English Language Arts
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Persuasion
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Benchmark Assessment

    Benchmark Assessment


    In this lesson, students will participate in a Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write). The Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write) is an unassisted and unrevised piece of writing with the purpose of providing a quick gauge of the student’s mastery of the characteristics of a given genre. Today’s Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write) measures and provides a benchmark of students’ mastery of narrative writing.

    Students will also think more about the role of government: what should absolutely never be tolerated by citizens? What “dream” did the colonists have as they first decided to break away from England? They’ll read and analyze the Declaration of Independence to answer these questions.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Think of ways to help students recall what they already know about writing a narrative piece.
    • Familiarize yourself with the writing prompt and the scoring guide.
    • If you have students on an IEP or other accommodations, check to see whether they receive extended time or need an alternative test setting. Work with the professional supporting SWDs to make sure student needs are met.
    • Prepare activities for students who finish early.

    Narrative Writing

    The purpose of this Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write) is to assess what students already know about narrative writing.

    • Have a conversation with students about what they already know about writing a narrative piece. Tell them that a narrative is often called a story. If students have trouble identifying what they already know about writing a narrative piece, gauge their recall by asking what stories they read last year or what stories they wrote.
    • In the next task, students will take the assessment. Be prepared to do the following:

    ✓ Answer any questions that are not of a substantive nature, providing no additional guidance about the prompt.

    ✓ Do a quick thumbs-up/thumbs-down check to ensure that students understand the prompt and are ready to begin writing. Remind students that they will have only 20 minutes to write.

    ✓ Tell students to begin working. When the allotted time has elapsed, tell students to stop working.

    ✓ If students finish before time is up, direct them to other activities.


    Since you began school, you have used your imagination to write many stories. These stories are called narratives . Today you will write a narrative so that your teacher can see how much you know about writing a good story.

    Write a brief response to this question.

    • What should good narrative writing include?

    Write and discuss your thinking with the class.

    Benchmark (Cold Write): Narrative

    Direct students to take the assessment. They will be responding to the following prompt:

    Most of us remember important incidents that have remained significant over time.

    • Tell a story about a small incident that you remember well. Describe the details of the incident. Your readers should understand why the memory has stayed with you. Your readers will want to know your feelings at the time of the incident. They will also be curious about how you feel about this small incident now.

    After class, assess each student’s narrative piece by using the scoring guide. Students will have opportunities to write narratives throughout the year during which they will have instruction on how to revise and edit their pieces. The information you gain from scoring this benchmark piece of writing will guide you in tailoring your writing instruction to individual student needs.

    If students finish before the time is up, direct them to other activities.

    Work Time

    Now you will write your narrative. Remember that a narrative is a story about events, both real and imaginary.

    You will have 20 minutes to write your narrative.

    • Write a brief narrative in response to the prompt.

    Government Violations

    • If necessary, provide examples of areas where encroachment might occur: privacy, freedom of speech, etc.
    • Compile a class list with as many responses as possible. Encourage students to keep sharing until there are no new responses. Display or project the list.
      • ELL: Depending on their life experiences, students in one classroom can have a broad range of views about a topic like this. If students have different or controversial insights, be sure to allow for extra time so that they can explain further.
    • Explain that over the next few lessons, you will be analyzing the Declaration of Independence, a document created when colonists felt that the British government's actions had been intolerable.

    Work Time

    Complete a Quick Write.

    • List as many things as you can think of that citizens should never tolerate from their government.
    • Try to think not just about egregious violations but also about more everyday concerns, places where government might encroach upon its citizens’ rights.

    Write and share your thoughts with your classmates. Determine which violations you can imagine a government actually committing and which seem beyond what a government would really do.

    Positive Collaboration

    • Explain that collaborating with partners and groups will be a major part of students' work this year.
    • Explain that this writing is meant to start a discussion about how to make their collaborative work as productive and enjoyable as possible.

    Work Time

    Think about a time when you’ve been accomplishing a task with one or more people and you were “in the zone”—working well, getting things done. This can be as simple as washing dishes with your family or as complicated as an ongoing construction project.

    • Describe what each person did that made the work flow so smoothly.
    • Explain the strategies the group used to function so well.


    Positive Collaboration Discussion

    • Hear a few responses and keep a list of behaviors that lead to positive collaborative experiences. Try to include as many specific actions as possible: plan in advance, give feedback as you go, etc.
    • Use this list to create expectations for partner and group work with your students. Display this list.
    • Discuss the logistics of partner work: how will the transitions work in your classroom? Will students work with the person next to them, or will you assign pairs? Can they turn their desks to face each other? It may help to draw a diagram for them of what the classroom should look like when they are working with partners.
      • SWD: Be aware of students' potential limitations when it comes to collaborative discussion. It may be helpful to check in with them beforehand to help them identify ways that they can positively contribute in large and small group settings.
    • Before instructing students to move to their partner, explain that you will begin the reading as a whole class before they work with their partners.
    • If your students are not used to working in pairs/groups, you could practice transitions a few times, making sure that students know where they need to be. Some teachers refer to this as “desk Olympics”: they have several “rounds” of students moving into pairs or groups, with a very simple task to complete (e.g., “Find one movie you both enjoyed”) while in their groupings. Time invested now in making sure students can smoothly transition from one classroom configuration to another will pay off down the road.
      • ELL: Depending on ELLs’ comfort level when it comes to speaking English in a group, you may want to have them begin by working with a partner who shares their primary language before they collaborate in English.

    Work Time

    Share and listen to classmates’ experiences. Discuss your responses.

    • What seems to lead to positive collaborative experiences?

    Declaration of Independence

    • Start with a Read Aloud, modeling some of your own thinking as you annotate to mark the colonists' causes for complaints.
      • SWD: Model different ways to annotate the text (highlighting, underlining, color-coding different types of information) to allow students multiple ways to demonstrate their understanding of the task.
    • Depending on your class, you can do a complete reading or just read the first section of the text.
    • Model and create one or two Dialectical Journal entries with your students using two quotations from the Declaration of Independence. Model again how to choose a quotation and write the analysis.

    Work Time

    Your teacher will read aloud and annotate the Declaration of Independence.

    • Follow along and annotate so you have some examples to use for reference.
    • Then, pay attention as your teacher creates Dialectical Journal entries, and be sure to ask any remaining questions you have about the process.

    Declaration Analysis

    Circulate as your students work. If you see exemplary samples of Dialectical Journal entries, consider pausing the class to share one or two.

    • SWD: As you check in with pairs, this can be a good opportunity to help students identify ideas that they can share with the class in the next task. You can also encourage them to write down what they plan to say so that they need not rely on memory when participating in the class discussion.

    Work Time

    With your partner, continue reading, annotating as you go.

    • Create and complete a Declaration Dialectical Journal with three to four quotations that reveal the causes for the colonists’ complaints and your analysis of these causes.

    Government Violations Revisited

    Encourage students to analyze their lists critically.

    Hear from at least several pairs. Are there universal ideas about government responsibility that emerge?

    Work Time

    Look back at your list of government violations from earlier in the class. Compare them to the work that you and your partner did identifying the colonists’ causes for complaints.

    Write two to three sentences comparing your lists.

    • What, if any, similarities do you see? What are the differences in your lists?
    • Did the Declaration of Independence get you thinking differently at all about the role of government?

    Write and share your observations with your classmates.

    Declaration Reflection

    Hear reflections from a few students.

    Consider creating a two-column chart, one for “surprises” and one for “things to include,” on the board or in another central location where you can write students' ideas.


    Write two things about the Declaration of Independence.

    • One thing that surprised you
    • One thing you’d like to include

    Write and share your ideas with the class.

    Independent Reading

    If students need concrete parameters around their Dialectical Journal entries, assign a particular number of entries they should complete and a length for each entry.

    • SWD: If necessary, you can adjust the required length and/or number of entries for students with disabilities.


    For homework, continue reading your Independent Reading book and complete Independent Reading Dialectical Journal entries as you read.