going to do the same thing and get a great game plan in place, so you can really hit her with your...

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