Several years ago, when I was still subscribing to the Teachers & Writers Collaborative (T & W), I stumbled across the work of a Jamila Lyiscott. She had published her poem Broken English in T & W’s magazine. “Broken English” impressed me as one of the best explanations of code switching that I’d seen–and that I’ve seen since. I understood right away that “Broken English” could and should be used in my classroom.
Because I believe in teaching writing skills, and assisting students in developing their own understanding of cogent expository prose, several years ago I began designing synthetic and experiential lessons and units on the parts of speech, focusing particularly on writing grammatically complete, meaningful sentences. I’ve really only worked in inner-city schools, where my students speak a colorful vernacular informed by the Hip-Hop music they so adore. I knew I had to find a way to justify my pedagogy to them, as well as my belief–influenced to no small extent by the work of Lisa Delpit–that it is important for students to understand how to speak in a variety of registers, including that known quaintly as “the King’s English”, which Ms. Delpit rightly calls a “language of power.”All of this brought me back around to Jamila Lysicott.
So I began work on what has ultimately become this lesson plan on code switching, which is based upon “Broken English.” I’ve been procrastinating posting this as a Weekly Text because the worksheet, at eight pages, strikes me a bit too long for kids with limited literacy and/or attention spans. I thought about breaking it down to something smaller. Ultimately, I’ve decided that I will post this as is with the proviso that this lesson is, practically speaking, probably more like two, three or perhaps even four lessons. Moreover, if you decide to use it as a vocabulary building lesson, I think you could pull more words out of the text and add them to that section of the worksheet. As with all Weekly Texts at Mark’s Text Terminal, these documents are in Microsoft Word, so you may alter them to suit your needs.
So, for this lesson, you will need these four do now worksheets on the words articulate as an adjective (and this might be a suitable opportunity to teach it as a verb as well) diction, prose and verse. This Cultural Literacy worksheet on slang might also be useful as for this lesson. Here is the worksheet for this lesson, and the teachers’ exegesis for “Broken English”. Finally, this typescript of the poem “Broken English” itself might be helpful, especially if you want to break it up for discrete lessons.
And here is a link to a TED Talk in which Jamila Lyiscott reads “Broken English.”
If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.