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Unit Introduction

1. Preassessment

2. Introductory Activities

3. Differentiated Activity #1

4. Large Group Instruction

5. Small group/ individual activities

6. Differentiated Activity #2

7. Final Assessment

8. Chapter Questions


Book Study of Jennings Michael Burch’s
They Cage the Animals at Night

Vicki Cose
Expo High School, Waterloo, Iowa

Subject Area:  Contemporary Literature, English Elective
Grade Level:  9-12
Unit duration:  Three weeks

Purpose of Unit

The purpose of Contemporary Literature Class is to give students opportunities to be exposed and read contemporary books with multiple themes.  Many alternative school students do not choose to read, do not possess time to read, dislike reading, have been “turned off” to reading because of mandated prior experiences, or they were required to read certain types of books they were not interested in, therefore, they gave up, stopped attending the class or dropped out. 

Gifted students may also fall within these categories.   They were not allowed to move at their own pace, may not have been challenged and/or were not give choices for assignments. The teacher may have wished everyone to remain on the same chapter or to complete identical assignments. For example:  all students would read “x” amount of pages during the class period, answer questions for the chapter and were not allowed to move to the next chapter in order to keep the class together. 

Knowing the above information, I have diligently selected books which possess numerous themes to which alternative students may be able to relate or may have experienced themselves.  The length of the materials is also a strong proponent because one of the main goals of this unit is to have students complete a book from cover to cover.  Numerous students have not had opportunities to be successful in this nor feel the accomplishment of achieving this goal. 

A second goal of the unit is to allow the learner to proceed at their own rate with reasonable limits to complete chapters. Large and small group discussions will occur.  Applying this Differentiated Instruction principle is advantageous to all students.  The gifted student can be within their homogeneous group.   The reluctant reader is able to continue at their reading pace with dialogue of small and/or individual settings.  This adaptation gives the class opportunities to be successful and not become frustrated because of required page amounts.  It also challenges those who wish to read outside class to do so.  (If they complete the book, they will be able to work on the menu items.) 

Several other goals are to try to see whether the students can identify with the character(s) of the book, become involved with the plot and make connections of their own life with those in the book.  Both the alternative education student and the gifted student need experiences to examine the pertinent themes which arise in the book.  It provides the students with opportunities to view others encountering challenges, barriers and obstacles.   The students may be able to relate, have empathy, comprehend or visualize what the characters are going through because of their own experiences.  The final goal is to select a book where the student wishes to attend class to read, reach the conclusion of the book, or “hook them to read at their leisure”. 

The unit challenges the gifted students with enrichment activities, addresses learning styles, offers choices, allows acceleration, applies higher order thinking skills within discussions, and gives ample opportunities for them to supply their own uninhibited and authentic opinions.  The gifted student will not be stymied to “stay in the box” and is able to read at his or her own comfort level.  If they complete the book on a speedy basis, they will be able to begin the menu selections and advance as they feel compelled.
Waterloo School District Standard for Contemporary Literature

Standard #2
Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions of human experience

Standard #3
Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative and critical members of a variety of literary communities

Benchmark:  Understand and be able to use novels to accomplish their own purposes for learning, enjoyment and the exchange of information
a) Select appropriate reading materials from fiction, nonfiction, biography and autobiography
b) Share one’s understanding of the novel through a written analysis and/or individual projects

*Vocabulary: dysfunctional, perseverance, cowlick, groggy, garbled,chicklets, taunted, pasty, scurrying, quivered, lulled, mollycoddled, foyer, cowered, sternly, welt, marquee, rag picker, pier, jeering, bellowed, convalescent, ventriloquist and abandonment
*Literary elements:  prologue, autobiography, symbolism, analogies
*Foster care system in the 1950’s and 1960’s
*Historical impact of people’s lives in the 1950’s and 1960’s

*Resilient people withstand barriers and obstacles within their lives.
*Abandonment of family and friends impacts one’s basic needs.
*Dysfunctional families have and do exist in all socioeconomic levels.

“Do” or “Skills”:
*Analyzing skills: 1) determine cause and effect of choices to attend school (Jennings and students), 2) see the relationship of hierarchies within the foster care system and orphanages, 3) make analogies of their life to Jennings’ life
*Critical thinking skills: investigate issues of past and present orphanages
*Deductive thinking: determine bias of Jennings’ treatment from nun, foster care and his own family
*Interpersonal skills: understand tolerance, empathy, and compassion as related to Jennings and themselves

Text:  They Cage the Animals at Night by Jennings Michael Burch

Web sites @ orphanages, foster care and historical events in the 1950’s and 1960’s: (foster care, orphans) (foster care) (history) (foster care, orphanages, history) (foster care, history, orphanages)

Biographical web search about the author:

Community resources:  Lutheran Social Services @ foster care, people who may have been an orphan, on an orphan train or those children in the U.S. or other parts of the world who are orphaned because of their parents having AIDS (refer to large group activity and menu choices to utilize resource people)



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