Devote only one week to The Jungle? It just felt wrong. (updated 8/2022)
With limited time to fit The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s Progressive Era mainstay, into the first semester, I just didn’t think it would be possible to teach it in one week. I even experienced a healthy dose of teacher-guilt as I considered it, actually.
Questions swirled through my mind as I wondered how to include The Jungle in my two classes of juniors taking American Literature.
Would it be worth it?
Would students make this observation: that literature can impact the world and make it a better place?
I was that hesitant to take this approach.
But in the back of my mind, I also thought… why not? After all, many history and social studies teachers already include it to some extent in their curricula (as is the case at my school). Therefore, to avoid duplication it probably doesn’t make sense to do a full-length unit on the book. In addition, my class set copies run 402 pages in length! In the end, it just didn’t seem practical to devote a large chunk of time to The Jungle this go ’round.
But still… I wanted to include it to some degree, especially as The Jungle is part of our on-going lessons on influential American texts, which also include Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which we studied in October, and Silent Spring, which we will read second semester.
If you’re like me and don’t have a lot of time for The Jungle, think about trying this.
Here’s a link to “The Jungle in One Week” PowerPoint on my site shop that provides you with seventeen lecture slides to introduce the novel plus directions for the One-Chapter One-Pager assignment discussed in this post.
Click the image at left to go to the same resource on my site shop.
Here’s how I taught The Jungle in one week:
- I provided a short lecture (for lack of a better word) to introduce and discuss the muckraker journalist Upton Sinclair, his goal for his novel (to highlight the harrowing immigrant experience — not food processing nightmares), and general historical context.
- Yes, my approach is fairly traditional here. I have a Google Slides presentation that I’m building and posting on Google Classroom for students to use and refer to at test time. However, I still require that they take handwritten notes from these slides, as I believe handwriting helps them process and retain the information better.
- I do indicate which information will be on a test at the end of the quarter.
- I provided a general summary of the novel including how it ends and a “family tree” of the characters in the novel. They would need this information for our next task.
- I had students choose one chapter to read silently in class.
- I assigned a one-pager for their one chapter. I made a highly-detailed and very colorful mentor for them using the book’s final chapter. This example was key.
- In fact, I believe it subtly showed them the level of detail I was expecting. The main advice I gave them: fill up the page and make it colorful.
- Here are the other instructions for that one-pager:
- Put the chapter number and the book title in the center rectangle.
- In the four main squares, include the following:
- Your chapter’s characters
- The setting of your chapter
- The main event of your chapter
- Three important quotes with their page numbers
- In the border, draw a design or pattern that connects meaningfully to your chapter. Here’s a photo of the example I made for students:
- Here are the other instructions for that one-pager:
And that was it.
Everyone’s one-pagers are now hanging in the hallway. I’ve included a few below from both boys and girls, including students who excel at art and those who don’t.
My “Jungle one-chapter one-pager” project represents some of the best one-pager work I’ve ever seen from my students.
They really took their time, filled up the template (I use Betsy Potash’s templates; find them here), and used lots of color.
One thing: my students’ one-pagers are larger than those you’ll find on Betsy’s site. I enlarge mine to 145 percent (here’s a post) so students can work “bigger.” It seems to make a better presentation and students take the project more seriously when the project is presented to them on 11″ x 17″ paper instead of 8-1/2″ x 11″.
Enlarge the one-pager template for better results!
Another thing to know: I couldn’t cover every chapter of The Jungle. My largest class of juniors has 24 students in it; the novel has thirty-one chapters. I just dealt with it, choosing to work with chapters one through twenty-four.
Doing this also took the focus off Sinclair’s heavy-handed socialist propaganda in the book’s final chapters. If you have more students, I would go ahead and assign all the chapters, giving more context for Sinclair’s political leanings.
So even though each student read only one chapter of the novel, students learned its pivotal importance in the development of our nation’s food safety laws, worker rights, the immigrant experience in the early 20th century, and, lastly, the influence writers can have on society. Our earlier discussions revealed much about the formation of the 1906 Food and Drugs Act, a.k.a. the Wiley Act, and its later effect on the formation in 1938 of the nation’s first consumer protection agency, the Food and Drug Administration.
Understanding the entire saga of Jurgis and the extended Lithuanian immigrant family wasn’t necessary; reading one episode and viewing other students’ “one chapter one-pagers” provided the rest of the picture.
So there you have it. I freely admit it: I taught The Jungle in a week. And I don’t feel guilty at all.
What are your thoughts about tackling a novel in a short amount of time?
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