Examining Bias in a Global Perspective:
from newspaper articles, a novel (The Cay, by Theodore Taylor), to our own stories

(an eight lesson unit for seventh grade Language Arts with applications in Social Studies) 

Unit Objective: In this unit, students will begin to identify features in a variety of  literature, including newspaper articles, a novel, and student writings as reflecting particular cultures and author point of view in a global context.

Rationale: Readers often do not take time to consider the partiality of the author, and rather, simply react to it unconsciously.

Class Description: A seventh grade language arts class of thirty students, designated as gifted, at East Hall Middle School, Gainesville, Georgia, participated in a test run of the first six lessons of this unit. The resulting lesson plans have been modified according to the successes, failures, and improvisations in these classes. Designing this unit would not have been possible without the cooperation of Mrs. Fraga and Mrs. Smith, the regular Language Arts teachers, and the students. See a detailed class description in the appendix sec.1.

Pre-test: Students are asked in class, orally, to give as many examples as possible of bias in any media and/or literature that they have read. Students are also asked to consider their own writing as a source of bias, or partiality, as well. On a piece of paper, students will brainstorm the following two topics: 1) "bias in media and literature," citing as many examples as the can; 2) "bias in my own writing (how does my own show a bias?).

Lesson summary:

  1. In the first lesson, "Making Something of the News: Thinking Analytically and Creatively about the News this Week," we analyze various newspaper articles in groups to consider the article's subject (for inherent conflict); prospective audience; and author (for his or her bias) (cognitive domain). Also, teams of four groups each synthesize article content into chain stories using elements from the articles (affective domain).
  2. In the second lesson, "The Cay, by Theodore Taylor: First Impressions from a Globals Perspective," we analyze the first page of a novel which we will be reading over the following few weeks. We consider the author's dedication and the first page of the story to identify his potential bias or partiality (cognitive domain). To see the bias more clearly, we study the world historical context of the setting and plot of the story, which takes place in the Caribbean during the Second World War. We begin drawing a world map which better contextualizes the countries in the story (psychomotor domain).
  3. In the third lesson, "Reconsidering simile in a world economic context," we probe deeper into the context of the Second World War to reconsider a simile the author uses in the first sentence in which German submarines are likened to "hungry sharks." We finish creating our world maps and see how the power play of European nations comes to a head in the First and Second World Wars (psychomotor domain).
  4. In the fourth lesson, "World War, Escape, and Survival: Using the model plot of The Cay to make our own stories," we identify a story pattern (e.g., a world war context, an escape to another country, and drifting on a survival raft) (cognitive domains). We use this pattern, or model, to begin constructing our own stories (affective domain).
  5. In the fifth lesson, "Beginning the Editing Process," we begin to develop our stories using a process of peer advising and rewriting (cognitive domain).
  6. In the sixth lesson, "Writing Fevers: The Cay and our stories," We contextualize in world history chapter 12 of the book in which Timothy, the elderly African man, overcomes a bout with malaria. We compare the different immunities of the different groups in the Caribbean -- native, European, and African (cognitive and affective domains). We present drafts of our stories to the class for further recommendations (affective domain).
  7. In the seventh lesson, "Story-telling the final draft," we develop a criteria for what makes a good story-teller and then we evaluate student presentations of their stories (cogntive and affective domains).
  8. In the eighth lesson, "Two Voices of The Caribbean: Theodore Taylor and Bob Marley," we discuss the theme of racial reconciliation in The Cay and analyze elements of a song called War by a famous Caribbean musician, Bob Marley. We also begin to analyze our own writing for its unique biases, or partialities, in a world historical or global context by comparing it to stories written by students in Japan (cogntive and affective domains).

Post-test: 1) Students' creative writing projects are evaluated according to the progress they made on the writing process. 2) Students are asked to recall concrete examples of bias in any form of media, literature, and their own writings during the course of the unit.

Main QCC (Quality Core Curriculum) Connections in Language Arts (LA) and Social Studies (SS) for Georgia:

Initial Reading and Outlining of Articles:

  1. Evaluates messages and effects of mass media (newspaper, television, radio, film, and periodicals) (LA 8.19).
  2. Analyzes literal, inferential, and critical questions (LA 8.20).   Analyzes relevance of data (LA 8.42).  Analyzes fact and opinion, persuasion techniques, bias, and stereotyping (LA 8.43).
  3. Explains how cultures and values are represented in literature (LA 8.27).
  4. Examines cultural achievements made by Georgians in such fields as art, music, literature, theater, motion pictures and television - past and present (SS 8.42). (We use Georgia newspapers in our media analysis)
  5. Identifies and chooses literature according to personal interests (LA 8.30).
  6. Reads a variety of materials for information (LA 8.31) and pleasure (LA 8.32).

Oral Presentations and Discussions:

  1. Works within a group, following set rules of procedure, to complete
    an assigned task.  Presents viewpoint to others. (SS O).
  2. Expands speaking vocabulary (LA 8.56).
  3. Communicates effectively through oral expression (LA 8.57).

Writing Assignments:

  1. Responds creatively to literature (e.g., drama, art, multi-media projects, and essays) (LA 8.29).
  2. Uses a writing process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing (can involve peer editing), proofreading, and publishing (LA 8.64).
  3. Uses literary elements and techniques such as plot, setting, theme, character, characterization, conflict, figurative language, and point of view to analyze literature (LA 8.23).

Lesson 1: Making Something of the News

Thinking Analytically and Creatively
about the News this week

Goals: to become interested in reading the news more creatively and analytically on a regular (weekly or monthly) basis; and thereby be more aware of the author's bias in media.

Objectives: After reading and analyzing a newspaper article in an area of the group's interests, students will:

  1. analyze an article for a) Subject (potential conflict); b) Audience; b) Author's bias or partiality
  2. make a brief presentation to the class
  3. in each group in each of the two teams in the class (four groups of three per team) contribute one sentence in a chain story utilizing some of the content from the article creatively
  4. identify elements of the finished chain stories (e.g. setting, theme or plot, conflict, resolution, etc.); and votes on the best one. The chain story will help the students make connections between articles and increase their enjoyment of reading newspaper articles.

Rationale: Students do not often pause to read newspaper articles much less consider author biases.

Context:  The class should already be divided into editing groups for various writing projects throughout the year.  Each group has a "mail box" (file folder decorated by the group) in which printed e-mail, assignments, and other printed matter is "delivered" to the group by the teacher periodically.   Every Monday morning (or on the first class after the weekend, they receive an short article selected by the instructor from the Sunday newspaper.  The articles should relate student/group interests.

Class flow for 50 minute period:

  1. 5 minutes: brief discussion of the news that students may have noticed over the weekend or preceding week.
  2. 20 minutes: students get into their groups and read over their article.    One student (designated on a weekly, rotational basis) fields opinions from each group member regarding the significance of the article.  Groups should identify: 1) the subject (and potential conflict of interest); 2) the audience; 3) the author (bias or point of view). One student in each group also contributes a sentence to a chain story that is being circulated.
  3. 5-10 minutes: groups present the three points they analyzed in their articles
  4. 5 minutes: instructor reads the chain stories students have created using content from their articles. Students vote on the best one.

Formative Assessment: 1) responsible group participation; 2) three parts identified in article; 3) group contributes one sentence toward the chain story.

Management Plan: Group work on a new project requires constant monitoring of group activities. I keep a constant view of the class as a whole as I interact with group leaders throughout the activity.

Follow-up uses of the lesson: Articles and chain stories can be posted on an "In The News This Week" bulletin board and/or web page.

newspaper.gif (6563 Х)

Data from teaching this lesson plan
(East Hall Middle School, Grade 7 Gifted Class,
Monday, November 2 1998)

wwnews1.gif (39805 bytes)Team A story:

Long Ago, in a place far, far, away, there was a very abusive cat who always tortured a small child.  The cat dreamed of building a micro golf course on the child's head!   The golf course was to include a space program in which John Glenn would run around burning people, including the President and Hillary Clinton.  The KKK found the cat and made it their mascot.

Team A1 (Brittany, Mindy, Whitney):

Article: Your pet needs training for a new arrival, too

Audience: pet owners; people with pets and small children
Author/Voice (Bias): Pamela Warrick/warning voice
Subject/Motivation/Conflict: People don't realize dangers that pets have on babies.   Pets may get jealous. Subject--train your pets to be nice to newborns.

Team A2 (Ashley, Joseph, and J.J.):

Article: A proposed development will offer golf course living inside the city limits of Gainesville

Audience: people who play golf or are interested in golf or golf courses.
Author/Voice (Bias): Perce Adams/in favor of golf course in Gainesville
Subject/Motivation (Conflict): whether or not to put a golf course on land inside the Gainesville city limits

Team A3 (T.J., Crystal, and "Slick Willie" Bill)

Article: America looks a lot better here in the space age

Audience: general public aware of John Glen's flights
Author/Voice (bias): Cynthia Tucker/against racism
Subject: changes in racist tendencies in America between John Glenn's first and last space flight.

Team A4:

Britney, Misty, and J.J.

Article: KKK rally brief, nonviolent, but vocal (sub-title: Members yell slogans to small audience; Protesters pray, sing against Klan's cause

Audience: general public
Author/Voice: Charles Duncan writes against the KKK acts.
Subject/Motivation: inform about the KKK rally and related protest

wnews2.gif (37494 bytes)Team B story:

In the past month, Hurricane Mitch has caused the death of 231 people in Honduras. One family managed to survive by out-running the hurricane on their bicycles. They rode all the way to Georgia and voted against Zell Miller because he would be bad for the schools in which the children would attend. They also urged their legislators to support the international greenhouse pact to improve the global environment. They were very active family and lived happily ever after in the Milky Way.

Team B1: Tyler, Tara, and Jordan Byrers

Article: Mitch's Central American death toll in hundreds

Audience: Honduran people and people interested in the Hurricane
Author/Voice: Freddy Cuevas, sympathetic to the people in Honduras
Subject/Motivation: inform general public about the tragedy

Team B2: Clarissa, Holly, and Elizabeth

Article: Pedal pushers in Beijing are calling ban on bicycles a bad move

Audience: Cyclers in China and people interested in China
Author/Voice (bias): Henry Chu (Los Angeles Times).
Subject/Motivation: urging people to bring bikes back to the streets of Beijing

Team B3 (Johnny, Dujuana, and Ana):

Article: Next Georgia governor must grasp education standards

Audience: people interested in education and voters concerned about the next governor
Author/Voice: Doug Cumming
Subject: next Governor as he relates to education

Team B4 (Natalie, Kevin, and Jordan):

Article: Greenhouse pact could fall apart as nations meet (subtitle: On a collision course -- Developing countries say they won't give in to U.S. insistence that they cut emissions more.)

Audience: environmentalists and people interested in the international agreement on greenhouse gases
Author/Voice (bias): Jeff Nesmith/against the agreement)
Subject: effect of greenhouse gas agreement on economy

Team B5 (Rebeca, Asheley Morgan, and "Spider"):

Article: Space Gallery (sub-titles: Cosmic bubbles; Bejeweled sky; Rings of Saturn; Celestial egg).

Audience: general public
Author: likes space
Subject: interesting things happening in space

Reflection after teaching the class:

This was my first experience teaching the class and the project was more than the class could handle in 45 minutes.  We needed the first ten minutes to warm-up, write our name tags, and introduce the project.  The students also needed extra coaching to analyze the articles and write the chain story.   We had to simplify our analysis to three areas (initially not included in my lesson plan): Audience; Author/Voice (bias); Subject (conflict).  The students identified these areas to varying degrees of proficiency. Each group managed to complete most, but not all, of the sentences in the circulating chain stories. I had to use the beginning of the next class to present the chain stories to the class. They enjoyed them and our analysis of the articles remained a useful introduction to considering the bias of Theodore Taylor's novel, The Cay, as well as our own stories two weeks later.

Lesson 2: The Cay, by Theodore Taylor: First Impressions from a Global Perspective

Main Objective: Identify the author's perspective in the novel, The Cay, in a global, or world historical context.

Rationale: Most students simply react to the story of a novel and do not consider biases in broader contexts.

Introduction: Today we are going to apply our analysis skills to a new novel.   We will try to analyze the author's bias just like we did with the articles, and enjoy the story.  I brought some music from the area where the story takes place.  

5 minutes (Mystery Music)
Objective: stimulate interest in literature indirectly through music (which is, arguably, a form of literature in its own right).

Class Flow: Let's try to guess where this music originates from. Don't yell out any countries until after we listen for a minute.  After a minute or two, students begin guessing instruments and Caribbean countries.

5 minutes (Begin story analysis with the dedication): I read the dedication and we discuss its significance in terms of cultural bias.

Class Flow: The dedication of the book to Dr. King in 1968 may reveal some clues to the historical or cultural bias of the author.  Do you think this story might appeal to a member of the KKK? (In the previous article, we read an article involving the KKK in our county.) In this context, we can identify Theodore Taylor's bias, a bias that the class shares unanimously.

10 minutes: We continue our analysis of the novel with the first page of the story. 

Class Flow: The first sentence clues us to another bias.  The author portrays the German submarines negatively or at least offensively, in the simile, "like hungry sharks." We continue on to the first page of the story and try to understand the geographical setting and historical context.  There are Dutch and Germans on an island in the Caribbean in 1942.  Many students do not know where Holland is, nor why Europeans are in the Caribbean, so I guide them on a quick tour of world geography and history to give us the necessary perspective for further analysis.

20-25 minutes: Map drawing and quick exploration of European expansion in the modern world.

How did humans from all over the world end up fighting in the Caribbean? We need a broad world historical context for our analysis of European and African/Native Caribbean world views during the Second World War, so we take a quick survey of human history beginning with Africa.  I ask the students, "In all of  human history, where did humans live the longest and why?"  A few students answer Africa.  We look at the globe and discover that it is the largest continent on the equator.  This helps explain why during the last two or three ice ages, human ancestors developed here.  It was the warmest, most hospitable place to live. We begin our map by drawing the equator and Africa ("shaped like an elephant's ear"); then we move out of Africa to Europe with the human migrations around the world during the last two ice ages. We proceed from Egypt, tracing the outlines of the countries on the Mediterranean Sea: Greece (the foot); Italy ("the boot for the foot"); around the Iberian peninsula of Spain and Portugal, up to France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Finland; and then cross the English Channel to the two main islands of Britain. Now we pause to consider how these Europeans (and Africans) ended up fighting in the Caribbean.  What could they have wanted there and why did they call the islands the West Indies? We figure out the connection to India and recall that Columbus died thinking that they were islands near India. We talk a little about the world economy that linked Europeans with Africa, Asia, and the Americas through spices, tea, and sugar. The latter product required plantations in regions with warm climates. South and Central America were perfect for nationally sponsored sugar cane plantations the Spanish called encomiendas. We continue drawing our maps from Eastern Africa to India, the initial destination of the Europeans. (The next class continues the map exercise).

Formative Assessment: 1) Varying levels of student participation in class discussion; 2) Clearly drawn world maps with labels for the continents and countries we are discussing.

Management Plan: 1) engage the students constantly with questions in my lecture/discussion; 2) utilize the regular teacher's management strategy in case of problem (stop the action by raising one hand until the class becomes silent).

Reflections on teaching the second class: The class went very well. Students enjoyed hearing the finished chain stories their teams had written during the preceding lesson. The sample of Caribbean music also stimulated our thinking and heightened interest in the novel.  The reading of the dedication made the author more accessible to the students; I read the first page was dramatically and held the students' attention. Questions arose naturally from our reading of the first page that led naturally to our exploration of the world in the map drawing exercise.

Lesson 3: Reconsidering Simile in a World Economic Context

Main Objective: continue identifying the historical context of the novel, especially the First and Second World War as they relate to the countries in the story; apply our review of the Second World War to reconsidering the simile in the first sentence.

Rationale: We often take it for granted that Germany was an "evil" country because of the atrocity of the holocaust during the Second World War. This aside, the global situation leading up to the World Wars gives a more balanced view of the German situation and alows us to see the potential bias of the simile in the first sentence of the story.

20 minutes (listen to tape recording of story, The Cay, chapter 2): straightforward, listening to story.  Students follow along with the text.
Objective: 1) improve listening skills; and 2) think critically in a global context about elements of the story.

5-10 minutes (Open discussion of the last part of chapter two as it relates to the Second World War at the time): I ask the student