Power in Literature: Nonfiction
The power of freedom as seen through nonfiction.
What do modern Afghan women, the American founding fathers, and African-American slaves have in common (other than all having an "A" in their names)? Answer: motivated by a desire for freedom, they've written nonfiction that's changed the world. But inspiring great nonfiction is only one of freedom's powers. What else will people do for it? And why? What would you do for freedom (and we're not just talking about the freedom to stay out past 10 on a week night, even if you would mow the lawn for it).
We'll answer these questions in this Power in Literature course by examining some big-deal documents written by our founding fathers—yep, those guys in tight pants and wigs. Their flawless fashion sense wasn't the only good thing they had going on: they were also able to marshal a sense of purpose and a command of tone to craft governing documents that are still guaranteeing our freedom two hundred years later (bet you can't say the same for that lawn you mowed). And though Afghan women and African-American slaves used poetry instead of prose, they, too, did so with a purpose: to express their desire for freedom and take down what stood in their way.
So go ahead: discover what freedom can do, along with some powerful analytical tools for reading non-fiction. Put them together, and you've got the "Power of Freedom." Please use it for good.
The Power in Literature Series
Have you ever wondered what makes you keep turning the pages of the latest page-turner? Why those "Happy Anniversary" Hallmark cards come with cheesy love poems inside? Or maybe you're curious about why, when you get on the internet to find out how tall Tom Cruise is (because he looks really short next to Katie Holmes, and she wasn't even wearing heels), you emerge three hours later an expert on the mating habits of ducks. What gives language in all its forms—whether prose, poetry, or on a web page—its power to entertain, persuade, and make us lose all sense of time and decency?
Shmoop's Power in Literature nano-series investigates this question by taking apart some literature genres—short stories, poems, nonfiction, and web reading—to figure out what makes them go. Each twelve-lesson, fully Common Core-aligned course for grades 9–10 introduces students to the basic nuts and bolts of the genre. And just to make things really interesting, we look at the power of money, love, freedom, and fame while we're doing it.
Unit 1. The Power of Freedom (Nonfiction)
In this nano course, we shake the dust off of documents like the Constitution, Emancipation Proclamation, and Gettysburg Address and make them come alive. It's all in the name of getting students to appreciate the power of their freedom and understand where it comes from—not to mention hitting those 9th to 10th grade Common Core standards about reading informational texts.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 3: BE Objective, B-E Objective
Picture this: You're hanging out with a friend, chatting about your plans for Saturday night, when all of a sudden, before you know it, you've offered to host an enormous party at your own house while your parents are out of town. Whoa. Did your friend do a Jedi mind trick on you?
Not quite. What your friend did—and what writers sometimes do—is called swaying. No, we're not talking about what happens when you get up too fast or when you're pretending to slow dance. To sway someone is to have a bit of influence over her thoughts or actions. You didn't intend to offer up your house, but that mind trick clearly worked. You never even saw it coming.
So, how do writers exert this influence? Sometimes you'll read an article that appears to be objective, or fact-based, but it's full of bias, or what we call a "slant"—a prejudice, or a particular point of view that's based more on opinions than facts. These articles are trying to sway you into thinking the way the author does. Some writers can sneak this in pretty stealthily, like thieves in the night or your party-loving friend, and others can be totally blatant, like a carjacker robbing his next-door neighbor. But whether they're sneaky or OMG so obvious, both are subjective—that is, they're based on opinion, rather than fact. Learning how to recognize subjective sources when they appear is the difference between controlling your own mind, and letting others control it for you. Yep, it's really that important.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.3: Just the Facts, Ma'am
Let's get some basic facts. The bottom line is that when we seek the facts, we want the facts, and not some hidden agenda.
Read these two stories about violence in Afghanistan as examples of objective secondary sources. CNN is a well-known and pretty reliable news source, so we consider it trustworthy. Pay attention to what details are provided, and how. For instance, how do the articles use quotes?
- Story One: Think having an egg thrown at you might stink? Try acid.
- Story Two: We know the lunch at school is pretty gross, but how about getting poisoned from it?
Hey, did you close the browser on those news stories already? Well open them back up, Hasty McHasterson. You hurt their feelings when you abandoned them so quickly the first time.
Go back to Story 1. There's a headline—or title—for the article. Did you even notice it? You didn't fly on by, did you? Well look again. Headlines and titles are awesome because they tell us exactly what's coming in the article and what to expect. Unlike that See's candy that you think is going to be raspberry but turns out to just be nougat. Gross.
Based on "Saving Face: The Struggle and Survival of Afghan Women" we can pretty easily guess what this article is about. (Um, try the struggle and survival of Afghan women for $400.) We also expect this article will not just be about one particular person, but a group experiencing the same thing.
Okay, moving on. How does the author grab our attention at the beginning?
"The first thing you notice about her is the patchwork of painful puffy red scars that stretch across her face."
Hmm. She's only 18, but she's got a face full of scars. We immediately begin to wonder how she got them. And the picture at the top gives us a face to go with the name, creating a personal connection to the victim. We definitely couldn't put this article down if we wanted to.
So now we're hooked and must know this girl's story. Then the writer zings us one more time with a direct quote: "I feel so bad, I do not look at myself in the mirror anymore." We ask ourselves again, "What happened?"
Check out the next few sentences. The author provides us with important details about the girl so we know immediately what happened. How's that for instant gratification?
But then, notice what the writer does. She changes her focus, giving us details about other women in similar situations. She also provides some statistics.
For the rest of the story, she moves back and forth from quotes and victims' stories, to facts. This technique holds our interest. It keeps us connected, since we realize there are real people on the other end of this story. At the same time, the author is giving us information about the general situation of women in Afghanistan. Sneaky.
Now head back to Story 2. Look at that headline again: "Official: 122 girls, 3 teachers poisoned at Afghan school."
Pretty shocking. Putting such a dramatic quote in the headline grabs the reader immediately. Plus, it signals that we'll most likely get all the deets on this incident if we choose to read on.
Unlike the writer of "Saving Face," this writer jumps right in and delivers the basic facts in the first four lines of the article. Look at what he thinks we need to know right off the bat.
The incident occurred in the provincial capital of Talokhan, in the Bibi Hajera girl's school, said Dr. Hafizullah Safi, director of public health...
"A number of girls from 15 to 18 were brought from a school to hospital today," said hospital director Dr. Habibullah Rostaqi…"they are more traumatized."
This writer's not using quotes to give us the kind of personal account we get in "Saving Face." Instead, he's using quotes from officials and experts to back up and restate the facts.
In the rest of the article, this writer zooms out to give us a wider picture of the situation, connecting it to other incidents and what's happening with the Taliban. Both writers have gone from very specific information, to more general.
If you haven't clicked there yet, find and watch the video for the first story. Heavy stuff, right?
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.3a: Another Take
We know, we know: This topic's heavier than your arms after an hour of bench-pressing. With such a serious subject, people are bound to have strong opinions about it. That's certainly true of Daisy Khan, writer of this CNN article. As you read, keep an eye out for clues that tell us this is a subjective piece.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.3b: Chart Your Course
In your lifetime, you'll eat 40,000 jellybeans, see 3,500 videos and read tens of thousands of articles. Okay, so maybe we made up those statistics, but we wanted you to get the point that knowing where to go to get certain information—and whether or not you can trust what you're reading or seeing—is pretty important.
Now, time for our show. Take some time to think about all of the brilliant work you've done so far in this course and the diverse sources you've come across:
- a video about Afghan women poets
- poems by Afghan women
- an opinion article about Afghan women's situation
- factual articles about the girl who had acid thrown at her and the poisoning at the girls' school
- a video interview with the girl who had acid thrown at her
That's quite the grab bag of sources! Organize 'em all in your brain, and in this handy-dandy chart (Word version; PDF version) comparing and contrasting them. Who knows? Maybe reaching into that grab bag will net you a prize.
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10
- Course Type: Short Course
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1