Bil Johnson

Yale University
Lecturer at Brown University

Bil has over 25 years of experience as a public school teacher. Before his current role as a teacher at the Urban Assembly School in NYC, Bil was a senior lecturer at Brown University.

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Free Response Skills Practice

Bil Johnson
Bil Johnson

Yale University
Lecturer at Brown University

Bil has over 25 years of experience as a public school teacher. Before his current role as a teacher at the Urban Assembly School in NYC, Bil was a senior lecturer at Brown University.


Now we’re going to deal with the free response by actually practicing the skills for organizing it. There’s another episode where you can look at the actual writing of it. But I keep mentioning that it’s so important to organize, to brainstorm etcetera. Sob here is the free response skills practice and you’re going to get a chance to actually do this. I’m going to model one for you and then it’s going to be your turn, to go online and get the next question, and work it out yourself. Then, you’ll come back and we’ll play with that on together. But first, let’s take a look.

Just remembering our strategy, read the question carefully, identify the prompt category, brainstorm, organize and that’s what we’re going to work on right now. The writing, as I said it's dealt with in another episode. If you can these things, the writing will take care of itself. So let’s look at a question.

Compare and contrast the period from 1865 to 1900, with 1965 to 2000 using two of the following areas. So, as I mentioned earlier, you want to figure out your category. Well, it’s pretty straight forward here. Compare and contrast, and again your time periods, write there for us. There is one, and here is the other. So two of the following areas and this is where, once you’ve broken down the question down, you can compare and contrast these two periods. I’m going to think a little bit about what I know, and take a look at what do I know about these? This is still breaking down the question to some extent. How much do I know about immigration? Well, maybe a lot here. I’m not sure how much here.

Technology, yeah I think I probably can do quite a bit there. Economics, I remember some stuff from there. Maybe some stuff from here, race relations, yeah I think that’s another one. So in my own break down, and this is just my breakdown of it, I’m going to say here is two of the following that I’m going to look at; technology and race relations.

I’ve broken it down. Compare and contrast 1865 to 1900 to 1965 to 2000, technology and race relations. So I’m going to set up a little graphic organizer; Technology and race relations. Here is where I’m going to brainstorm with my graphic organizer. So with technology, between 1865 and 1900, the modern world was created. All I have to put in is Thomas Edison really. But we’ve got the light bulb, the typewriter, really the modern office in many ways. The telephone, of course, and going back to Edison, we’ve got essentially the movie camera. So that’s probably enough to get us started. There are more. I mean I could technically talk about the initial development of the automobile, maybe I just want to make a little note of that over here.

So then 1965 to 2000, well of course for all of us computers, cell phones, we know that technology. But we might also start to look at things like space.

Other technologies we can start to talk about, even starting to move toward green technologies. But computer, cell phones, that’s the big revolution obviously that we might want to talk about.

Race relations 1865 to 1900, of course Jim Crow was the big one. But I might want to also talk about the 13th through the 15th amendments. Then of course, Plessy versus Ferguson.

1965 to 2000, of course we get some race riots which we might have studied Los Angeles, Detroit etcetera, but we also get civil rights acts, Voting rights Act. Now, there’s my five minutes of organization, my graphic organizer. Now compare and contrast. Obviously in technology, we can say there was a tremendous amount of technology in both periods that changed the way people dealt with the world. Communication being obviously a connecting thread here. But also the idea of travelling, of getting from one place to another, or even how our conception of who we are in the world when we start to look at space and somebody walking on the moon in 1969.

With race relations, we see obviously in ’65, initially slaves were free. We might want to talk about the Freeman’s role, but then the Jim Crow period, which really abrogates and counteracts the 13th through the 15th amendments.

Plessy versus Ferguson, the Supreme Court case that totally say that separate, but equal is okay. We get into 1965 to 2000, the civil rights acts, the civil rights movement and we start to see really this movement toward equality, genuine equality legalistically amidst a period of turmoil. So we might want to compare and contrast those two things where, by the 20th Century there was active aggressive response to the denial of rights where the Jim Crow laws were passively accepted, because of the power of White society.

Now, I really can start to think about, how do I want to frame my essay? How do I want to talk about these two things? How do I want to compare and contrast them? So there is my organization and that’s basically from the breakdown of the question, to the categories, to the brainstorming, to the graphic organizer. How I’m going to get ready to write my free response essay.

So now it’s your turn to go to the bonus materials and download the question. There’s a question waiting there for you. It’s your turn to try going through the steps we just talked about. To breakdown that question, to think about what are the categories? What might the time period be? To brainstorm your ideas and then to organize it. Now you may want to use a graphic organizer, or some other form of organization, but whatever way you do it, follow the steps. Break down the question, figure out the categories, time period, brainstorm, organize, and do everything, but the writing. When you’re done doing that, come on back here and I’ll be waiting to show you what I did with it.

Here is the question that you’ve just worked on.

Evaluate the following statement: The compromises made from the writing of the Constitution through 1854 offered the possibility of avoiding what some considered an inevitable Civil war. So let’s think about the steps once again. Evaluate the following statement. Key phrase 'compromises', we’ve got some dates, constitutions through 1854. So we’ve broken down the question and what we want to think about is, what do we already know possibly? What’s the category? Obviously, the category has to do with compromises and the constitution. And basically, what you probably what you want to think of, is slavery and compromises.

I start to brainstorm. What comes to mind? Well, starting with the constitution, the Three-Fifths compromise, then the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850. And then the Kansas Nebraska Act, which some might not think of as a compromise, but I think if you look at the elements of it, it is.

Here is a graphic organizer I might have used. I would have used, I did use. Because for me, this would help make an argument and evaluate whether these things did help put off the civil war or not. Three-fifths Compromise, of course the real cause of this was the slave trade. And the effect was of course it was delayed slave trade itself until 1807.

Now those are cryptic notes. But I know, because of what I know about this, that what I would talk about is, obviously the south wanted the slave trade. They also wanted a representation and that’s the other point I want to make sure I put in there. So the representation with three-fifths of every five slaves counted for three members of the population of the Southern states.

Then again, this connects to that. What the North said is, you can have that representation, but it’ll end the slave trade. It’ll delay it for 20 years, but it will end the slave trade. So the compromise is the North gets the end of the slave trade, the South gets some representation. So now about 15, 20 years later, we had the Missouri Compromise of course. This was the idea of the inclusion of Missouri as a state. The problem is of course that, they want Missouri to come in as a slave state. This would make the senate imbalanced. So the effect is, the North gets a free state. So Maine comes in as a free state, and once again we’ve got the North and South wrestling with each other.

The Compromise of 1850, we make it 30 years without another disaster. The Compromise of 1850 of course has to do with Western expansion and will slavery go west? This is a really sticky issue because, what the Missouri Compromise said was that, the Southern boundary of Missouri would extend all the way to the West Coast originally, and everything north of it would be free and south there would be slave. Well, there’s much more territory in North than South. So the South gets a little upset about that as we start to after the Mexican war expand westward. They start to erase this idea about popular sovereignty or this or that.

What we get as a result of the Compromise of 1850, are some interesting things. Basically, the North says we’ll get rid of that line, but slave trade which had continued, because this was about the slave trade from Africa. Slave trading within the United States was still legal, in Washington DC it was going to have to end. Somehow the North could concede. It also on a fugitive slave law. I think that just shows and something you might want to talk about is how barely the North wanted to keep the union together. That in fact, they were willing to allow southerners to send people into the North to get escape slaves, as long as the western expansion could happen. Of course there’s an economic undertone to all of this.

by Kansas and Nebraska, the clause once again is basically the same; the extension of slavery. And the effect is, this notion of popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty is that each state will get to vote whether it wants to be free or slave. This brings on enormous problems in terms of people flooding into Kansas and Nebraska, who don't live there to vote one way or the other.

So basically those were the compromises that I would have focused on. I thought of it in a cause and effect fashion. You might want to do it as a Venn diagram and set up compromises and the cause and effect that way, where there’s overlapping things, because there as some connections.

You might want to set it up as a T-chart with just a couple of compromises depending on how much you know. The key thing is, to break down the question, figure out your categories, brainstorm, and then organize. From this basically, I know that I could write easily within the 30 minutes a statement that evaluates whether the compromises really did put off the civil war or they actually contributed to making it inevitable.

So, the next step would be to write the free response essay, we’ve already covered that or there’s another episode where you can look up about that. And you can compare this one to what you did.

That’s the way to prepare for the free responses. It’s the basic skills, the basic strategy that you want to employ that’ll prepare you. What I strongly recommend is, you go to College Board website and pull up samples from their website so that you can practice and practice. But the other thing, the other benefit from doing this kind of practice, is not just to be ready to write this essay, but also you’ll find out what you might need to study a little harder. It’ll help you know what you don’t know, as well as you may need to. So this kind of practice is really going to prepare you not just for the skills part, but also for the content. To strengthen the content that you may need to know a little bit about. So go to the website, practice, practice, practice and you’ll be ready for the test.

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