Teaching by Design (TBD): Asking Better Questions

by Jim Burke

What we put in students’ hands in class is the point of greatest influence: it tells them what to do or what we expect them to know. I have written before about Webb’s Depth of Knowledge model and what I called the A-List vocabulary on previous blogs. Asking questions is its own science (or is it art?!)–okay, call it a craft. I have been working on being much more deliberate, much more precise and intentional about my questions, trying to ensure the questions my students answer for 1984 make the cognitive demands appropriate to, in my case, high school seniors.

Here are questions for two chapters from 1984 which we used to deepen our reading, check for understanding, and guide our class discussion today. They seem to have worked well (okay, we only did the 1.1 questions; the 1.2 questions are for homework…)

1984 Close Reading and Discussion Questions

Directions: Answer any five of the questions listed below. Do your work on separate paper or the back and turn in with these questions attached.

Chapter 1.1

  • Define ironic (1) as it appears in the dictionary and (2) as you understand it in your own words.
  • Explain how Orwell’s use of the word “victory” (e.g., Victory Mansions, Victory Gin) is ironic, supporting your answer with details or examples from the text.
  • Why was “nothing illegal” and why were “laws no longer needed” (6)?
  • A “conditioned response” is defined as:

The learned response to the previously neutral stimulus. For example, let’s suppose that the smell of food is an unconditioned stimulus, a feeling of hunger in response the smell is a unconditioned response, and the sound of a whistle is the conditioned stimulus. The conditioned response would cause you to feel hungry when you heard the sound of the whistle. The conditioned response is the learned reflexive response.

Respond to the claim that everyone’s behavior during the Two Minute Hate (pgs. 11-17) is a conditioned response. In your response, you should agree, disagree, or do both (agree and disagree). Explain your reasoning, supporting your explanation with examples from the text.

  • Contrast the emotions the Two Minute Hate film associates with Goldstein and Big Brother. Support your answers with specific details or quotations from the text.
  • Describe Winston’s relationship with others and Oceania in general using a metaphor or simile. Develop your metaphor or simile by explaining how it applies and providing examples that support your comparison.
  • Summarize the notion of Thoughtcrime (pg. 19), including two examples from chapter 1 and explaining what makes them thoughtcrimes.
  • List three adjectives that describe Oceania as it appears in chapter 1. Choose the best adjective and explain how it, of your three words, best captures Orwell’s world.

1984 Close Reading and Discussion Questions

Directions:    Answer any five of the questions listed below. Do your work on separate paper or the back and turn in with these questions attached.

Chapter 1.2-1.3

  • Of Hitler’s Junior Spies organization, one source wrote that “If parents did not register their children for the Hitler Youth they could possible face fines or imprisonment. Also, questionnaires were distributed to high school students asking to list information on parents, teachers, or employers that interfered with the Hitler Youth duties. It was also helpful to turn in an anti-Nazi person to better their chances of promotion” (Hitler’s Children 1998)

Question: Compare Mrs. Parsons’ children (pages 23-24 in my edition) to Hitler’s child spies: explain why you think this is or is not an accurate comparison, taking time to describe how the two groups are similar (or different).

  • Interpret the following line, supporting your interpretation with details from the text: “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull” (27).
  • Define the word annihilation (1) as it appears in the dictionary and (2) as it is used in 1984 (pgs. 27, 31, 19).
  • Interpret the line, “He was already dead, he reflected” (28). Explain what you think it means in the context in which Winston thinks it.
  • Summarize the following passage from Winston’s dream (in your own words):

The girl with dark hair was coming toward him across the field. With what seemed a single movement she tore off her clothes and flung them disdainfully aside. Her body was white and smooth, but it aroused no desire in him; indeed, he barely looked at it. What overwhelmed him in that instant was admiration for the gesture with which she had thrown her clothes aside. With its grace and carelessness it seemed to annihilate a whole culture, a whole system of thought, as though Big Brother and the Party and the Thought Police could all be swept into nothingness by a single splendid movement of the arm. That too was a gesture belonging to the ancient time. (31)

  • Analyze this portion of the previous passage, paying close attention to the language:

What overwhelmed him in that instant was admiration for the gesture with which she had thrown her clothes aside. With its grace and carelessness it seemed to annihilate a whole culture, a whole system of thought, as though Big Brother and the Party and the Thought Police could all be swept into nothingness by a single splendid movement of the arm. That too was a gesture belonging to the ancient time. (31)

 

 

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