“What is Love? (Baby, Don’t Hurt Me)” Synthesis Essay & Art

I teach this unit every year with sophomores in my Pre-AP English 2 class.  Basically, the class will attempt to define the essence of love as applied to the human condition through the examination of several sources.  Traditionally, the final assessment was a student-written definition synthesis essay in which they defend their definition by analyzing three of the sources covered in class.  Recently, I extended this synthesis by having students produce a visual representation of their definition in the medium of their choice. A written artist’s statement accompanies the work detailing the specifics of their art and connections among the sources covered in class.

Grade Level/Age: 10thgrade (15-16 years)

Curriculum Addressed: The focus of the curriculum is on poetic, rhetorical, and art analysis through critical thinking and response culminating in an extended composition detailing personal expression and connection through students’ creation of an artwork focused on their idea of love.

Process Goals: Students analyze individual works (poetry, film, nonfiction, painting, and sculpture) and determine artistic purpose and meaning in the work.  Through comparative analysis, they determine whether they support, refute, or qualify the ideas expressed in the work.  Students create a work of art expressing their individual idea of love.  An artist’s statement (reflective analysis) accompanies their artwork explaining the details of their work and connections among the works covered in class.

Materials: The following sources are traditionally used in this unit for discussion and analysis:

“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare

“Sonnet 30” by Edmund Spenser

“Sonnet 30” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Moon Rondeau” by Carl Sanburg

Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson

“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt, oil painting on canvas with added silver and gold leaf

“The Kiss” by Edvard Munch, oil painting on canvas

“The Kiss” by Auguste Rodin, marble sculpture

Overall, I want students to understand the complexity of the human condition when it comes to love.  Through the comparative analysis of famous poets and artists, I want students to realize that the feeling and expression of love is both universal and unique. They will enter the conversation on this subject by contributing their creative work.


Standard 2: Reading for All Purposes

  1. Literary and historical influences determine the meaning of traditional and contemporary literary texts.
  2. Context, parts of speech, grammar, and word choice influence the understanding of literary, persuasive, and informational texts.

Standard 3:  Writing and Composition

  1. Literary or narrative genres feature a variety of stylistic devices to engage or entertain an audience.
  2. Organizational writing patterns inform or persuade an audience.
  3. Grammar, language usage, mechanics, and clarity are the basis of ongoing refinements and revisions within the writing process.

Standard 4:  Research and Reasoning

  1. Collect, analyze, and evaluate information obtained from multiple sources to answer a question, propose solutions, or share findings and conclusions.

Assessment:  I use our English Department’s AP writing rubric to evaluate all components of the unit. Students respond to the individual sources through Quick Writes (constructed response) and to their artwork through an extended composition.  Because the focus of the assignment is on students’ analysis of their own artwork, the writing rubric is best used in this case.  With the focus on the writing for the grade, it alleviates some of the stress students might have on creating their art.

Adaptions/Accommodations:  I adapt the unit as needed for students requiring accommodations.  Traditionally I lower the number of sources that students respond to in class, letting them choose the works that they most strongly agree or disagree with.  The individual art component, however, must be completed to the best of their ability. Adaptions are made to the artist’s statement essay in terms of length and number of source connections.