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Kristan Jiggetts, NEH Summer Scholar 2015

American Literature

Lesson Plan by Kristan Jiggetts

Grade 11

Length:  One year



American Literature must encompass all that makes up “America.”  Contemporary American mythology holds that certain texts are more important than others.  As educators, we rarely are met with resistance when we suggest changing The Great Gatsby​ to ​The Sun Also Rises​.  If we choose to teach The Catcher in the Rye​, students and teachers alike can find copious resources online to help out.  As a result, I believe that many schools find themselves taking the “path of least resistance” in what is considered “American Literature.”  However, how are we reflecting the reality of what it means to be an American?

Through my year-long plan for 11th grade English, students will be asked to examine how texts do and do not speak to one another in order to develop an opinion of the dynamic nature of American Identity.  Rather than “tolerate” one another, we must learn to understand one another, and also to come to terms that there may be things that are insurmountable ­ things that we cannot understand based on our own histories, stories and lives.  And this is ok. We all make up this country ­ whether we descend from indigenous people of North America, came over on the Mayflower, were forcibly brought by a slave ship, immigrated through Ellis Island, crossed the Rio Grande in the darkness of night or simply took a job in the United States through a work visa.  Our stories are not the same.  This is the beauty of our country.  We have varied experiences and we also have a painful, traumatic history that we actively work to forget. 

In order to be a student of “American Literature” we must certainly come to terms with this.  For this beginning unit, I would like to begin a process of including a multitude of voices.  Argument is by no means a field that “belongs” to any culture or ethnic group. It is a perfect place to start, in a skills­based curriculum that I work in, to bring in new perspectives from the American Indian experience and other perspectives (African American and Indian American) as well as we begin to answer our Essential Questions. 

Year-Long Essential Questions:

Who are “Americans”?

What can we learn from the different cultures of this land?


During Junior year, students move into refining their own argument skills as well as a sophisticated analysis of arguments that they read, watch or hear.  As American residents, we have a responsibility to critically think about all of the images, stories, Our goal for this beginning unit of the year is for students to be able to recognize both logical and illogical arguments, understand how to logically refute an argument and how to, individually, craft a logical, evidence­based argument. 

There are a myriad of texts that can be used to teach argument.  This year, we will examine different texts to explore logical and illogical arguments and to develop our own arguments.  We will begin the unit with a diagnostic of the ​New York Times​ article “Incurable Excess” by Richard Cohen, published in August, 2015.  This article discusses the “American” interest in consumption and excess compared to European cultures. The students will take a reading test to identify the use of ethos, pathos and logos in Cohen’s argument as well as logical argumentation techniques (like comparison and personal experience).  The students will also write a paper in which they will identify Cohen’s argument and support his claim with evidence from the text.

 Following this diagnostic, the students will read Indian American comedian Mindy Kaling’s chapter entitled “Don’t Peak in High School” from her memoir, Why is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? ​The focus of this chapter in her book is how Kaling did not have an “All­American, white high school experience.  Rather, she discusses being the child of immigrants and how her high school experience revolved around spending time with her family and doing homework. She uses her own personal experience to connect to a teenage audience and advise young women to worry more about grades and family than being “popular.”  The students will then write another paper, this time building upon her claim to then create their own claim based on her argument. This chapter is comedic in tone and students tend to identify with Kaling’s distaste of high school. 

We will follow up this initial work by studying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  This text sets up a logical argument that will become a mentor text for the students.  We begin this work with background information on King and his jailing in Birmingham from the series Eyes on the Prize. Students will work to identify ethos, logos and pathos in King’s argument and also find places where King acknowledges and refutes his opposition. We also will read the Eight Alabama Clergymen letter that inspired King’s letter.  This study is meant to show students logical vs. illogical arguments and the power of refutation in arguments.  While King refuted every point that the Alabama clergymen had, the clergymen had not logically thought through their argument at all. I am placing this here as students are familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., however, most have not read anything other than a selection of quotes by King or been exposed to anything he wrote outside of his “I Have a Dream” speech.  We are still somewhere in the land of the “familiar” but moving to see people from different races as academics as well as activists and change­makers. 

Following our study of King, we will move to government writing.  We will begin this portion of the unit by looking at a map of Montana and the 12 Montana tribes.  After a history lesson including information from the OPI (“American Indian 101”), The students will read the Hellgate Treaty of 1855. We will look for inconsistencies in the treaty language by breaking the class into groups to decipher the argument the United States is crafting in regards to the lands and rights of the Flathead, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribes. After students study the treaty and acknowledge inconsistencies, we will examine an article from the Missoulian​ ​ that describes the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes takeover of the Kerr Dam. This will lead us to a discussion about the importance of argument and how logical argumentation skills can change lives. The students will write a short paper arguing how argument can change lives based on the study of the Hellgate Treaty. This portion of the unit also will include current events ­ as this is in the news recently (September, 2015). 

Our unit will end with an assessment, the students will independently read and research the poem “Agnes” by Victor Charlo.  The final assessment of their (now expert!) argument skills will be an online voice-thread/screen-castify presentation where students will individually tell the story of the poet (through research) and the poem and what argument is presented by the poem. This is where the goal is for students to see the connection between the land, language, and culture and why Charlo wrote the poem and to develop a logical argument, based on researched evidence.  I am placing Charlo’s poem here as a way to link to our study of the Hellgate Treaty and the CSKT of Montana which hopefully they will draw upon when beginning their research and developing an argument.

In the unit that follows, we read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.  With this text, we continue looking at land use and rights issues as well as Alaska Native history.  Krakauer’s story about Christopher McCandless journeying to Alaska and Denali National Park is a great place to include more about Alaska Natives and his misunderstanding of the land he was traveling towards (which ended in his death). Beginning this unit with information about Alaska and the government name change back to “Denali” from “McKinley” will place us within current events and lead to an awareness of indigenous rights. With each unit, my goal is to show students an array of voices ­ and in turn create an understanding about the differences between all of us and the celebration of those differences and a respect for the differences rather than an appropriation or a feeling of “tolerance”.  

Common Core Standards Assessed 

  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.RI.11‐12.1​:  Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.RI.11‐12.2​:  Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.RI.11‐12.8​:  Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., ​The Federalist​, presidential addresses).
  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.RL.11‐12.3​:  Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.RL.11‐12.4​:  Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.RL.11‐12.5​:  Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.W.11‐12.1​:  Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.W.11‐12.1.A:  Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.W.11‐12.1.B​:  Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
  • CCSS.ELA‐LITERACY.W.11‐12.1.C​:  Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.

Glossary of Terms

Alaska Native: A person of indigenous descent in what is now the state of Alaska.

American Indian:  A person of indigenous descent in what is now the United States.

Ethos:  An argument that uses reasoning to appeal to one’s character/credibility

Illogical Argument:  An argument that is faulty in reasoning as proven by evidence.

Indian American:  A person of descent from the country of India who now lives in the United States.

Indigenous person:  A person whose ancestry originates in a particular place

Logos:  An argument that uses reasoning to appeal to logical thought (statistics, evidence)

Logical Argument:  An argument that is valid in reasoning as proven by evidence.

Pathos:  An argument that uses reasoning to appeal to one’s emotions

Time of first contact:  Used to describe when Europeans and other groups arrived in North America and encountered Indigenous people. 

Bibliography of works

"American Indian 101." Montana Office of Public Instruction. 2009. Web. 6 Sept. 2015.

Carpenter, C.C.J., Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop

Nolan B. Harmon, George M. Murray, Edward V. Ramage, Earl Stallings, (collectively the

Eight Alabama Clergymen) “Public Statement by Eight Alabama Clergymen”. April 12,


Chaney, Rob. "Tribal Ownership, Operation of Kerr Dam Will Be Historic, Lawyer Says."​. N.p., 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 11 July 2015.­and­regional/tribal­ownership­opera...

Charlo, Victor, and Roger Dunsmore. ​Put seý = Good Enough. Kalispell, MT: Many Voices

Press, 2008.

Cohen, Roger. “Incurable American Excess.” ​The New York Times​. The New  

York Times, Jul. 2015. Web. 6 Sep. 2015.­cohen­incurable­ american­excess.html?_r=0

Hampton, Henry, Judith Vecchione, Steve Fayer, Orlando Bagwell, Callie Crossley, James A. 

DeVinney, Madison D. Lacy, Paul J. Stekler, Jacqueline Shearer, Sam Pollard, Sheila C. 

Bernard, Terry K. Rockefeller, Thomas Ott, Louis Massiah, and Julian Bond. 

Eyes on the Prize​. Alexandria, Va.: PBS Video, 2006.

“Hellgate Treaty.” ​CSKT​. Web. 11 Jul. 2015.

Kaling, Mindy. ​Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (and Other Concerns)​. New York: Crown Archetype, 2011.

King, Martin Luther Jr. "Letter from the Birmingham Jail." In ​Why We Can't Wait​, ed. Martin

Luther King, Jr., 77­100, 1963.­ ar%5Frequests/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf

Krakauer, Jon. ​Into The Wild​.  New York: Anchor Books, 1997. Print.