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Federalist Papers Jig-Saw

Posted in AmGov Projects

Federalist Papers Group Jig-Saw Activities:

The most difficult documents we will look at in this course are the Federalist Papers.  Three things make them difficult: the 18th century vocabulary (which most students in the 21st century find challenging, the florid and convoluted style, and the hard-core philosophical nature of these essays.  Our course will focus on the three recommended by theCalifornia State Frameworks.  For a look at all the Federalist Papers, explore the Emory Law School Federalist Papers search engine.  That will be a useful site should you chose to do the extra credit assignment.

Step 1 - Form Groups of Three and Select Your Federalist Paper:  There are three papers, each with it's own advantages and disadvantages.  #10 is certainly both the longest and, conceptually the most difficult of the three, however, in terms of phraseology and formal structure it is the most clear.  #51 is definitely the shortest but also the densest and most tortured in terms of phrasing (it is all written as one gigantic paragraph).  #78, while longer than #51, is the most direct and also the least interesting as it is only addressing one basic theme, and a very practical one at that.  Once you have picked your group of three, divvy up the papers, one to each person in your group.

Step 2- Skim for Basics: Skimming is NOT reading.  It is a very valuable skill for college, particularly in discussion classes when you have to say something and you haven't read the book.  It should not be confused with reading either, as it's purpose is to create a context, a framework into which the class discussion (and the document itself) can be placed.  Each student will skim their Federalist Paper.  Glance over them, spending NO MORE THAN 30 seconds per page.  After every 30 sec - force yourself to turn the page.   As you skim, look for the following things:

     (1) Who? - what individuals, types, or groups get mentioned

     (2) When? - does it reference a time of day? a year?  dates?  seasons?

     (3) Where? - is there a setting?  Are places or buildings or natural features mentioned?  Specific rooms?  General areas? Cities?  Regions?  Nations?

     (4) What (Vocabulary/Key Words)? - what words seem to come up often (whether or not you understand them does not matter yet)?  Are there repeated phrases or images?  Are themes discernible?  (usually not with simply skimming)

     (5) Genre? - is it a play?  poem?  shopping list?  essay? rant?  blog?

After you skim, the class will pool knowledge/ignorance of the material.  This at least gives us a basic idea of the kind of thing we are dealing with before we attempt to tackle it directly.


Step 3 - Identifying Phrases and Vocabulary You Don't Know: This is nowhere near as easy as it seems.  Once you have skimmed the paper, hunt for words and phrases you don't know or understand.  This is also not "reading" the paper.  (That's Step 5.)  Your task is to find what you don't know or understand and highlight it or underline it.  Mark up your paper because you'll need to know what you don't know when we hit...

Step 4 -Finding Vocabulary in the Dictionary: Many students are afraid of the Dictionary.  On this project, the Dictionary is your friend.  I will be selecting sets of vocabulary from the papers and asking you to define it on a quiz.  Consequently, your job is to look everything up and write the definitions ON THE PAPER, preferably above or in the margins next to the words or phrases you don't understand.  Do not make a separate vocabulary list.  Write substitute words (synonyms) so that later you can read through the document more or less fluidly without having to hunt or look up a word on a separate sheet.  Because there are a LOT of these, we will break into groups and make the task less horrifying.

Step 5 - Read It In Order to Understand It: At this point you should be fairly well prepared to tackle these papers.  Read through, simply attempting to understand what it is saying.  If there are parts you agree with or are happy that you understand, mark them with brief summaries or smiley faces and underlinings.  If there are parts you still do not understand, scrawl a question in the margin so you can ask a specific clarification.  Don't give up.  It is difficult.  But ask very specific questions about the parts you don't get... and not just "all of it."  Avoid the following:

 (B: What don't you understand?  S: I don't understand any of it!  B: How about that word there: "confusion."  Do you understand "confusion"?  S: Yes - I'm confused.  I don't understand any of it.  B: well then, you see!  You understand "confusion"!  So you are on your way to success - now write me a SPECIFIC question so I understand that you actually read the danged thing!)


Step 6 - Review it for Yourself  (self-explanatory - re-skim and check that you have either written questions for the parts you don't understand or written comments and summarizations of the parts you DO understand.)

Step 7 - Teach Your Friends - We will re-form the groups of three.  You will be able to teach each other the information you learned - then I will quiz everyone on the Papers, one per day.

Step 8 - Quiz and Class Discussion, Followed by a Test at the End

The Federalist Papers are referenced as one of the significant points of study in the California State Frameworks.  The thinking of some of the framers of the Constitution (as well as the thinking of their opponents) can be revealed through careful study of these complex but significant works.