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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Close Reading of a Primary Source

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Ann Pember’s students discuss the meaning and role of the USA Patriot Act after reading an article from the New York Times.

Teacher: Ann Pember

School: Malden High School, Malden, MA

Grade: 9

Discipline: History (U.S. History 1/U.S. Social Studies)

Lesson Topic: The constitutionality of the Patriot Act

Lesson Month: December

Number of Students: 30

Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:

  • Content objectives – Define several key terms and concepts relating to the Patriot Act; categorize situation examples as either representing freedom or security and place on a spectrum
  • Literacy/language objectives – Justify opinion on patriotism and civil liberties; mark up both primary and secondary articles about the Patriot Act; analyze sections of the Patriot Act; determine controversies of the Patriot Act
  • Engagement/interaction objectives – Think-write-pair-share opinions on patriotism and civil liberties; verbally discuss controversies in the Patriot Act; debate opinions on the Patriot Act and civil liberties

Standards Addressed:

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

  • USI.14
    Explain the characteristics of American democracy, including the concepts of popular sovereignty and Constitutional government, which includes representative institutions, federalism, separation of powers, shared powers, checks and balances, and individual rights.
  • USI.21
    Describe how decisions are made in a democracy, including the role of legislatures, courts, executives, and the public.
  • USI.25
    Trace the influence and ideas of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall and the importance of the doctrine of judicial review as manifested in Marbury v. Madison(1803).

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

    Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
    Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
    Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
    Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally), evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
    Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
    Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

Instruction Details:

The Unit
In the previous unit, students had explored the building of a new government, the Articles of Confederation, and the structure of the Constitution. They had studied the history of the three branches of government and the history of the Supreme Court and had looked at Supreme Court cases in which middle and high school students had defended their rights based on the Bill of Rights. This 12-day unit focused on Constitutional rights. The two-day lesson on exploring the meaning of the Patriot Act occurred in the middle of the unit. The three essential questions addressed in the lesson were: When should personal liberty be sacrificed for the common good? How far should the ideals of the Constitution extend? What is the purpose of government?

Before the Video
Leading up to this lesson, Ms. Pember and her students had discussed the balance between civil liberties and security—the role of government as protection—and how sometimes those ideas clash. On day one of this lesson, the focus was on patriotism. Students discussed what it meant to be patriotic, and how patriotism could be considered both something positive and something negative. On a handout, students marked a list of 10 scenarios as either “patriotic” or “unpatriotic”; they discussed their answers with a partner to come to consensus and then discussed them again as a class. Students also defined the terms “liberty” and security” and were given a series of terms/situations to place on a spectrum ranging from “liberty” to “security.” They wrote an explanation for their placement for each item on the spectrum and then discussed their thinking in small groups of four. Each group then made a new spectrum, reflecting consensus opinion. Ms. Pember led students in a debrief about the challenges of this type of activity and how difficult it can be to reach a group consensus.

During the Video
Ms. Pember began the second day of the lesson by reviewing ideas about patriotism discussed the previous day and introducing the Patriot Act. Ms. Pember then used the gradual release of responsibility model of “I do, we do, you do.” Students were given a primary source to annotate—an article from the New York Times summarizing the background, creation, structure, and controversy of the Patriot Act: “A Nation Challenged: Congress; House Passes Terrorism Bill Much Like Senate’s, but With 5-Year Limit.” Ms. Pember began by modeling with a think-aloud, in which she marked up the first chunk of text using close reading strategies. Students were to use the left margin to summarize main ideas and the right margin to list “CCQs,” or comments, connections, and questions. They were to identify unknown vocabulary words and key ideas and explain their thinking behind their choices.

After Ms. Pember modeled the task, she had a student volunteer annotate a second chunk of text with other students’ help using the interactive whiteboard. Students worked on their own to continue annotating and then shared and discussed their ideas with a partner. Ms. Pember had students complete a graphic organizer called a “concept/event map” for which they provided simple answers to who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about the Patriot Act. Using these simple answers as a foundation, students wrote journalist-style reports as if the year were 2001 and the Patriot Act had just passed.

After the Video
The notes students took on the primary source were used in discussion the following day. In pairs, students shared their thoughts thus far on the Patriot Act; as a class, they discussed the following questions: What are you thinking at this point? Do you think this is constitutional? Is this patriotic or unpatriotic? Why or why not? Students also read selected highlights of the Patriot Act and answered guided reading questions about their section and, using a graphic organizer, recorded pro and con notes for their section.

As a class, they shared out their work, listing a summary of the major points and the pros and cons for other sections. Students then gathered evidence on each issue’s connection to liberty and security and how each issue could be seen as a pro or a con. In a final research project, students answered the question: How much are you willing to sacrifice in the name of security/protection? Students acted out a Senate committee hearing on renewing the Patriot Act and discussed whether it was constitutional and should be renewed.

Teacher Prep
To prepare for this lesson, Ms. Pember researched the Patriot Act and looked for a primary source article to use, created the organizers and handouts, and collaborated with other team teachers on implementing the lesson.

Prior Knowledge
To participate in this lesson, students needed to have background knowledge of some of the rights and responsibilities of students and citizens, the role of the Constitution, the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention and compromises that were made when designing the Constitution, the definitions of the three branches of government and their role in a democracy, and the definitions of democracy and patriotism.

Differentiated Instruction
In this lesson, Ms. Pember modeled her thoughts and marking-up process for students. She used graphic organizers to visually represent ideas (which was especially helpful for her ELL students) and created a word wall with key vocabulary from the unit. She used real-world connections to support understanding (students’ interest in the Bill of Rights encouraged a discussion about search warrants during traffic stops). Throughout the year, Ms. Pember incorporated structure and routine through the use of a binder system (students’ assignments are numbered chronologically to help with organization). She interacted with as many students as possible during class to determine which students were struggling and how she could help. Sometimes she matched those students with stronger students for support, modified activities when necessary, offered extra time to complete assignments, and was accessible for additional help after school.

Group Interaction
Students worked in neighbor pairs throughout the lesson to share ideas. Ms. Pember matched pairs differently throughout the year. In the beginning of the year, students sat alphabetically. As she became better acquainted with her students’ skills, she placed students in subtle mixed-ability pairs so that individuals at lower levels of language, reading, or writing were paired with those at slightly higher levels. Later, when students worked in small groups of four, pairs were again matched at mixed ability so that lower-level pairs were matched with higher-level pairs, yielding a range of levels in one group.

Resources and Tools


Formative Assessment
Ms. Pember used the handouts with the list of scenarios to mark as “patriotic” or “unpatriotic” and the spectrum of liberty versus security situations as pre-assessment tools. During the lesson, she walked around the room and checked in with students engaged in pair work. In addition to verbal checks, she looked to see if students were paying attention, making eye contact, and staying on task. She graded students daily on their classwork (on a scale of 1 to 4) and immediately shared grades with students so that they had an opportunity to improve it. Ms. Pember also did daily binder checks to make sure students stayed organized. The two graphic organizers also served as tools for informal assessment.

Summative Assessment
Students wrote an open response using these prompts: Does freedom have limits? When is patriotism a good or bad thing? What is the Patriot Act?

Impact of Assessment
If Ms. Pember notes through assessment that there is a skill that students do not understand, she reteaches it using explicit instruction.

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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4