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Lesson Plan: Texas in the Mirror

Introduction

In this writing project, students will not only learn what symbols are, but will become aware of many symbols important to other cultures. They will conduct research, write descriptively and persuasively, and examine their own and others' perceptions about Texas.

Each student will write a simple web page with a picture of a particular Texas symbol, a paragraph describing the symbol, and another paragraph promoting this symbol as the "best" symbol for Texas.

These pages will all be linked to a homepage with a questionnaire. Visitors to the site will be asked to vote for their favorite symbol and describe the "best" symbol of their own country or state.

As the responses are made, students will locate these countries and states on a wall map, and draw a representation of each symbol on its map. Towards the end of the project, students will tally all responses and create a graph, which they will post on their website along with a picture of their map.

As they follow the writing process, students will use the Internet in several ways. In the prewriting process, students will use Texas-related sites to generate ideas. They will conduct research over the Internet, as well as through more traditional paths, in order to write an informative paragraph about a particular Texas symbol and to research symbols of other countries. The class will also publish their descriptive and persuasive writing on the Internet.

Timeline: Project duration: 6 weeks

Subject Area: English Language Arts/Reading

Grade Level: 6 - 8

TEKS addressed:

(note: The TEKS noted here have not yet been officially adopted by the legislature (5/20/97). This lesson plan will be changed later, if necessary, to reflect the official TEKS.)

Goal: To promote higher-level thinking as students analyze the meaning of symbols, write persuasively, and compare their own perceptions with those of other people around the world.

Behavioral Objectives:

Students will

Activities:

Anticipatory Set:
  1. Ask students if they know what a symbol is. Have students look around the room and point out common symbols. (You might want to bring a few to the classroom as well!) Some common symbols they might find are flags, wedding rings, charm bracelets, the school mascot, or brand name symbols (Nike, Fritos). With an advanced class, you may wish to discuss more abstract symbols such as colors, sounds and shapes.

    Class Discussion:

    Write a definition of symbol on board or overhead. Discuss the concept of symbolism as a powerful yet non-verbal means of communicating. If your class has read poetry, short stories, or a novel recently, discuss some of the symbols they may have encountered in their reading. Tell students that they are going to explore symbols that represent places, starting with Texas, and that they are going to ask the Internet community to help them.

    Brainstorm:

    Explain to the class that brainstorming does not involve judging the merits of ideas, but rather generating many ideas. Ask students what it is that makes Texas unique. Have a volunteer or two record the responses on the board or overhead, and begin to brainstorm as many Texas symbols as possible. Leave the list up for several days, and allow students to add more ideas as they think of them.

    Research:

    Visit a few of these websites together to get more ideas:

    Have students take notes on any possible symbols they encounter on these sites. Also, encourage students to check out books and magazines on Texas, and to ask their parents and others about their favorite Texas symbols. Keep adding to the list.

    Discuss:

    As a group, discuss the reasons these symbols represent Texas. Then, choose specific symbols and let the group free associate words with each symbol. Categorize or rate the symbols in terms of how closely the rest of the world might associate them with Texas. Are some symbols just as clearly associated with other Southwestern states? Are some too obscure for many people to know about them? Narrow the field.

    Research:

    Ask each student to choose one of the symbols on the narrowed-down list. (You may have to "draw" for some of the more popular ones.) Tell students their assignment is to write two paragraphs (the first informative, the second persuasive) on the topic "(mysymbol): The Ideal Texas Symbol." Students will then gather facts about their subject. Have them use invention techniques such as freewriting, free association, brainstorming, or the 5W's and 1H approach to guide their research. They will also need to draw or locate a picture of their symbol, either on paper or on Internet clip art sites.

    Writing the First Draft:

    Using a word processing program, students will write two paragraphs. The first will describe their symbol in detail, giving historical facts if appropriate. The second will be a persuasive paragraph designed to garner votes for their symbol as the ideal symbol for Texas. Students will cite their sources using MLA style.

    Editing and Revising:

    Using peer editing, students will proofread each others' papers to correct errors in grammar and spelling, as well as to suggest additional details, supporting ideas, more precise language, or better organization. After the peer editing process, the teacher will also proofread and suggest revisions, reminding students throughout this process that each paragraph must be clear, interesting, and free of errors before being published on the web, where thousands of people might read it.

    Publishing the Web Page:

    Using Claris Homepage, students will copy and paste their writing from the word processor. Pictures that were not in digital format must be scanned, saved as a PICT file, and converted to a GIF file using a program such as the shareware GraphicConverter. (The class may wish to collaborate with a high school technology class for assistance with this process.) The pages will then be linked to a main menu page which contains a form to collect votes and responses. The teacher will publicize the project by sending email to lists such as Kidlink and Kidsphere. (See Judi Harris' recommended discussion lists that accept these postings.)

    Recording and Analyzing the Responses:

    As the responses come in, have students tally the Texas symbol votes on a simple wall chart. When respondents submit a symbol for their own locale, assign small groups of students to find out where the country or state is located and what the symbol looks like. Then, ask students to draw (or paste) a picture of the symbol on the wall map.

    On the ending date of the project, have a group of students use the data collected to create a bar chart in ClarisWorks showing the total number of votes for each symbol. As a class, discuss these results. For example, did the symbol they expected to win actually get the most votes? What might have been the reason? In what other ways did their own expectations differ from the actual results?

    Publishing the Results

    On the Symbols Homepage, post a picture of the wall map, a list of the symbols for other countries/states, and the ClarisWorks bar chart with the final results of the vote for "best" Texas symbol. Depending on school policy, you may also wish to publish a photo of the class.

Evaluation:

Evaluation will be based on class participation in discussions and group work, quality of writing, active participation in peer editing, accuracy and completeness of research, and knowledge of the definition of symbol.

Cross-curricular activities and extensions:

Variations:

Using the same framework, students could design a project based on other symbols, such as those for holidays, achievements, weddings, rites-of-passage to adulthood, war vs. peace, an era (the fifties, the Roaring Twenties, the Gold Rush), a lifestyle or profession (farmer, musician, teacher, their parents' professions), Native American symbols, flags of the world, or religions.


by Jan Johnson of Karnes City High School and Ken Task of ESC Region III in Victoria, Texas. Feel free to duplicate and use in educational settings, but please credit the authors. Last modified: October 28, 1997.

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