Arctic Group – English/Composition Assignment

I’m still in the early planning stages of my idea, and I may scrap it and go with something entirely different. My idea, so far, is to have my English lesson dovetail with Tyson’s lesson on the disappearing sea ice and its effect on whaling. Students will listen to, discuss and summarize an Iñupiaq whaler’s first-person account of the changes that have happened in recent years.

Through efforts such as Project Jukebox and the North Slope Borough Oral History Program, interviewers have collected an incredible number of oral histories from all parts of Alaska. It is important for students to know about these sources and be prepared to use them. Oral histories are not always the easiest sources to work with, though. Students must learn to listen to an interview and read a transcript carefully and analytically – interpreting confusing passages, looking up unfamiliar terms, pulling out key quotations, and determining which information is relevant and which is not.

My first idea was to send students directly to the Sea Ice Project on Project Jukebox and have them choose an oral history to discuss and summarize. However, this doesn’t seem practical because the oral histories are of varying length and usefulness. My current idea is to choose one interview and give students a targeted list of questions to discuss in class before they write their summaries as homework. This runs the risk of being very boring for the students, so I’ll try to think of some way to make the assignment more fun.

  1. Tyson is aiming at grade 10, so I will do so too. I think this assignment would work well and be useful for grades 11 and 12 as well.
  2. I’m not totally sure about the timing – it depends on the length of the interview I choose – but I am thinking of one class period plus two homework assignments. First, students watch the interview and read the transcript as homework. Then, in small groups, they spend a class period discussing the interview and completing a worksheet about it. Then they each individually write a summary of the interview.
  3. The students will be writing a summary that answers one or more essential questions. The students will come up with those essential questions during their group discussion.
  5. The students will come up with an essential question they can focus their summary around. They will find material in the text that is relevant to their essential question. They will organize their material into two or three key points (depending on the oral history I choose), and find a relevant quotation to illustrate each point. They will then write a four or five-paragraph summary (again, this is TBD) with an introduction, main points and conclusion. Students may not use more than one quotation per paragraph. Anything not in quotation marks must be paraphrased in the student’s own words.

What I really don’t have planned yet is the worksheet I’m going to give the students in class. Looking at the oral histories – many of which are quite long, dense and hard to follow – I think I will need to give the students very specific questions to answer so that they will have some guidance in finding the relevant information in the transcript. I may also need to give the students a simpler worksheet to complete when they watch the oral history as homework – this one aimed at reading/listening comprehension rather than analysis.

One problem that I see with this assignment is that it doesn’t function very well on its own; if it’s not working in tandem with a science-based project on the sea ice, the English teacher may have trouble giving the students enough background information on the subject.

2 thoughts on “Arctic Group – English/Composition Assignment”

  1. Katy,
    That oral history collection is quite a resource and I think you have the start on a great lesson.

    Most of the interviews have a text transcript. I’m wondering if you could gather some of the text as a source. Perhaps students use text as the foundation for writing or something visual – Haiku Deck?

    Also we can download the audios. We need to check on permissions, but you might be able to use them as soundtrack – could even edit them a bit.

    1. I’m thinking now I’ll have the assignment take up at least two class periods. That way, we can start out by watching the interview together in class, following along with the transcript, and we can discuss difficult terms and get to a general level of comprehension. Then the students can do the work of organizing the text, pulling out quotations, etc. the next day in their groups.

      This could also tie in with a larger project on oral histories, in which students conduct interviews about local historical events, make digital recordings, transcribe the recordings, and make a useful online resource for local historians. It’s more of a history project than an English project, but it should be possible to make it usable for English. I’m not suggesting I put that in the iBook, but it’s something I’ll be keeping in mind for the future.

      I do want to find a way to make this activity more visual, for students who aren’t familiar with the areas the speakers are describing. I’ll start looking for documentaries that may have brief clips I can use.

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