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Zachary Smith

TE 804
What Works

Checks and Balances


Activity/Discussion
Making connections between history and theme within Lois Lowrys
The Giver

The Background:

During my Lead Teach my students and I have been reading Lois Lowrys
dystopian novel, The Giver. Our unit was guided by three essential questions: What
does a just use of power look like? What basic freedoms are required by a just
society? And how do freedom and choice affect equity in a society? I had wanted to
make a lesson that made historical connections to these ideas of societal control
and distribution of power that are present in the novel. My 8 th grade students had
also just extensively learned about the branches of government and separation of
powers so they would have a decent amount of background knowledge to the topics
within this activity. I wanted to use both domestic and global examples of uses of
unchecked power and their ultimate consequences and while at first I wanted to
make connections to the current political climate but after talks with my mentor
teacher, I chose to use a historical example instead.

Materials I used:
For this lesson I knew that I would want students to write down their response to discussion
questions within the lesson and have it be something that I could collect at the end to see whether or not
students were making connections between history and themes/ideas within the novel. I chose to just have
students jot down response on a half sheet of paper, as they would likely not need more than that space to
write their thoughts. I created a PowerPoint to take students through different examples of unchecked
power. In addition I found an article related to one of the examples within my lesson, the internment of
Japanese-Americans during WWII. An article from the Washington post, Incarceration by Executive
Order was a recent and factually based account of the implementation of FDRs executive order. I would
have students only read the first few pages of the article to fully understand why the executive order was
passed. It was my hope that these activities would keep students engaged but also build on students prior
knowledge and make
Zachary Smith
TE 804
What Works

The Lesson:
I started this lesson by
handing out a half-sheet of paper
to each student in the classroom. I introduced the idea of how power is controlled within the
Giver and the Elders in this community only control that power. I then switched students to
thinking about these issues relate our own society and had them respond to two questions:
o How is power balanced/checked in our society?

o Why is it important to have this balance of power?


I used these two questions as a way to get students focused on the ideas that would come up
during this lesson as well as check for students prior knowledge about the idea of checks and
balances. After giving students a few minutes to check, I had a small discussion about these two
questions and found that all students had a clear understanding of these topics (checks and
balances in the U.S). At the end of this discussion I moved students into looking at different
examples across the globe and time where power has gone unchecked/unbalanced and that there
are serious consequences that come with that.
I went through each slide of the PowerPoint, and started with a current but likely
unknown example to my students (The Philippines), then moved to a well known example of this
idea (Nazi Germany). While going through these examples I tried to use my knowledge to both
clear up misconceptions about these situations but also tried to show students how these things
take a number of factors to form. At the end I talked about an example in the United States
history where power went unchecked and freedoms were lost because of it (Japanese- American
Internment.)
I then handed out copies of the Washington post article and did a popcorn-style reading
with my students in each hour to help keep them engaged during the last part of the lesson. I then
had students respond to questions relating to the article and discussed in their table groups:

o How was this decision made?

o Why wasnt there any real opposition to it?


Zachary Smith
TE 804
What Works

After discussing in groups, I then had groups share out their response to this question to make
sure that students were understanding the information in the article and potentially beginning to
see parallels with the novel.

Due to time, I chose to finish my lesson with some discussion questions that were aimed at
students making the final connection between the history examples of unchecked power and the
same concept within The Giver. For an exit ticket from the lesson and into reading the book for
the last few minutes of the hour, Students were required to respond to these two questions:

o How is power controlled/checked in this society?


o Why might they setup their society in this way?
o What might be the consequences of this

Students turned in these responses at the front of the room, and I collected them at the end of the
hour.

The Result:
I felt that this lesson worked out very well for me in a number of ways. First, it was a
great way to incorporate history into the novel that they were reading in a way that they may
have not expected, and I feel that these connections can help make the novel feel more relatable
to their lives. By bridging the knowledge that they had from their recent history class lessons, it
also became a good way to show students connections across their classes and give some sort of
unintentional alignment between them.
During the discussion, students were making great connections to their own lives. None of the
conversations in any of my classes made a direct connection to the current political events but I
did hear murmurs of these connections in a number of places so that showed that students were
continuing to see these parallels in a number of ways. In terms of connections to the novel, My
students came up with great thinking about why power is centralized to only a few people in the
novel and that while there may be good intentions, the results of trying to gain these control of
power had clear negative effects on the citizens within the community. I felt confident afterwards
and felt that my students had successfully, across all hours made these connections.

How you can use this Lesson:


I feel that this lesson can be used in a number of different ways for
your classroom. For one, I feel that historical connections can usually be
made with any kind of novel and so this sort of setup can be used with
numerous different novels/historical events. It allows for you to decide how
far you want to push the envelope with making the current/historical event
examples. During my unit, time became quite a concern so this lesson could
only take up to 45 minutes for my classes. If you had extra time, there are
several parts that can be expanded into large discussions and longer
reads/more intensive reading, which could provide even deeper connections
between the text and the world.