Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Selecting Sound Bites

On Monday, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to co-teach a lesson with Dr. Michael Mills. It's my second year as a high school teacher and my third semester to teach American literature. While I have some lessons that I really love, I definitely have others that I have a tougher time getting excited about. Let's be honest, historical speeches probably weren't at the top of your reading list when you were seventeen, and I have a lot of those in my very traditional curriculum. It's a constant challenge to find new ways to make these texts relatable and engaging for my students, and this lesson ended up feeling like a real win!

We started off this week talking about Patrick Henry's speech to the Virginia Convention, more easily recognized as the "Give me liberty, or give me death" speech. This speech provides a great opportunity to teach rhetorical analysis and persuasive appeals; however, it can also be really dense, and the vocabulary is pretty advanced. I was excited when Dr. Mills brought a different perspective to the lesson.

He talked to my classes about how persuasive speaking and political speaking have evolved. As average people, we typically don't hear an entire speech or an entire press conference; we hear the snippet that the media found most interesting, most important, or sometimes most inflammatory. Similarly, we may not remember all of Patrick Henry's speech to the Virginia Convention in 1775, but we do know that famous last line.

We modeled close reading and annotating strategies on the last paragraph of the speech since it's the most familiar piece. Then, we divided the speech into five sections and asked students to work with a partner to analyze the persuasive appeals in their assigned section of the speech. Finally, we asked students to find the "sound bite" in their assigned section. If they were members of the media, covering this speech in 1775, what snippet would they decide to share with the masses? This speech called for revolution, and a revolution needs buy-in from the people. We reminded students that this line should feel "retweetable" or repeatable, just like "Give me liberty or give me death."

Finally, students used Adobe Spark Post to create posters of their selected sound bites, which they shared to a Padlet page, so all my classes could see each other's designs and ideas. This gave us the opportunity to talk about design principles as well, and I was thrilled with the results. I love how easy the Adobe Spark apps are for students to learn and use. This was their first introduction to Spark Post, and my kids loved it! I can't wait to introduce them to Spark Page and Video in future lessons. You can see their posts here: https://padlet.com/jherring/liberty

And here are a few of my favorites...

One of the things I love most about this lesson is that it is so adaptable. I was talking to my department head today about this lesson, and she got so excited about it that she's going to have students do a similar activity tomorrow with a speech from Julius Caesar as they analyze Cassius's persuasive appeals to the Romans. I think you could just as easily adapt it to other works of fiction or nonfiction to have students identify and illustrate theme statements or main ideas. Asking students to illustrate as well requires them to look more deeply at an idea and determine how best to convey that idea not only through text but also through image. 

So needless to say, my week is off to a great start! Looking forward to seeing where our learning takes us next! 


  1. I love this. I normally do a digital annotation of Patrick Henry, but this is an awesome way to get modernize the speech!

    1. Thanks! I co-taught a similar lesson on Wednesday with another teacher in my department using one of the monologues from Julius Caesar, and she was thrilled with what the students created!