“For nine months in Kandahar, Afghanistan, I went through the same routine every day. I put on my uniform and tied my boots. I put a magazine in my 9-millimeter handgun and locked it in my hip holster. I put a 30-round magazine in my M4 and slung it over my shoulder… That was my standard procedure while serving with the United States Army in a combat zone. When I left active duty in 2014, I never expected that those skills would be applicable to my next job, as a high school teacher in San Jose, Calif.” A. Nicolas, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: A Combat Zone, With Desks, Ashley Nicolas, The New York Times
“But the reality is that much of what I learned in the Army is horrifyingly relevant in the classroom. My school conducted drills similar to those that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., even before a gunman opened fire last week and killed 17 people. Our first drill, during which staff practiced sheltering students and barricading doors, exposed countless weaknesses, making it obvious to me that we were woefully unprepared to protect our charges… The classroom was big, with doors on opposite ends. I wrestled with the idea of enlisting the help of my maturest students in securing such a large space, ultimately deciding that I would take only volunteers from my upper-class classroom aides.
I pondered how to construct impromptu blockades to delay or confuse an attacker. My helpers and I moved the cart of class iPads to where it could be easily pushed in front of the door — an ideal barricade. Still, the large windows extending the length of the room, once a pleasing feature, now looked only like a gaping vulnerability. We covered the windows in butcher block paper to obstruct the view from outside…I considered the fastest way to get my students into cover, or at least concealment, and agonized over how to keep dozens of 14-year-olds calm during an attack. I was preparing my classroom for combat.
But our school was built to cultivate learning, not withstand an attack; our teachers were trained to instruct, not shield students from bullets. Fortunately, I never had to confront the horror of a gunman roaming the hallways of my school…As children and parents appear on TV begging for action, our elected officials insist that even the best gun control and safety reforms would not eliminate attacks.
Some, like Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, extol the virtues of layered defense systems, similar to those employed at military checkpoints. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for teachers to have the ‘opportunity and option’ to carry weapons in school…Others suggest putting combat veterans in classrooms…Instead of curbing the violence, our leaders prefer to go on the defensive and fortify our schools against the next semiautomatic rifle that will ‘inevitably’ walk through the door.
But our legal system is designed to evolve, to push us toward a ‘more perfect union.’ Yes, we need to arm our teachers — with the support of effective gun control, comprehensive background checks, better information-sharing between local and federal authorities, engaged parents and school-sponsored mental health care providers to identify troubled students before they become killers…America’s schools should not be a combat zone.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: First, have students examine the title of the post and the photos. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
Second, after creating the list of words and ideas, ask students to explain what they think the cartoons mean.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- The reality is that there are too many shootings in our schools.
- My school conducted drills similar to those in the army.
- School staff practiced sheltering students and barricading doors.
- Our classroom was exposed to countless weaknesses.
- I had to enlist the help of my maturest students.
- I pondered how to construct impromptu blockades.
- I also took a tourniquet from an old Army first aid kit.
- Our school was built to cultivate learning.
- Even the best gun control and safety reforms would not eliminate attacks.
- We need to curb the violence.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
These ___would prefer to___our children to ___interactions with ___guards and our ___to the awful ____of using deadly___ rather than ___in a principled conversation about gun control.
WORDLIST: engage, force, possibility, teachers, people, subject, daily, armed,
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Taking actions that make these calamities far less frequent is a priority.
- I took a oath to protect and defend my country.
- I did not consider the dangers involved.
- Tragically people died trying to save others.
- We need to strengthen gun control in these country.
- Teachers should not carry weapons in the classroom.
- The classroom was big, with doors on opposite end.
- Parkland could have been my classroom.
- There should not be armed guards in our schools.
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Divide students into two teams for this debate. Both teams can use the article as their source of information or sources from the Web.
Team A will list five reasons for teachers being armed in the classroom.
Team B will list five reasons against teachers being armed in the classroom.
Each team will have time to state their points of view, and the teacher decides which team made their points.
For organization, have students use this great Pros and Cons Scale organizer from Freeology
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.