Building thesis statements out of family comparisons.

For the past few years, my 11th grade students have been completing a media literacy project where they are invited to compare and contrast William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” with a modern romantic comedy of their choice. (Read about the whole unit here.)

One of the bigger challenges to this project is getting students to look beyond simple “they are similar in x way” or “they are different in y way” statements, and think about the larger trends that can be identified by drawing a line from the older text to the modern one.

To get students thinking about this, I started class with the following journal prompt:

In what ways are you similar to your parents? In what ways are you different?

Students brainstormed for ten minutes — many of them created t-charts, love those t-charts — and then we shared out. I went first, and picked one item from each category that related to each other. We then tossed a bunch of examples into a chart on the board (names blanked out, because who wants their family business on the internet?)

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We then spun these into statements, where students had to either emphasize the similarity or the difference based on the order of the statements.

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We discussed the difference that the order makes, and what it means to differentiate a new generation from the previous one. (Do you feel like you’re breaking free from your parents, or are you destined to be the same as them?)

We then applied that nuance to comparing “Taming of the Shrew” and our selected movies. First off, students had to decide: in what ways did the romantic comedy they watched differ from the play? And did those differences outweigh the similarities? Could they observe a change in attitudes about love and marriage comparing these two texts? Or are we, the viewers, enjoying the exact same beliefs and ideas that we did 400 years ago?

I then shared my sample intro paragraph and thesis (comparing the play to “My Best Friend’s Wedding”)

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Am I saying that the two texts are more similar or different? What do I think the implications of that statement are?

The work they are asked to do ramps up quite a bit here. But I think the family statements activity could apply to any number of analytical projects, especially anything that asks students to look at change over time. Students spend so much time in the compare/contrast dichotomy, and are rarely asked to describe how things got from one extreme to the other — or alternately, how they only seemed to change.

(And it can be launched from the angst of trying to break free of parental influence.)

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