It can be difficult for teachers to connect literature with real-world events and make fictional events seem relevant to high school students. In this lesson plan, Robert Cormier's novel The Chocolate War is linked to lessons we can pull from The Constitution covering individual rights.
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Win the War Against Bored Students
Mr. Teachinvacuum ran from his room, welts and brown stains covering his face, neck, and arms. "What's wrong?" I asked.
"The kids!" he answered. "They're pelting me with chocolates."
I scraped a miniature peanut butter cup off his face as I surmised the situation. "You're teaching literature in a vacuum, aren't you?" He nodded as I plucked half a Kit Kat from his elbow and shoved it in my mouth. I think maybe you need a lesson plan for The Chocolate War that helps students make connections to the real world.
This is what I shared with him.
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From the Revolutionary War to The Chocolate War
This lesson plan begins with a look at two of the most important documents ever created.
Students will list rights protected by the United States Constitution, explain where those rights come from, and give examples from The Chocolate War when those rights have been abused or forfeited.
Students will make assertions about the legality of certain acts in The Chocolate War and by extension rules at their school.
Students will use evidence to prove illegal activities in The Chocolate War.
Discuss what it means. Focus on the part about how each human being is born with certain rights that come from God and cannot be taken away. Be sure to mention that government's role is to protect those rights.
As you read The Chocolate War, discuss parts of the book where it appears students' Constitutional rights may have been violated. In addition, you may discuss certain policies at your school, in your community, or in the United States that may violate citizens' Constitutional rights. The following examples from the book might apply:
Are the students truly allowed to voice their opinion on the chocolate sale or any other issue at Trinity High School. It seems on the surface that freedom of speech does not exist; it should be noted, however, that when one's speech presents a clear and present danger that speech can be restricted. Does Jerry's refusal present a clear and present danger to the functioning of the school? Another issue you may want to discuss is the poster denouncing the Vigils and the teachers that was torn down. The logical conclusion is, although it violates free speech, removing a sign that publicly denounces the school posted on a school bulletin board is not a violation of the first amendment. This might lead to a discussion regarding a more appropriate way to express dissatisfaction with the school.
Amendment four of the U.S. Constitution specifically protects "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Discuss this in the context of Trinity High School's absence of locks on the lockers or in bathroom stalls. Although it can't be proven that school officials violated students' rights by conducting a physical search of student lockers, it could, however, be argued that the school has failed to "secure" its students "and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures." Keep in mind that you will be raising issues in class that your administration might not like, such as the school's right to conduct locker searches, backpack searches, or random drug testing. Another issue is the notebook the Vigils keep on the student body. What about the information others have about you--your school, your government, random Internet sites?
Amendment eight protects individuals against excessive punishment. Jerry refuses to sell chocolates. The punishment--although unofficial is condoned by the school's faculty--for not selling chocolates is getting nearly beat to death in front of the entire school.
Discuss the overall atmosphere of the school and how it compares to totalitarian regimes throughout history. This should especially be brought up when you read the incident involving Gregory Bailey and Brother Leon.
Assign an analysis of whether or not Trinity High School's actions are unconstitutional. Students should pick a specific action, a specific amendment or article of the Constitution and discuss whether or not Trinity High School acted in accordance with the law of the land.
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Ideas for Assessment
If you choose to assign a written analysis as part of this Chocolate War Lesson Plan, grade it as you would a normal analysis essay. Other options include a debate, a two-column chart, or a simple class discussion involving a class participation grade.
Your discussions may touch on controversial issues involving students' rights. You may wish to avoid them. Your students might think you're a fraud for ignoring them. That's your choice.