Contributed by Patricia K. Ladd, Dana Middle School, Pt. Loma, CA.
Ritter's use of Walt Whitman's epic poem, "Oh Captain! My Captain!" in Choosing Up Sides is brilliant. The poem serves as a powerful metaphor for the multiple conflicts depicted in the novel.
I placed a copy of Whitman's poem on the overhead projector. As students accessed prior knowledge of their 5th grade study of the Civil War, I jotted down words and phrases alongside Whitman's stanzas. We simply "interpreted" the poem in terms of its historical references.
The attached graphic ("Work on Instructional Material Using Overhead Projector") shows my notes right on the overhead sheet. The jotted comments reflect student responses to our whole-class discussion as we analyzed the possible meanings of the poem.
Once students' memories were refreshed regarding some of the issues surrounding this country's Civil War and text-to-world connections were made, I asked them to consider why John H. Ritter chose to include this particular poem in his novel-text-to-text connections. After all, Ritter could have selected any poem for Luke to recite.
Responses included the following suggestions:
It's important that students understand that Whitman's poem is a metaphor. By making connections between the poem and its subject, Abraham Lincoln, students can then analyze the conflicts in Ritter's novel, metaphorically.
Following our whole-class analysis and discussion, students wrote "Friendly Letters" to John H. Ritter addressing their own connections between Whitman's poem and Choosing Up Sides.
They were now ready to write their own "Whitman-like" poems focusing on characters and conflicts in Ritter's novel. I introduced them to Whitman's poetic style, his AABB rhyming pattern and his refrains. As a class, we wrote one stanza and refrain as a warm-up before assigning independent work.
You have just finished listening to our Read Aloud of John H. Ritter's first novel, Choosing Up Sides. As I read, you took notes in your Writer's Notebook listing facts and details from each chapter and making reflective comments at the end of each read. As a class, we also brainstormed possible themes in Ritter's novel and his use of literary techniques, such as: similes, metaphors, foreshadowing, and characterization.
Following our discussion of Walt Whitman's poem, "Oh Captain! My Captain!" we had a stimulating whole-class Socratic dialogue regarding Ritter's inclusion of this piece in his novel. We pondered Ritter's reasons for having, Luke, the main character, memorize this poem and any correlations between the poem and the conflicts presented in the novel. You had wonderful ideas, and you expressed your ideas to John H. Ritter in the form of a "Friendly Letter."
Now, you are to write your own poem, Whitman style, focusing on either the plot or character development in Choosing Up Sides. Just as Whitman's poem is a metaphor for Abraham Lincoln, your poem will be a metaphor for one character in Ritter's novel or a template for expressing some of the conflicts revealed in the plot.
Your poem, a response to literature, will be assessed according to the following:
Followed the structural style of Whitman's poem: ( 30 points) _____
Clearly identifies either one character or conflict from Ritter's novel: (70 points) _____
Total: (100 points) _____
Few, if any, spelling errors: (25 points) _____
Few, if any, grammatical errors: (25 points) _____
Total: (50 points) _____
Due Date: ________________________
Lesson Plans contributed by Patricia K. Ladd, Dana Middle School. © 2000. Permission granted for classroom use.