Integrated Reading and Writing: Plato Theatre

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The setting: The Cave: a face-to-face classroom on a cool and cloudy desert southwest winter morning.

The text: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (previously described in First-Day Activity: What Is Truth?)

The task: Teaching integrated reading and writing through appeal to pathos: how and why “Allegory” creates persuasive language through emotional appeal.

The questions: What emotions does the text evoke? What does the writer hope the audience will think and do as a result of evoking those emotions? In other words, what is the writer’s purpose for evoking the writer’s emotions?

The problem: The lesson that you have beautifully planned is going nowhere. You have not successfully appealed to your own audience (the students) and you definitely have not evoked any emotions.

The process: As you stand before your students, you explore the recesses of your brain, much as a word processor searches for a file buried deep in the hard drive or the cloud. You remember that one of the most important skills for teaching basic writing is flexibility. That is, learning to reframe a lesson to address students’ immediate needs.

The emergence from the Cave: With your students, you will co-create an activity called “Plato Theatre,” an approach that will demonstrate the significance of integrated reading and writing.

Steps for Plato Theatre:

  1. Select a short passage for analysis. Copy and paste the passage into a Google Doc.240449_pastedImage_4.jpg
  2. Ask for student volunteers to come to the front of the class.
  3. Read the passage aloud. Invite students in the audience to stop you when they encounter descriptive language (phrases or whole sentences) that evokes emotion (appeal to pathos). One example of emotional persuasive language is “he will suffer sharp pains” (Plato).240450_pastedImage_6.jpg
  4. Ask the students in the audience what emotions Plato evokes with this language. You and the student volunteers act out those emotions - the more dramatic, the better.
  5. Invite students in the audience to discuss Plato’s purpose for evoking those emotions. In other words, what does Plato hope the audience will think or do as a result of this emotional appeal?
  6. In the Google Doc, highlight the language that the students selected. Then, summarize the students’ thoughts (from 3-4 above) in a comment for each highlighted phrase. (See screenshots for finished project).240451_pastedImage_8.jpg240452_pastedImage_10.jpg
  7. After Plato Theatre ends, have students write anonymous feedback that comments on the lesson. What did students learn? What questions, comments, or confusions do students still have?
  8. The next week, in group conferences, refer to Plato Theatre as a reminder of the differences between analysis and summary. The embodied and performative aspects of the lesson, as well as the Google Doc, can serve as kinesthetic and visual catalysts for integrated reading and writing.

Creativity: Creativity also plays a role in Plato Theatre. Students have an opportunity to act out and give voice to complicated emotions as a means of critically thinking outside the box. The text literally jumps from the page to demonstrate the innovations of emotional appeal, and students take part in multimodal work to arrive at deeper understandings of how and why language works to create meaning.

Truth: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave offers an example of truth that disrupts the contemporary model of “alternative truth.” Even as they leave the Cave, the prisoners emerge into a sunlit world that allows space to grapple with shadow and illusion.

About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.