Here is an example of Michelle’s last post about activating prior knowledge — an exercise that also relates to my caution against relying solely on dense canonical texts to engage students.
In class, give students the following scenario:
You have a brother who has been living with you since losing his job a few months ago. Recently he has seemed unusually distracted. One day while rummaging through a hallway closet, you accidentally knock your brother’s coat onto the floor. A cigarette lighter with the letters “LS” engraved on it falls from one of the coat’s pockets. The next day, while listening to local news on the radio, you hear a story about a woman named Linda Smith who was found murdered a few days before. Police have asked the community for help with the investigation. Do you inform the police that your brother might be the murderer?
Ask students to think for a bit about how they are going to respond. Then cluster the students into pairs or small groups to talk about their answers to the question. Follow the think-pair-share activity with a class-wide discussion. You can even create a writing assignment, due before the next class begins, in which students reflect on the different perspectives of their classmates.
In the next class, reveal the actual story — a man informs the police about his brother, a mentally-ill combat veteran who is convicted of the crime and executed. Hold another discussion, using the pattern described above, by again asking if it was right for one brother to have turned in the other. If students’ positions have shifted since the previous class, ask them to explain why and what the change of mind means about ethical frameworks and human behavior. A writing assignment can again be used to reinforce whatever learning might have occurred in the discussions.