Nineteen Minutes Theme Essay Graphic Organizer

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The book Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, which is about the shootings in Columbine High School, contains many ideas for a thesis. Which ideas you choose to emphasize would make up your body paragraphs and thus your thesis. Ideas in the book which still are taking place are the bullying which causes so much pain, the gender confusion and identification which creates another painful topic, the issue of the guns which again is in the headlines, the school itself which is also in the headlines currently with Sandy Hook Elementary, and the tragedy which you know is coming at the end of the novel.  A thesis I might consider would be that the novel shows the pain of youth and its results if no one intervenes with the deaths and violence the guns create when used by the students.  Pain is shown through the pain of the main characters with bullying, the power or popularity structure of the high school, and the tragedy of the isolation of those who don't fit the accepted forms of gender orientation. Gun control is another thesis you could make fit here, but I don't really see the book's thesis fitting into that issue completely. 

When we have sufficiently debriefed from the Socratic Seminar, I transition my students into a prewriting activity for their next essay, which will require that they identify and defend a theme in Of Mice and Men.

I distribute a Theme Exploration Graphic Organizer to each student and instruct them to first focus on the side that has the web-like image on it.  I tell them to take around five minutes completing the sentence in the center of the web''"Of Mice and Men is a book about . . ."--by listing as many topics that they can think of, even adding more than I have provided spaces for, if necessary.  I encourage them to keep their topics limited to one word if they can (ex: loneliness, friendship, dreams, etc.), similarly to the way they began exploring theme in chapter four in a previous lesson.

When students have had time to brainstorm topics on their own, I then ask for volunteers to share their topics with the whole group.  I instruct my students to add topics to their lists that they may have missed, as they listen to what their peers share.

The next step is to have my students select the the topic that "speaks to them the most," the one that has left the strongest impression on them, now that we have completed the book.  Once they have selected their topic, I then direct them to the bottom of their graphic organizer, where they must figure out what Steinbeck is trying to get his readers to notice about that topic.  I remind my students that this is how themes are expressed--not as single words (topics), but as complete sentences about those single words.  I further stress to them that a theme needs to be a message that feels worthwhile, something that is gained from having read the work, and not an idea that we essentially already knew (EX: "Everyone will die someday."  Not a theme).  I remind them that themes either teach us something new that we hadn't realized before, especially in the way a text might portray it, or remind us that something is important that we may have forgotten is important.

My theme speech is never a one-shot deal; I find that I often repeat it several times throughout a school year, as many students still want themes to be single words.  

After my students have had a few minutes to write out their themes, I ask for student volunteers to share with the whole group.  This is critical to do as a whole group, as it gives my students an opportunity to hear each others attempts, to discuss whether or not what they have written would work as a supportable theme, and for me to help reshape them in front of an attentive audience. Through this whole-group sharing, assessing, reshaping process, the goal is to break as many theme-as-single-word habits as possible.


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