C.S.I.: The Cory Crime Scene facts versus interpretations
This comparison/contrast lesson was created by NNWP Consultant Corbett Harrison. You can see all of Corbett's online lessons by clicking here.
The intended "mentor texts" to be used when teaching this writing across the curriculum lesson are the song "Richard Cory," sung by Simon & Garfunkel, and the poem "Richard Cory" by E. A. Robinson, which inspired the song. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author.
This seven-step, teacher-created lesson was inspired by the NNWP's Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide. Click here to inquire about ordering your own copy of this resource.
Demonstrating a High-Quality Comparison:
Write the words "poverty" and "wealth" on the board. Ask, "What's the difference?" and tell the students to talk for a minute or two. If they stop talking early, they probably have come up with a simple answer and thought that was good enough. Say, "Stop! I want better answers than, 'One group has money, and the other doesn't.'" Say, "I want you to talk about thoughtful topics that both might have different opinions or experiences with...like education...or family...or hope...or clothing...or hard-work...or dreams." Tell them they have two minutes, and you don't want to hear them stop talking; if they stop talking about one thoughtful topic, then they need to find a new one.
Tell students that an answer like "One group has money, and the other doesn't" is an answer, but it doesn't show much depth of thought. Ask each group to share the idea they talked about that shows the most depth of thought.
List student answers where all can see. Ask the groups to rank all recorded answers from deepest thought to deep but not as deep thoughts.
Explain to students that you are expecting them to make deep comparisons to prepare for the following writing activity, and you might leave their ranked answers where they can be seen so they can remember the difference between a good comparison and a great comparison.
Introducing the Topics to Be Compared:
Tell students they will be reading a poem with a mystery behind it. The character talked about in the poem does something that no one can explain. E. A. Robinson's poem, Richard Cory, is about a man with everything, a man that everyone wants to be like, a man who ends his own life without explanation.
Singers Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, intrigued by the poem, wrote their own version of it and, thusly, created a song with the same title: Richard Cory. Click here to find a copy of their lyrics to print and use during the comparison.
Inform students they will be--first--reading the poem, then comparing the poem to the song, and finally creating an interpretation inspired by both versions.
Establishing a Purpose for the Comparison:
Tell students the original poem purposely contains limited information; E. A. Robinson wanted readers to explore possibilities instead of giving them the answer to the mystery behind his poem. Robinson's poems often have many possible interpretations. For another fun Robinson poem with multiple interpretations, you should investigate the Reuben Bright lesson at WritingFix.
The song adds more details about both Richard Cory and the poem's unseen narrator, but the mystery is still not answered.
For this assignment, students will compare the original poem to the song, looking carefully for the details that are different. They will brainstorm additional details about Cory and the narrator that they would add, if they were to create an additional stanza to the song, but their details cannot explain why they think Cory does what he ultimately does.
They will be allowed to explain their interpretation of the why when they create their final product for this lesson: three pieces of evidence from the Richard Cory crime scene.
The purpose of the comparison between poem and song is to show students how carefully-chosen details can be added without changing the mystery of the poem. They will be adding additional details as they create another stanza for the song.
Introducing the Comparison Tool:
It is important for students to know the difference between facts and opinions when they use this lesson's comparison tool. "Richard Cory was richer than a king" is more of a fact, as it's said by the narrator and not disputed. "Richard Cory is unhappy" is more of an opinion; although he ultimately does himself in, there could be another explanation. For this tool, they are only to write down undisputable facts about both Richard Cory and the narrator(s) who provide voice for the poem.
Model the Comparison Tool:
If your students need a practice session for filling out the graphic organizer for this lesson, I suggest you give them a simple poem about a different character, and fill it out on the overhead, showing the difference between fact and opinion.
A great poem to do this with might be Reuben Bright, also by E. A. Robinson. If you use Reuben Bright, then you can record facts like this: "He was a butcher. He wasn't a brute. He tore down his slaughter house." You cannot record opinions like: "He was angry that his wife died. He tore down the slaughter house because he was tired of being around death."
As far as the narrator in Reuben Bright, you can write "The narrator knows Reuben Bright" but you can't write "The narrator respects Reuben Bright."
Let students generate additional answers for just the left-hand side of the g.o., then let them go through the same process with the poem Richard Cory on individual copies of the graphic organizer. FYI: The narrator in Richard Cory is much easier to find multiple facts about than in Reuben Bright; make sure students explore more answers than "The narrator knows Richard Cory."
Once they have recorded facts on the left-hand side of the g.o., play the song by Simon and Garfunkel. Teacher's Warning: if your students don't know what the word orgy means, and if you don't feel comfortable explaining it to them, then don't share the song. Me? I explain that it's a wild party, and I've never had any trouble!
The goal of the right-hand side of the graphic organizer is to record new details added to the story, but to notice that they haven't added ideas that would sway your interpretation of why Cory does what he does. Simon and Garfunkel want to add details but not send the listeners a definitive interpretation.
Posing a Deep Question to Students:
First deep question: "How can we add additional details to the story without indicating our interpretation of the poem?"
Pose this first question, then allow students (in groups or pairs) to compose original four-line, rhyming verses about Cory that could be added to Simon and Garfunkel's song. Have students count the syllables in the original lyrics, then try to match the same amount of syllables in their verses. There is a space on the graphic organizer (as well as a teacher-made model) for them to write their verse.
Have students share their verses (perhaps even sing them!), and have students listen carefully for the fact that these original new verses don't sway us towards an interpretation.
Second deep question: "Based on all these details, why do you think Richard Cory killed himself? What is your interpretation of the poem based on the facts?"
Remind the students of their comparison of the words "poverty" and "wealth." Tell them you will not be satisfied with just one interpretation. For the next part of this assignment, they will be required to come up with four or five plausible interpretations. There is a space on the back of their graphic organizer for them to record their interpretations in the form of sentences.
Ultimately, they will be choosing their most interesting interpretation to help them complete the writing assignment below.
Writing About the Comparison:
Have students commit to one of their favorite interpretations of "Richard Cory" on the back of their graphic organizer by placing a star next to is. Ask, "What evidence, if discovered by a CSI crime scene investigator at the scene of the crime, would serve as indisputable proof that Richard Cory killed himself for the reason you have determined with your interpretation?"
Students will be responsible for creating three pieces of evidence. At least two of the pieces of evidence must have original writing on it; one piece of evidence may be visual. With your students, brainstorm additional types of evidence that fit these categories.
Evidence with writing on it:
Evidence that is visual:
a journal entry or diary
a piece of e-mail or a letter
a cell phone bill
a doctor's prescription
a newspaper article
a video tape
a video blog
a fingerprint on an important item
a broken window
Students will create all three pieces of evidence. The visual evidence might make more sense as a drawing: you know, of a broken window instead of bringing an actual broken window (or the gun he did it with!!!) to class. Make sure your students understand this!
Students will place their three pieces of evidence to class. Other students will look over the three pieces of evidence and try to deduce what interpretation of Richard Cory's actions their classmates have tried to convey with this evidence.