kitchen table math, the sequel: email from Jen re: reading comprehension & the Star Spangled Banner

Thursday, August 16, 2012

email from Jen re: reading comprehension & the Star Spangled Banner

I love this lesson ----
I do SAT tutoring and closely followed the posts about reading comprehension (and the lack of skills given to build it in most HS English classes). I also have a 10 yo who mentioned that he didn't really know the words to our national anthem. I pulled up the lyrics to show him and, wow, there was a perfectly sized reading comprehension lesson for a 10 year old. It could be read for understanding, visualized, and then paraphrased and summarized. (As you might imagine, he was just delighted.)
While he may still not know the lyrics perfectly in order, it was a great reading comprehension lesson. It occurred to me that it would be an excellent lesson to have in my pocket as a sub as well.

And after all that, the point of the email! I'd love to see if others on KTM can come up with other similar length or up to a page or two in length selections that could be used as effectively for comprehension, paraphrase, and summary purposes (about age 8 on up). If the passage also hits on cultural/historical/scientific knowledge like this did, even better.

O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
update 8/17/2012: Karen H points out that the Gettysburg address offers a terrific example of parallelism and other rhetorical techniques.

Using speeches and other historical documents to teach reading comprehension and writing:
In the Event of Moon Disaster: parallelism, cohesion, the semicolon
Karen H recommends the Gettysburg Address for a lesson in parallelism
Jen on teaching the Star Spangled Banner to her 10-year old (and see Comment thread for more)
Glen on Daniel Boone's autobiography


TerriW said...

Lots of great stuff from history:

* When in the course of human events....
* Four score and seven years ago...
* We hold these truths to be self evident... (Thiswas one of the first history excerpts I had my kids memorize.)

TerriW said...

And of course the Preamble!

palisadesk said...

Don't forget the Pledge of Allegiance. Most of us probably memorized it in Kindergarten (I did) and certainly didn't understand some of the language at that age. In fact, some of the misunderstandings are hilarious (I wondered for quite a while who "Richard Stans" might be, as well as why we needed to be a country with liver, tea and justice for all.).

Potentially tricky parts in bold:
I pledge allegiance
To the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the republic for which it stands
One nation under God
With liberty and justice for all.

The conclusion to Lincoln's Second Inaugural us also moving and lyrically beautiful:

With malice toward none
with charity for all
with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right
let us strive on to finish the work we are in
to bind up the nation's wounds
to care for him who shall have borne the battle,
and for his widow and his orphan;
to do all which may achieve and cherish
a just and lasting peace
among ourselves and with all nations.

Quite apart from grammar per se, having such language as part of one's interior landscape is life-changing.

We don't require nearly enough memorizing of great text today, IMO.

BTW, anyone read "Moonwalking With Einstein" about memory and oral language?

TerriW said...

Also! Further back in time:

Sing, goddess, of Achilles ruinous anger
Which brought ten thousand pains to the Achaeans,
And cast the souls of many stalwart heroes
To Hades, and their bodies to the dogs
And birds of prey.

Etc, etc.

Though, this version is good, too:

“Rage - Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.”

The Iliad is the gift that keeps on giving:

“I say no wealth is worth my life! Not all they claim
was stored in the depths of Troy, that city built on riches,
in the old days of peace before the sons of Achaea came-
not all the gold held fast in the Archer's rocky vaults,
in Phoebus Apollo's house on Pytho's sheer cliffs!
Cattle and fat sheep can all be had for the raiding,
tripods all for the trading, and tawny-headed stallions.
But a man's life breath cannot come back again-
no raiders in force, no trading brings it back,
once it slips through a man's clenched teeth.
Mother tells me,
the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet,
that two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,
my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
my pride, my glory dies...
true, but the life that's left me will be long,
the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.”

Oh, I love the Iliad, it's the gift that keeps on giving. (I shouldn't have started this when I should really be heading up to bed! Too easy to get sucked in.) And I love the punchline of the Iliad, buried in the Odyssey, when Odysseus goes down to the underworld and talks to Achilles, who -- clearly -- has chosen the aforementioned short but glorious path in life and he's all "Uh, yeah, I was wrong."

GypsyGourmet said...

And I love the punchline of the Iliad, buried in the Odyssey, when Odysseus goes down to the underworld and talks to Achilles, who -- clearly -- has chosen the aforementioned short but glorious path in life and he's all "Uh, yeah, I was wrong."

LOL! That was the best laugh I've had today.

But seriously, that language is astonishing. It pulls you in and really forces you to linger over every single word. It's sad how accustomed I've become to just skimming over text on screens; the contrast between that kind of reading and the kind demanded by the Iliad and so incredibly sharp. You can't gloss over anything. I haven't read the Iliad in such a long time, and I'm not sure I fully appreciated how linguistically stunning it as (or maybe I just didn't have a great translation). I can only imagine how amazing it must be in original.

Anonymous said...

I love the pledge too -- it would make a nice companion to the anthem!

A lot of these others would be great in late middle school or high school and as SAT Prep. Would love to have some more though that are on a mid-late elementary level though.

Heavy on imagery, or leading to a visual or "punchline" that would feel familiar in some way to the kids. For instance in the anthem, I think everyone can call up the image of the flashes of light (can be compared to lightning) illuminating the flag and providing reassurance.

On another thread, there are comments about older children's literature -- that may be where I need to look!

Anonymous said...

Oops, that anonymous was Jen.

Jen said...

Ha! Did it again!

ChemProf said...

Maybe check out the poetry lesson plans at for fourth grade and higher? Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll would be good. Maybe a chunk of The Owl and the Pussycat?

Glen said...

I find the writing in Daniel Boone's autobiography interesting. Here is a man who was raised on the frontier in "Indian country," who had some of what today we would call homeschooling but very little formal schooling. His father justified the state of Daniel's formal literacy by saying that his daughters did the writing and Daniel did the shooting.

So what did a frontiersman with nothing but some homeschooling and Bible study write like, back before the state took over the job of education? Here's how his autobiography begins:

"Curiosity is natural to the soul of man and interesting objects have a powerful influence on our affections. Let these influencing powers actuate, by the permission or disposal of Providence, from selfish or social views, yet in time the mysterious will of Heaven is unfolded, and we behold our conduct, from whatever motives excited, operating to answer the important designs of heaven.

"Thus we behold Kentucky, lately an howling wilderness, the habitation of savages and wild beasts, become a fruitful field...."

Catherine Johnson said...

Wow! I just saw this (the whole thread but especially Daniel Boone --- )