English 3 Here’s the syllabus: Reading This semester

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95Welcome to Mr. Franklin’s English 3-4. Here’s the syllabus:


This semester, we’ll be focusing on the structure and purpose of Aristotle’s Eleven Conventions of Tragedy as we read/act-out three plays. Much of the reading will be done in class, allowing us to do close reading together to strengthen our meaning-making skills. Guess what else all that in-class reading will mean? Less homework. Sound good? I hope so, but notice I didn’t say no homework.

We’ll first zip through the ancient Greek play by Sophocles, Oedipus, within the first three weeks. Every day during this unit, two of you will perform a riddle for the class. Why? The performers get a chance to polish enchanting speaking skills and the listeners get to learn how to use direct observation, pattern recognition, and language decoding to become detectives like our buddy Oedipus, the ultimate sleuth. We’ll start the unit with some discussion about Free Will and evaluate what Sophocles has to offer on that topic.

We’ll also do a transition unit that researches the evolutionary aspects of dreams that leads us on to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Before each unit, I’ll hand you a hard-copy packet which will have graded assignments, plug-in due dates and build to an associated 100 point unit-end assessment.

Next semester we’ll read novels (yep, more homework time for those): Lord of the Flies, The Kite Runner, Catcher in the Rye, 1984, and Cannery Row

Writing and Speaking will emphasize voice and style and compelling content and economical structures in our creative and analytical pieces.


We write for a variety of purposes and do so in a variety of modes. So we’ll practice a variety of skills from the 4 x 4 Matrix-grid. What’s that? See the flip side of this syllabus.

The four purposes: 1. Expressive, 2. Persuasive, 3. Informative, and 4. Literary will each be cross-hatched with each of the four modes: 1. Description, 2. Narration, 3. Evaluation, and 4. Classification. We’ll also play around with drafting various pieces of Fiction, Non-Fiction.

Active Reading and Writing and Speaking

A lot of your thinking will be spurred on by the books we read – keep up with your reading and you’ll have wonderful things to say. When you write, care about what you write. Do your best to show your critical thinking in full-flower. When you speak, be as articulate and engaging as it is in you to be. When someone else is speaking, be respectful and attentive. Note: I have two non-negotiable rules:

  1. Because of my diminishing hearing, I already have a tough time hearing soft-spoken students, so speak up and please, no crinkling of food wrappers when anyone else has the floor, including me.

  2. Every 5 absences results in a lowered semester letter grade.

Though email is my preferred contact Email afranklin@redwood.org, I can be reached at 415-924-6200 x 6155

Free Will? Yah…right!
Free Will for our purposes will be defined as: The ability an individual has to shape his/her own experience, and, to a lesser extent, to shape parts of the physical world, and to a lesser extent to shape family and friends, and to a lesser extent to shape Humanity


Read this brief article and then type (below these instructions) a response to it with a paragraph of your own argument. You are free (or are you?) to do further research on your own to support your point of view. This is a complex but fundamentally fascinating question to consider, and here’s your chance to do so. Criteria for your argument: you must NOT speak/write in generalities – no “they say” or “most people think” constructions. Do Not summarize from the article; use your own, specific examples that we can see and understand; if you can’t come up with any, maybe your argument on this isn’t so solid, right? See what you can do. When you have finished, make sure to type your name on this sheet and print it out (I’ll read it on the spot and talk to you for any clarifications).

Fate, or Free Will?

Is everything pre-determined, your life already laid out in some cosmic fabric, patterned and woven such that every step you take is what it was supposed to be, what it had to be? Or, can you yank a thread here and there and change things up?
Do you have choice, really?

Are we “fated” to meet a certain someone, or is that all just serendipity too?

What are the ramifications of actually having free will? If it’s all up to you, what does that mean when things don’t go so well?
If it’s all already written in the stars, what does that mean to the “decisions” you think you’re making each day?

The Oedipus (sort of) dilemma – What would you do?
You are in middle school and on your last day before your family is due to move away, you get into a scuffle with another kid. You push him and he falls and smacks his head on an iron crossbar of the monkey bars. An ambulance comes and takes him away, you sit there upset until someone comes to bring you home. Then, before you find out what really happened to this kid, your family moves away to a new town.
You finish middle school, go to high school, and then into college and medical school, all without any kind of violence at all. You put that little scuffle out of your mind because the rest of your life you’ve never had another fight. After med school, you intern and become a surgeon. You decide to move back to your original home town (the town you lived in when you had the scuffle way back when) to practice medicine.
You meet someone and fall in love. You go out with your honey for a couple months and then the night comes when you’re invited over to dinner to meet the family. You walk into the house, take a left into the living room holding hands with your beloved, and you see in front of you the kid – now a grown man – you had that scuffle with. Somehow, you recognize him, and he recognizes you.
He is in a wheelchair, unable to walk, and furthermore, unable to communicate beyond blinking. This condition is a result of the head smack he took back in middle school. He has not spoken since the moment his head hit the monkey bars. He is now glaring daggers at you from his wheelchair, and you spend an incredibly uncomfortable evening avoiding his accusatory eyes. The family, over dinner, describes “the accident” that caused this devastation, and it’s clear they still hold much bitterness and enmity toward the person who put their son/brother into the wheelchair.
You and your beloved decide to marry. You have a wonderful life together, everything is sooo perfect, and you want to be with this person forever. But there’s a spanner in the works: do you tell your beloved that you are the one responsible for the wheelchair? How can you live with your beloved with this glaring omission of guilt hanging between you? Could you live with yourself? Could you sleep at night? Could you attend family gatherings and bear up under the withering glare emanating from that cursed wheelchair?

Okay, you’ve made your peace with this past mistake. You’re able to sleep at night and your beloved, who knows nothing of your past involvement with wheelchair-brother, loves you and thinks you walk on water. You think you’re pretty groovy yourself; you are a pillar of the community, a much loved member of your spouse’s family (well, except for that guy), a very successful brain surgeon who takes on the most difficult cases because, as you’ve said yourself, if it’s a one-in-a-million case, you need the one-in-a-million doctor – and you have a near-idyllic married life.

One day you come home from the hospital to find your beloved weeping with joy. The family has learned of a new treatment – experimental but holding great potential – that could reverse the most severe effects of the trauma suffered by wheelchair-boy. He may not be able to walk, but he will be able to communicate again. He’ll be able, finally, to tell everything he’s been holding inside all these years. The operation is not only extremely difficult and risky, it is incredibly expensive; the only way they can possibly have this done is if you, the great surgeon, are willing to perform the operation yourself, pro-bono.
If you refuse to perform the surgery, your beloved may never forgive you and the family will question your loyalty and affection, even your sense of ethics, forever more. If you do perform the surgery, wheelchair-boy’s first words may be to name you as his long-ago assailant. You have kept this secret from your beloved and from the family for so long now, you will not only be exposed as the d-bag from the past, but also for your recent years of guilty omission. If they find out…especially this way….
What do you do?

The Riddle of the Sphinx
What goes on four feet in the morning, on two at noon, and on three in the evening?”
According to the ancient Greek traditions, this was the riddle that the Sphinx posed as she guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes. If the traveler did not solve the riddle, she would kill and devour him. If the traveler solved the riddle, then she would devour herself.
Take 10 minutes tonight to go online and find images and information on the Sphinx. Print out, and bring with you tomorrow, more than one because it is depicted in different ways! Be able to describe in words at least two versions of Sphinx and speculate what symbolism is suggested by the different parts.

Your Sphinx and Treasure

  1. This is a creative project, due: Block Period (be prepared to present your work to the class). All work must be brought to class physically (NOT a Goole.doc turn-in) for sharing out.

  1. Show us what the Sphinx means to you. You do not have to draw a creature that looks like the sphinx—like, get all symbolic with your creation!

  • What are you trying to figure out (improved understanding, or skills, or even mastery)?

  • What challenge(s) was, is, or will continue to be, worth facing, or trying to figure out?

  • What do you get out of your physical and/or mental battle with the Sphinx?

  1. Be SPECIFIC to your experiences. What would be more boring than hearing 28 students in a row speak about the general goal of getting good grades in school so that you can get into college?

  1. Materials: the more creative your project is, the better you’ll do on this. There is nothing – no approach, no medium, no nothing – off-limits in terms of how you complete this.

  1. The only mandatory written part is your Artist’s Statement in which you briefly explain your intent in creating your project as you did. For help in writing this part, see the Artist’s Statement document.

  1. An “A” grade is engaging and informative and shows effort, intelligence, creativity; an “F” grade is boring, superficial, and shows minimal effort, intelligence, creativity.

Note: some students absolutely hate this kind of thing. They want to be told what to do because they don’t think of themselves as “creative.” They want definite criteria because ambiguity makes them uncomfortable. Or they want to know the minimum they need to do in order to get by because they feel like expending more effort than might be necessary will somehow shorten their lives (or something). I recognize this.

Sometimes, we all have to stretch a bit, go out on a limb. Use your imagination. If you don’t giggle maniacally or gasp with stunned awe and pride or even just smile slyly at your reflection in the mirror at some point in the process of creating your piece, you’re probably doing a lousy job.
Do the unexpected and do it with heart.
Riddle me this!

Artist’s Statement
Just as The Riddler held Gotham City in his grip until a hero named Batman was able to defeat him, so is the Sphinx holding Thebes until the arrival of Oedipus. The Sphinx is strange to our eyes, a creature with the head and torso of a woman, a lower body of a lion, wings of an eagle, and (in some depictions) a tail at the end of which is a serpent’s head. And just so, The Riddler in his ? costume must have appeared comically strange to the citizens of Gotham. And of course, the riddle is the key, to the solvable crime in Gotham, to the salvation of Thebes.

Jenna Song’s

c:\users\afranklin\appdata\local\microsoft\windows\temporary internet files\content.outlook\jp30mwab\2b sphinx student model jenna song.jpg

Artist’s Statement
America is such a beacon to me, but learning English is my tormenting riddle. It is a rough beast that flies swiftly and pounces nimbly when I evade. Every day and night it guards the ultimate currency: communication with peers, with teachers, with store clerks. I drew the beast in a bunch of vocabulary words that I have been culling (yup that’s one of them: culling) from books I read and in starting now to ready myself for the ultimate prize in the American Thebes: college!

Artist’s Statement: this is your justification for why you constructed your creation as you did. This Artist’s Statement can be anywhere from a paragraph to a page or more in length, but in it you must identify the salient characteristics of your piece and why it “works” because of these. Consider what you do as you create, and then after you’ve created your work; go back to it when you’re finished and apply a critic’s eye to it, as if you’ve just come upon this work.

  • What do you see?

  • Why does it work?

  • How does it work?

  • What were the artist’s intentions?

  • Be sure to include all specific connections to any source material your piece is inspired by.

If your work is a

Poem consider: rhyme, imagery, sound, use of repetition, a certain narrative slant, figurative language, tone, emotional vs intellectual content, etc.
Film consider: camera angle, use of actors, scenery/setting/location, sound (both music and dialogue and sound effects), lighting, costuming/makeup, props, action and static scenes, use of editing, narrative structure, etc.
Photo Essay consider: choice of photos – what’s left in and what’s edited out, framing, close-up vs wide angle vs medium range, color vs black&white, ordering of photos (narrative flow/narrative arch), captions or other non-photographic information, beginning and end, transitions, use of sound in presentation, etc.
Painting/Drawing/sculpture consider: color palette, mono-chromatic, light/shadow, perspective, medium (surface used and implements used), sizing/framing, realism/impressionistic/surrealistic, materials, size, etc.
Music consider: sound (duh!), harmony, dissonance, volume, bass/treble, major/minor key(s), instrumentation choices, vocals, classical composition/traditional song structure/improvisational, interplay of musical ideas as representation of source material concepts, etc.
The Conventions of Tragedy

Adapted from Aristotle’s Poetics
The following contains eleven essential aspects of tragedy according to Aristotle [an ancient Greek philosopher and writer]. In his Poetics, among other things, he examined what makes dramatic tragedy as a genre tragic. Here is a (simplified) distillation of his points. One key factor is that these tragic elements are necessarily interrelated and they should work together to elicit a particular response on the part of the audience. As you read and discuss Sophocles’ Oedipus, look out for these conventions and note examples of each as you encounter them. Aristotle himself thought this play to be a “perfect” example of the tragedy form.

  1. At the beginning of the play, the tragic protagonist must be more noble than evil.

  1. The tragic protagonist must be some sort of focal point of or within his/her society.

  1. He or she must, unfortunately, possess some tragic flaw (or hamartia). According to Aristotle and the classical Greek models with which he was working, this flaw was specifically one of hubris or pride.

  1. Fate or fortune plays some part in the play or exerts its influence upon the plot and the central character. Therefore, some external force is involved at some level in the life and action within the play.

  1. However, the tragic protagonist must be left with some choices or must possess freedom to act (freewill). She or he cannot merely by an automaton—mindlessly fulfilling some predestined destiny (fate), for that would not be tragic. Therefore, he or she makes up her or his own mind to act (praxis). [As one can see, there’s a tension maintained between fate and freewill.]

  1. Within the plot of tragedy, these actions move from possibilities to probabilities to, eventually, inevitabilities. There are, then, strong causal links between the events within the plot of the play.

  1. One particular characteristic of these actions is that there is a lot of irony (peripety) associated with them. More often than not, the tragic protagonist’s actions do not fulfill his or her expectations.

  1. Consequently, this causes, usually near the end of the play, a sudden recognition (anagnorisis) of truths associated with the identity or character of the protagonist or the revelation of the identity of other characters in the play.

  1. As a result, the tragic protagonist experiences what’s called the tragic fall. As one can see, this fall is caused by the protagonist’s flaw working together with the forces of fate.

  1. Often, then, the central character becomes a scapegoat who is either driven from his or her respective community or he/she dies, thereby, purging or cleansing the community from its evil or problems and making it once again whole.

  1. Ultimately, the most important aspect of tragedy for Aristotle is what happens to the audience while watching it being performed. In order for it to be tragic, the audience must experience an emotional/therapeutic cleansing (have you ever cried at the end of a movie? Why?) This is what Aristotle called a catharsis (katharsis). One’s emotions are vicariously purged by watching and interacting with good tragedy.

The temple of the Oracle at Delphi

c:\users\afranklin\appdata\local\microsoft\windows\temporary internet files\content.outlook\jp30mwab\4 picture of oracle at delphi today.jpg

Thinkers & Seers
We will be reading Oedipus Rex by Sophocles in class. Your critical thinking on all this will be evidenced through class discussion, and through your reflections on each day’s reading in the form of in-class “blogs.” Plan to Reflect (think) about what you learned from the play today, try to predict (foresee) what you think might happen next, and then Connect what we read to something you have encountered in your life (this can be another book, a poem, a movie, a conversation, a personal experience, a dream, a hope, a regret – anything meaningful to you).
You’ll notice as we read the play that an important “character” in Greek Tragedy is the Chorus. The Chorus’ role was to:

  • Observe and comment on the action and characters in the play

  • Guide the audience’s emotional reaction

  • Draw the audience in (even if the audience is already aware of the outcomes of the stories).

You will, in effect, be the Greek Chorus for this play in terms of your “blogs.” (yes, that’s right, I’m calling them blogs, so you don’t think you’re doing journals again – pretty clever psychology, right?). We will read for the first part of class and then we’ll leave the last 15 minutes for you to write these blogs on what we’ve just read, while it’s still fresh in your minds.

Each 10-point blog (between 6 and 8 of them total, depending on how much we read in class per day) will be headed with the Reading Date and Pages Read, and then be broken down into 3 sections: Reflection, Prediction, & Connection. The more insightful, thorough, yet concise your responses are, the better your grade will be. Voice matters too! Don’t be boring! I’ve provided models/examples below.
We are reading this play entirely in-class, and no books will be checked out. We will begin each class with a re-telling of what has gone on previously in the play; if you are absent you must use this opportunity (ask questions!) to get the information you need to complete your missing blog. Extended absence, see me. The online text of this play is available for your use as well, at: (just Google it).
An example of a good Blog is below.

Date: MM/DD/2015 Pages: XX – XX

  1. Reflection: Today I learned about the role of the Chorus in a Greek Tragedy. The way they comment on the action and characters in the play is very important. They offer background and summary information that helps the audience follow the live performance, and they also offer commentary (like underlining) about main themes animating the action. They also model an ideal audiences’ response to the unfolding drama.  Back in the day – tho not in our classroom today – the Chorus gave a sense of rich spectacle to the drama and allowed time for scene changes, and they gave the principle actors a break. I liked the chanting rhythm we used in class – being in the Chorus was kinda fun.

  2. Prediction: I think ol’ Oedipus bit off more than he can chew and he’s going to regret his public announcements, claiming in front of everyone that he’ll discover the murderer of Laius. He should’ve taken Creon’s advice and gone behind closed doors. This Pride thing he’s got (“Look at me! I’m the Sphinx-riddle solver! I’m Mr. Detective! Watch me sleuth this one out for ya!) is gonna get him where the breeze lifts the toga.

  3. Connection: I remember my big brother one time telling his girlfriend that he was going to hit at least one, and probably two or three home runs in the Redwood Varsity game he was going to play on the coming Friday. I was just a freshman, but I knew he was going too far here. I grabbed him aside and said, “Dude, what’re you doing? I know you can hit and all, but MC’s pitcher throws pure smoke and you’ll be lucky to connect at all on that guy. Sheila’s gonna think you’re a dufus!” My brother wouldn’t back down though. His pride got the better of him. Later, when Sheila broke up with him and refused to go with him to the prom and all, I just kept my mouth shut. I was right, of course, but my brother is a lot bigger than me and he wasn’t in the best mood.

Misery's the River of the World” by Tom Waits

Misery's the River of the World
Misery's the River of the World

The higher that the monkey can climb

The more he shows his tail
Call no man happy 'til he dies
There's no milk at the bottom of the pail

God builds a church

The devil builds a chapel
Like the thistles that are growing
around the trunk of a tree
All the good in the world
You can put inside a thimble
And still have room for you and me

If there's one thing you can say

About Mankind
There's nothing kind about man
You can drive out nature with a pitch fork
But it always comes roaring back again

Misery's the River of the World

Misery's the River of the World
Misery's the River of the World

For want of a bird

The sky was lost
For want of a nail
A shoe was lost
For want of a life
The knife was lost
For want of a toy
A child was lost

Misery's the River of the World

Misery's the River of the World
Everybody Row! Everybody Row!
Misery's the River of the World
Misery's the River of the World
Everybody Row! Everybody Row!

  1. Why do you think the 5th line of the poem is bolded?

  2. Aside from the song’s title, locate other metaphors/figurative phrases and a) write what you think the suggested meanings of them are and, b) answer how they connect to the play (events and characters)

  3. Do you agree with the song’s general tone (Wait’s attitude)—list evidence from your own life (observations/experiences)

  4. What does the slang “washed” word used around Redwood mean? What is its origin?

  5. After only 5 minutes, you will pair share to discuss similarities and differences in your interpretations.

Oedipus – Tragedy Poster or SLAM or Short Story or Movie Connections Essay
Your Oedipus Final has two parts. Part one, everyone will do. Part two gives you a choice – you can evidence your understanding visually/spatially, through placement of the 11 Conventions of Tragedy on a poster of your own creation, or you can evidence your understanding verbally, through a SLAM Poem, or a short story like “Wheelchair,” or in analysis of time travel movies that takes us through the 11 Conventions in some way.
Your completed project will include the following:
Part 1, the Conventions in the Play:

  1. Respond to each of the 11 Conventions of Tragedy by identify the scene in Oedipus where each convention is used. Explain what the convention itself means in terms of Oedipus (context). Quote line(s) to show your source for each convention. Explain why your quote is this the best example of this convention (this constitutes analysis). And finally, explain explicitly how your poster items/Slam lines connect to each convention. Use bullet-point responses to evidence thorough knowledge of the play and Aristotle’s 11 Conventions of Tragedy. (see model below)

Part 2, the Poster option:

Find or create an image (stairway, road, face…use your imagination!) to use in portraying Aristotle’s eleven essential aspects of Tragedy as found in Oedipus. Produce an original and professional-looking (i.e. colorful, well-composed, aesthetically pleasing) poster using your chosen image. Identify the Tragic Conventions explicitly and place them on the poster where they make most sense; you can use tears, drops of blood, jewelry – anything you can think of to make clear your intentions. You should choose this option if you have a sense of visual creativity.

Part 2, the Slam option:

Create an original Slam-style poem (performance poetry of 3 minutes) in which you incorporate Aristotle’s 11 Conventions of Tragedy in a creative and engaging way. You’ll need to be able to explicitly refer to each Convention in your bullet-point responses, so be sure you not only rock it up and make us laugh or cry or gasp or…something, but that you show your understanding clearly and relate to the play explicitly.

Part 2, the Short Story Dilemma option:

Re-read “The Oedipus (sort of) dilemma – What would you do?” Evaluate how the writing works. Then write your own 8 paragraph story in which you

incorporate Aristotle’s 11 Conventions of Tragedy in a creative and engaging way.
Part 2, the Triangulation of Three Time Travel Movies option:

Read and follow the instructions on the page titled “Fate and Free Will and The Three

Roads for Time Travelers”

Scoring works like this:

Identification/Analysis of Tragic Conventions in Oedipus = 11 x 5pts 55pts

Accurate/logical placement of Conventions on Poster = 11 x 4pts 44pts

(or, Accurate inventive use of Conventions in Poem story or movie analysis Essay) + a mystery point = 100pts
Tragic Conventions: (see page for definitions)

1. More noble than evil 2. Focal Point 3. Tragic Flaw

4. Fate or Fortune 5. Choices (Free will) 6. Causal Links

7. Irony 8. Sudden Recognition 9. Tragic Fall

10. Scapegoat 11. Catharsis

Model of Response format:

  1. More Nobel Than Evil

  • [Explain the Convention itself] In the beginning of the play, we meet our Hero, Oedipus. He is revered as the killer of the Sphinx and savior of Thebes. He is respected above all others.

  • [Quote the text and use MLA citation to show where this convention specifically occurs in the play] “You are the best blah-blah” (12)

  • [Commentary/analysis – why is this the best example of this particular Convention in Oedipus?] When X says this line, he is making it clear that the opinion of Oedipus is very high. No one has any complaint about him at all (no evil!), but rather they go to great lengths to extol his Noble virtues, as we see in this quote.

  • [Use of Convention artistically] On my poster, I show Oedipus standing in front of a Barnes & Noble bookstore, with the “Barnes &” blocked out by his head so it is clear that he is the “Noble” person on view.

In my Slam Poem I use the lines:

“In the beginning like MJ I’m winning / I’m the forest primeval banishing all evil…”

  1. Focal Point

  • …and so on



Definition of Convention

Quote (page #)

From Oedipus

Why this Quote?

  1. More Nobel than Evil

  1. Focal Point

  1. Tragic Flaw

  1. Fate or Fortune

  1. Choices (Free Will)

  1. Causal Links

  1. Irony

  1. Sudden Recognition

  1. Tragic Fall

  1. Scapegoat

  1. Catharsis

Fate and Free Will and The Three Roads for Time Travelers

What does the main character learn (and hopefully you too) when the plot reaches “Sudden Recognition” moments?

      1. Pick three Tragedies to watch and first (as a pre-organization to the essay you write for #2 below) answer the question above for each of the movies.

      1. Then figure out how some of Aristotle’s other 11 conventions of tragedy (see page 13 for definitions) are exhibited in the films. What do these exhibitions teach you about life outside of these films? In answering that, phrase a meaty thesis (usually crafted more from studying the differences in the movies than from their similarities) that will connect all three movies to another book, a poem, a movie, a conversation, a personal experience, a dream, a hope, a regret – anything meaningful to you.

Tragedies (in order of Mr. Franklin’s appreciation)

  • Butterfly Effect (“R” = most disturbing content, so beware!)

  • Pre-Destination

  • Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

  • Looper

  • Click

  • Interstellar

  • Donnie Darko

  • A Christmas Carol

  • About Time

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife

  • Others? (let Mr. F know)

Comedies = less applicable to the 11 conventions of Tragedy

  • Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

  • Back to the Future

  • Hot Tub Time Machine

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