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Using various hotlinks from a Web site, high school English students read about the history of discrimination against African Americans in the United States and examples of racist (or “Jim Crow”) laws. This provides the background necessary for the book Having Our Say by Sarah and Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth. They then read primary documents---oral history accounts of African Americans affected by discriminatory laws. They also read speeches by famous African Americans (such as W.E.B. Dubois) mentioned in the book and they take notes and answer questions. In class, they write literary essays individually and within groups. The students word-process their best essays in the computer room and revise and edit before submitting them to the class Web site at highwired.com/fklane/e201. On the site, students can view the featured essays, which are chosen by their teacher. Students also hand in a portfolio of their best essays, including all drafts, and view the made-for-TV movie Having Our Say and write an essay comparing it to the book. 

Students are assessed by their participation on class and by the essays they write.

This project requires 10 or more class periods to complete. Computers with Internet connection and word processing equipment are necessary. Students need basic computer and Internet skills. Teachers must be versed in creating a Web site.

I covered this unit with ninth graders in New York City. The ability level can be quite wide since the book is actually transcribed from interview tapes and therefore slightly easier to read than a formally written text.

Students study an unfortunate but highly relevant part of American history. The lives and beliefs of the two sisters in Having Our Say are very inspirational. Since the book is written using an oral history format, it is a primary source document: a first-hand account of "ordinary" people's lives. Also, essays based on the book help students learn basic essay technique. They read the book (largely at home) and for each of seven parts, they hand in a double-entry notebook. This involves dividing a notebook sheet of paper in half and labeling the top-left-hand side “Notes.” The students copy the words from the book that stand out for them or make them think about specific issues. They label the top-right-hand-column "Comments and Questions." Then they write what they are thinking about the words or notes they copied.

Technology: Students develop note-taking, drafting, writing, and editing skills while using the computer, and develop critical thinking and research skills while evaluating the credibility and appropriateness of Web sites and the validity of the information available at those sites. They compile and analyze the data collected while visiting Web sites. They locate specified sites, employ the computer and the Internet as research tools and resources, develop word-processing skills, develop research skills appropriate to computer usage, and express information with accuracy and creativity. 

Language Arts: Students develop several main points relating to a single thesis, analyze and revise work, write interpretive and responsive essays in order to express judgments and support them through references to the text, read and comprehend informational materials to develop understanding and expertise, and produce written work that makes connections to related topics or information. Students use informational materials to reach a conclusion regarding a topic, develop several main points relating to a single thesis, and analyze and revise work to make it more effective. They critique a document, skim texts to gain an overall impression and for particular information, and take notes and organize information from written and oral texts such as lectures and interviews.

Initially, students sometimes need motivation to become interested in the lives of two 100-year-old women. Using a portion of a tape of the made-for-television movie of Having Our Say will help interest them in the book. Many students become impressed and moved by the lives of the Delany sisters and find the book very worthwhile. The students can also compare the book to the movie version of the story.

Project URL: http://teachnet.org/TeachNetProject/ny/fklane/pmaslow-delanys.htm 

Peggy Maslow, a New York City high school English teacher for 23 years,  has used technology in the classroom for over 16 years. She has also been her school's newspaper advisor for almost two years. She has taught all levels of students ranging from those with reading difficulties to honors, and has taught courses in journalism, mystery, American literature and other topics.

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Curriculum Areas:
Language Arts

High School


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