Last week, my juniors read “Gettysburg Address” (Tuesday for A day classes; Wednesday for B day classes) and then Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”  (Thursday for A day classes and Friday for B day classes).  I paired the texts back to back so that students could analyze the use of rhetorical devices in each speech as well as the SOAPS (speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, and subject.  For “Gettysburg Address”, we watched a few short clips from the Ken Burns PBS series Civil War that gave students context of the speech as well as a professional reading of the speech.  We then engaged in rhetorical analysis using a copy of the speech from Common Lit with students annotating the text and marking rhetorical devices they saw in each paragraph.  We then did a large group share of our findings.

For “Ain’t I a Woman”, I began to think about how I could kick up our analysis work a few notches and build on thes strategies from Tuesday/Wednesday.  Again, I utilized Common Lit to provide my students a copy of the text that they could keep and annotate (note:  the version that appears as of this blog post publication is a different and shorter (original) version than the one that was available just a week ago).  With my A day classes, we watched two videos:  first, a short biography that I followed with a reading of the speech by Alice Walker.


We then did a quick review of key rhetorical devices, and I kept them projected on the board as students than did individual annotations and rhetorical analysis of the speech.

Once again, we projected the speech on the board as a PDF and worked our way through the speech exploring the rhetorical devices with students volunteering to lead the discussion for each paragraph and our class engaging in a collaborative large group exploration of the speech.  However, for this round of text analysis I asked students to then  work with a partner to do some additional reflection questions on the speech.  While my classes did a fantastic job digging into and reflecting on the text, I wondered if there was not a way for students to actually show their annotations  and thinking to the rest of the class as they took turns leading the conversation.  I began to think about how to make this “visible thinking” happen the next day on Friday.

Initially, I thought about having the speech blown up into posters and doing a sort of gallery walk approach to the annotations and letting students then present from each station.  However, this idea was not very practical due to the lack of time or ease of access to a poster printing machine.  I suddenly remembered a training we had on new document cameras prior to our holiday break last semester; I messaged our media specialist after hours and asked if she could reserve one for me the next day.  Not only did she do so, but we also have enough of these document cameras for teachers to keep them through the year (click here to see our marvelous model ).     It is much smaller than it appears in the photo below; you could easily fold it up and put it in your purse or tote bag.

This document camera model is by far the best I’ve used in the last 10 years.  It is petite, lightweight, super easy to set up, and focuses quickly.  The image resolution is also superb.  Most importantly, it was easy for the students to use.

I repeated the same initial steps of the activity with the video on Friday, but I then had students work in pairs and trios to do collaborative thinking and come up with collaborative annotations of the text as they talked it through together.  I was so inspired by the rich conversations I heard as I walked around the room and heard students really talking to each other and debating the use of rhetorical devices in the speech.   Even my quietest students were suddenly rather animated and participating in the discussion with a partner or partners.   One student was almost in tears as she told me how moved she was by the words and how she was realizing through her work with her two partners how beautiful the speech was.  She exclaimed, “I love Sojourner Truth!  This speech is amazing!”  I am sure there is not a standardized test to measure that kind of learning and growth!

After having about 12-15 minutes to work together, groups could then volunteer to lead discussions and share their analysis and show us their work with the document camera.  As soon as the first group presented, hands were up and students eagerly volunteering to come up to the document camera (which connected to my laptop via USB and that I placed on a student desk for ease of use by groups).    I saw an enthusiasm and level of engagement I have not seen from some of my classes, and I think the ability of the document to suddenly make visible and public the students had done with their partners was the game changer.  Several students told me how much they loved the activity and hoped we’d be using the document camera again (we will!).

I am so excited to have found a way to make a good learning activity BETTER and that elevates student work, talk, and ownership of the conversation to a higher level.   Suddenly, rhetorical analysis and annotation have new depth, meaning, and purpose for my students, and I’m truly eager to see what else we can do the rest of this spring.