Unit #2: Why Read?

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Oct
  • 22
  • 2008

For the last few years, around this time, right after we’ve finished a fun and seemingly simple unit, I hit the juniors with the Why Read? unit. Emerson and Bloom are tough and students can’t even begin to parse what the two guys have to say. With tons of hand holding (likely too much that I need to step even further back from next year), we make it through. I put together an Emerson PowerPoint presentation I’ll share later and plan to do the same for Bloom. This unit sets the stage for more difficult texts we’ll read in the future, pushing students to learn decoding tools through practice and modeling.

Time And Handouts

This takes about four weeks.


These events occur on top of each other, not in sequence. Breaking up the monotony is essential, so mix up the activities. Read Emerson, Visual Essay (VE), Emerson, in-class writing, VE, etc.

  1. 100-word group writing on a series of questions about reading, writing, and books (see “Preparation: Big One”) – one day;
  2. Create Visual Essay (VE) #1, converting that 100-word response to a statement made with few words and lots of pictures (also see “Preparation”) – three days;
  3. Read and dissect Emerson – four days;
  4. Present VE #1 to entire class – two days;
  5. Show Barnes & Noble’s “Why I Read” – three minutes;
  6. In-class writing: Now that you’ve thought about this with a group, what is your opinion of reading, writing, and books? Minimum of 200 words – one day, open notes;
  7. Technicolor Paragraph in a group of two about Emerson (Agree or Disagree: Emerson’s 1837 speech “The American Scholar” states that books should turn readers into mere thinkers.) – one day;
  8. Catalog three quotations from Emerson about reading, followed by your paraphrase for each on the target notes handout – homework;
  9. Assemble VE #2 – using your target notes, encapsulate Emerson’s ideas about reading, writing, and books in visual form – one day;
  10. View VE #2 through SlideShare and take notes on the best slide from each one – half a day;
  11. Read and analyze Bloom – four days;
  12. Technicolor Paragraph on your own about Bloom (Agree or Disagree: “Why Read?,” Harold Bloom’s 2001 discussion of reading, suggests that reading serves no purpose.) – one day;
  13. Scrawl three quotations from Bloom about reading, then paraphrase each on the target notes handout – homework;
  14. Construct VE #3 – with quotations from your target notes, capture Bloom’s main thoughts on reading and books with images – one day;
  15. Distribute VE #3 through SlideShare and take notes on the best slide from each one – half a day;
  16. List ideas, with quotations, from Emerson that you agree and disagree with, then do the same for Bloom, feeling free to use the target notes and VEs created previously. Minimum of four ideas from each author – half a day.

Final Assessment

  1. Turn all of these responses into one written piece: your opinions on books, Emerson’s opinions, Bloom’s opinions, what you agree with and why, what you disagree with and why, a final reflection on what this says about your attitude and philosophy (assignment sheet to follow);
  2. VE #4 – show the main ideas expressed in your writing.


from my discussion of a previous incarnation of this unit
Listen to Danger Mouse, The Beatles, and Jay-Z.

  • The Grey Album mixes music from The White Album with lyrics from The Black Album. Pick songs from each album. Play the originals, then the remixes off The Grey Album.
  • Is Danger Mouse mere thinker or Man Thinking? Did his “reading” of those two albums lead to an idea of his own? Would Emerson approve of this kind of creation? Would Bloom? Do you? Why? Does this same theory apply to movies, paintings, books, etc.? – one day.

Well, what do you think? Would this be enough information for you to try it out with your students? What else would you need? What if we all presented our best or most troubled unit in this format? Is this too much? No detail? Completely worthless? Tell me, tell me.


1. Naomi says:

[10/23/2008 - 8:18 am]

Dear Todd,

I met Vanessa this summer at an Eng 2 Support training this summer and she shared this site with me. How invaluable it has been! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your strategies, and your hard work.

I am currently beginning a new outside reading book with my seniors who groan “Another book?!” I think I may have them read the articles by Bloom and Emerson. Both articles are the same one by Bloom, but posted under different titles. Perhaps one was mis-uploaded.

Let me know!


2. Todd says:

[10/23/2008 - 8:29 am]

Fixed! And I added PDFs of each article, as well, just in case you’re into that sort of thing.

Let me know how the project goes with your seniors. I’m always curious how these plans play out in other classrooms. I’ll be putting up my PowerPoint presentations soon, too (with heavy reservations), so maybe those will help you communicate the ideas in these texts.

Keep me posted on how it goes and feel free to ask any questions! Thanks for letting me know there was a problem. I would have missed that. It was a long day yesterday.

3. Tom says:

[10/23/2008 - 11:56 am]

First, I love the extension. I’d go to class just for that.

The idea here is really solid. I think you’re giving enough detail for those who would try this sort of thing- more would turn of the adventurous and still not be enough for the timid.

What you’re doing is really close to the Core program at the Univ. of Richmond. I think it’s now $49,000 a year so you’re giving students some valuable class time.

I’ve always wanted to see a “Pimp My Lesson Plan” site for people to submit units/lessons and let other people take a shot at pimping them out.

4. Jean says:

[2/18/2009 - 8:30 am]

I work for a family literacy program that is part of the city school system here where I live. I teach an adult reading class for the program participants. It has been a struggle to get the students interested in reading, even with all the statistics available concerning the benefits of reading. I was very excited to see your site, and to hopefully get some ideas to inspire my students to learn to love reading.Keep up the good work!


5. Tom K says:

[2/26/2009 - 1:26 pm]


You may want to take a look at Sven Birkerts’ short Harvard Magazine article titled “What, Me Read?” I begin one of my literature courses with this each year.