Discipline: English and social studies

Grade Level:11

Course: Integrated English and U.S. history

©Literacy Design Collaborative. September 2011

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Letter to Congress
  • Background to Share With Students
    • October 26, 2011

      Dear Students of Tech Valley High School, 

      Engagement in our nation's political life is the responsibility of every citizen. An engaged and informed citizenry has the power to create a vibrant democracy and preserve our long fought for rights. These rights, as established by our Founding Fathers, have been challenged and redefined over the course of our nation's history, and their validity has almost always been judged in light of the United States Constitution. Whether it has been states' rights, prohibition, women's suffrage, or civil rights for African Americans, nearly all contentious political and social issues in the United States have been shaped by, and interpreted through, the US Constitution. To declare something "constitutional" is to give it society's official seal of approval, so to speak. Today we are faced with a number of important issues that some in our society believe should be supported and upheld by the Constitution. Others, when looking into the same issue, reject it and consider it a departure from our nation's principles as spelled out in that very same document.

      I believe it is important for young people like you to get involved with the political process and begin to actively shape society's debates. In order to do that, I would like you to write several congressmen or congresswomen about a current law on the books that you consider unconstitutional, or challenge a recently overturned law, making a case for or against it. Your argument must analyze the intent of our founding fathers against the intent of those who support the law today. In addition to this, you should create a grassroots campaign which explains the history of civic engagement in our country and advocates for your issue. After all, it is often grassroots support which creates real change in society (just look at the Civil Rights movement!). President Obama successfully used these modern methods of communicating (web, twitter, email, social networks, etc.) with the public to create support for his presidency, proving their efficacy specifically with your generation- and I would encourage you to learn how to use the Internet as a democratic tool to increase citizen engagement of your peers. 

      I or someone from my office will be checking in with you to view your progress and others who participate in the legislative process are very interested to see how you integrate social networking into your issue campaign. Please mail all letters by December, Nov. 21 to coincide with the premiere of your live website. 

      Good luck and get engaged!


      Congressman Paul D. Tonko, 21st District of New York 

  • Task/Text
    • Teaching Task

      After researching fundamental elements of the Constitution, landmark Supreme Court cases, and a modern constitutional issue, write a letter to a member of Congress arguing your position on a constitutional issue of your choosing. Support your position with evidence from your research by giving examples from past or current events or issues to illustrate, clarify, and support your argument. Be sure to acknowledge competing views. 

      Reading Texts
      • Articles from independent student research.
      • See text citations.

      Students will create a live website as part of a grassroots movement supporting their point of view.

  • Texts/Other Used in Teaching Task
  • Content Standards
    • Standards Source: Number: Content Standards:

      New York State Social Studies Standards; http://www.p12.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/socstand/home.html 

      Standard 1.1

      Describe the evolution of American democratic values and beliefs as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the New York State Constitution, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other important historical documents.

      Standard 1.3

      Prepare essays and oral reports about the important social, political, economic, scientific, technological, and cultural developments, issues, and events from New York State and United States history.

      Standard 1.4

      Consider different historians' analyses of the same event or development in United States history to understand how different viewpoints and/or frames of reference influence historical interpretations.

  • Reading Standards for Argumentation
    • "Built-In" Reading Standards "When Appropriate" Reading Standards (applicable in black)
      • 1- Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. 
        • 11th grade: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
      • 2- Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
        • 11th grade: Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
      • 4- Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
        • 11th grade: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
      • 10- Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
        • 11th grade: By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades11–CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
      • 6- Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
        • 11th grade: Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text.
      • 8- Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
        • 11th grade: Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S.Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes,and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).
      • 9- Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
        • 11th grade: Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.
  • Writing Standards for Argumentation
    • "Built-In" Writing Standards "When Appropriate" Writing Standards (applicable in black)
      • 1- Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
        • 11th grade: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
          • a. Introduce precise, knowledgeable claims, establish the significance of the claims, distinguish the claims from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claims, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
          • b. Develop claims and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
          • c. Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claims and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claims and counterclaims.
          • d. Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
          • e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
      • Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
        • 11th grade: same as above
      • 5- Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
        • 11th grade: Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. 
      • 9- Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
        • 11th grade: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
        • b. Apply grades 11–12 reading standards to literary nonfiction
      • 10- Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audience.
        • 11th grade: same as above

      • 6- Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
        • 11th grade: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
      • 7- Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
        • 11th grade: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
      • Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
        • 11th grade: Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
  • Teaching Task Rubric
  • Extension Task Rubric
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