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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Comparing the Language of Multiple Sources

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Manny Martinez juxtaposes the preamble of the U.S. Constitution with Emma Lazarus’s poem The New Colossus to help students begin to tackle the question: What does it mean to be American?

Teacher: Manny Martinez

School: REALM Charter School, Berkeley, CA

Grade: 8

Discipline: ELA

Lesson Topic: The connection between The New Colossus and the preamble to the Constitution

Lesson Month: January/February

Number of Students: 24

Other: REALM, the Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement, is a project-based and technology-rich charter school.

Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:

  • Content objectives – Acquire new vocabulary to better understand the context of the poem The New Colossus; build academic language; use prior knowledge to generate critical thinking
  • Literacy/language objectives – Build vocabulary, reinforce academic language, and practice reading comprehension based on a work of literature; analyze a work of poetry for content, theme, and tone; discuss a work of literature for deeper understanding
  • Engagement/interaction objectives – Think critically about the concepts of equality and justice within American society based on the country’s founding ideology and then discuss it with peers while acquiring and using new vocabulary

Standards Addressed:

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.1
    Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Instruction Details:

The Unit
The featured lesson was the first lesson of a 19-day unit at the beginning of the second semester. The unit, called “American Us,” asks students: What does it mean to be an American, and who gets to define this?

Before the Video
Mr. Martinez had worked with his students to analyze the preamble of the Constitution earlier in the year during a unit called “Does Everyone Have Equal Access to Education in the United States?” In addition, the class had just finished a unit on The Book Thief, in which students had juxtaposed an excerpt from the book with text from another source.

During the Video
At the beginning of the lesson, Mr. Martinez welcomed students to the first day of their new semester. He introduced the unit, “American Us,” and its essential questions. They went over the definitions of the vocabulary words as a class, and students used the words in sentences. Students could choose to write a poem or short story for extra credit. They also had an opportunity to share their sentences, poems, or story with the class.

Students read The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus aloud and discussed its meaning. After that, they read the preamble to the Constitution, which was printed on the same page as the poem. Students worked in pairs to share and discuss their thoughts about how the poem connected to the preamble of the Constitution. Mr. Martinez then led a class discussion about the connections—such as the concepts of liberty and freedom—between the two texts.

After the Video
For homework, Mr. Martinez gave students a worksheet that presented background information about the Sleepy Lagoon murder, which is the incident on which the play Zoot Suit, by Luis Valdez, is based. During the next class, students read the prologue of the play as a third text to discuss in connection with the featured lesson.

Teacher Prep
Mr. Martinez created multiple handouts in preparation for the lesson: a printout of the poem and preamble, a list of the new vocabulary words with their definitions, and an information sheet about the Sleepy Lagoon murder.

Prior Knowledge
Students were already familiar with the themes of freedom and liberty and had studied the preamble of the Constitution earlier in the school year. Students had also already had experience with intertextual reading and describing how two pieces of text are connected (thematically, or through the same use of words).

Differentiated Instruction
Mr. Martinez scaffolds learning by providing handouts, such as vocabulary words with definitions. He wants students to learn to spell correctly; however, he does not deduct points if the words are incorrectly spelled in their writing because he wants students to have academic confidence and not be penalized for small mistakes. In this lesson, he asked students to read the texts aloud. He printed the poem and the preamble on the same sheet of paper so that students could more easily compare them and make connections.

When Mr. Martinez asks students for a timed writing project, he provides a few sentence starters on the board to help those who may need help. He tries to make learning fun and accessible by connecting lessons to the lives of students.

Group Interaction
Students worked in pairs to discuss how the poem connected to the preamble of the Constitution and engaged in expressing themselves clearly. Mr. Martinez also facilitated discussion with the entire class.

Mr. Martinez is very cognizant of making his classroom a safe place to discuss complex and sensitive topics. He is strict in his policy of no putdowns and fosters an environment of mutual respect.

Resources and Tools

  • The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
  • The preamble to the Constitution
  • Day 1 Vocabulary worksheet
  • Background information sheet on the Sleepy Lagoon murder


Formative Assessment
During the lesson, Mr. Martinez walked around the room and interacted with students as they were writing vocabulary sentences and having their discussions about the two texts. The exercise of writing sentences using vocabulary words and connecting it to their own lives demonstrated to Mr. Martinez that students understood the words and could use them in context.

Student Self-Assessment
The essential question of the unitWhat does it mean to be an American, and who gets to define this?—was written on the board throughout the entire unit for students to see daily and reflect upon. By the end of the unit, Mr. Martinez wanted students to feel like they had the power to define themselves and that no else had that power unless they gave it to them.

Summative Assessment
Mr. Martinez assessed the lesson by how engaged students were in writing sentences with their new vocabulary and how engaged they were in the class discussion.

Ongoing Assessment
In general, Mr. Martinez visits concepts repeatedly so that their context is not limited to a particular lesson. For example, the vocabulary sheets that he gave his students have three holes so that students can keep them in their binders and refer to them throughout the year. Mid-semester, students worked on a project in which they had to use at least 100 of the vocabulary words in a creative form (such as a graphic novel, short story, poem, or essay). Mr. Martinez strives to ensure that students effectively learn concepts and can understand them outside of the bubble of a particular class.

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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


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