I love using paired passages in my classroom. Whenever I ask students to read a longer text, a book or a memoir, for example, I bring in multiple paired passages to meet multiple power standards within that unit. I might bring in poetry to my To Kill a Mockingbird unit, or nonfiction to pair with my short story unit. I can add in a one or two-day lesson to have students compare similar themes shared with a variety of mediums.
I started bringing in paired passages when my district switched to a focus on power standards. I noticed that students were focusing on larger/important standards, while lesser standards, poetry, for example, were falling by the wayside. While I agree that poetry is not a 21st-century life skill, I didn’t want these skills and experiences to just disappear from my classroom.
Also, as these power standards took to implementation, I wanted to bring as many opportunities to read and explore nonfiction texts for the very same reason I was worried about the disappearance of poetry in my classroom – it is a powerful and critical 21st-century skill. For example, before reading “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant, we read two nonfiction articles about affluenza. Affluenza, as I explain to my students, is a ‘flu’ for affluent people needing THINGS. The art of needing to purchase and have the latest and greatest of everything. These two articles, titled “Entitlement” and “Keeping up with the Jonses” help to build background for the fictional story they are about to read. Plus, they can look at similar themes written in different mediums. This leads me to my final ‘why.’
The common core standards ask us to look at similar themes and topics in different mediums. Specifically, the standard states: “Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.” These paired passages are absolutely perfect for meeting this standard!
Start by looking at your longer text, the novel, memoir, or short story. Then try to find a shorter text with similar themes or connections. For example, when I teach an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in my memoir unit, I have students analyze the poem, “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar. You can learn more about this unit here. “Sympathy” is actually Maya Angelou’s inspiration for the title of her memoir. These texts are interconnected in themes and ideas!
Consider when you will add in this text for students. The nonfiction articles that relate to “The Necklace” are most supportive prior to reading the story to help students build background. With a short excerpt like Maya Angelou’s memoir, the poem may make more sense after the story. Others, however, may make more of an impact in the middle of the text. My paired passage for the To Kill a Mockingbird unit falls after students read chapter 12 of the text.
After students read these chapters, I ask them to explore “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar as chapter 12 of To Kill a Mockingbird truly explores these ideals for African Americans at the time.
Search for a paired passage. Identify a theme or topic that will fit or support the longer text you are teaching. Search (I just use Google) for a piece of literature or nonfiction with similar themes/topics. After you have identified the paired text, it is just a matter of teaching students how to compare these texts.
I love to have students discuss these common themes to analyze the text. See some examples from my units below. Click on an image to learn more about that particular unit.
Then, I often ask students to write a literary analysis paragraph comparing/contrasting and analyzing these common themes. See an example from my Paired Passage with Maya Angelou and Paul Laurence Dunbar unit to the right!
I love that these types of units get my students thinking deeply about the themes within a text while analyzing the structure of each type of medium. Students are making real-life connections and the light bulb moments are so rewarding! Give this a try. Email me if you have any questions as you get started! 😊