Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities and the French Revolution

Yesterday we discussed the second installment of A Tale of Two Cities. The book, of course, remains a struggle, but our work learning about the French Revolution (and French society during that time more generally) definitely helps.

The chapter we read introduced the central mystery of the novel: Why was Doctor Manette imprisoned in secret for eighteen years? (A student asked during class why Manette was put in prison. I said he would find out in about eight months. Everyone groaned.) As we looked over the paragraph that explained his disappearance, I was able to ask the students what social class Doctor Manette would have belonged to, and what social class would have had enough power to inprison someone in secret without even the king knowing where he was. Students probably still won't guess the culprit in advance, but they'll definitely have a better understanding of the resentment that the peasants felt toward the nobility.

For next Monday we will read chapter five, which begins with a cask of wine spilling in a Paris street. Everyone races to get some, drinking it straight from the ground. A student started the reading in class yesterday, and at first expressed surprise that they would do this. I asked him what he remembered about French peasants in Paris in 1760. He understood.

When we were done yesterday, we drew a picture of either Jarvis Lorry or Lucie Manette. These were glorified stick figures, at least mine was, but what I asked students to do was focus on one paragraph (conveniently, each character got a long one-paragraph physical description) and pull out any details they could find. Partway through I found myself wishing that I had put more requirements on the assignment (use quotes, for example), but then I reminded myself that we're only on our second response. Our ability to process the discussion visually will grow along with our ability to read the novel.

For the rest of the week (we only have three more school days due to a PD day on Friday) we will read and discuss Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, our read-aloud. We will role play a French constitutional convention. We'll take a quiz on FANBOYS and AAAWWUBBIS. We'll take a geography quiz on 10 more countries in Europe. We're already gearing up for our first continent test on October 17. We're writing up a list of the things we loved about 8th grade in August and September. I don't think anyone will out A Tale of Two Cities on that list yet, but maybe by April or May. . .

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