While flipping through MacLean’s magazine a couple of years ago I came across the following article: “Rick Mercer: Why I rant. And why you should too”. I read it because I enjoyed Rick’s work – especially his rants, but I walked away thinking……hey I could teach this. So, I did.
It started pretty simply. The first time I taught the unit, we went straight to the rant. Don’t get me wrong, we took a look at Rick’s work and read the article that inspired me, but we didn’t really get into the ‘guts’ of rant writing. Nevertheless, my students thoroughly enjoyed it and I realized a fringe benefit of asking students to rant: it gave them a voice. I especially noticed this in previously disengaged students who complained about everything from their teachers to their classmates, and of course about every school policy in existence. Ranting was their niche.
The next time I taught the unit, I added a preamble about defining what a rant was. The following semester I included rant analysis activities, which focused on Rick’s use of literary devices for my students to emulate. I then realized we needed a performance piece – I added lessons and a rubric on voice, body language and expression. Now we were getting somewhere. Based on previous student work and performances I added other bits – a slide show lecture to introduce the unit and topic, and a contest at the end for the top 3 rants!
When I finally felt like I had a great grasp on my teaching, I took a giant leap…….and contacted Rick. I always knew I could, as we have a good mutual friend, but I wanted to make sure that my unit was solid and my students were outputting some good stuff before I took it to the next level. To say that his response exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. Not only did he reply to my email immediately, he gave me some great tips to pass on to my students about developing and performing their rants. After our class contest, I sent him our classrooms’ top 3 rants and he gathered his own small judging panel of Mercer Report veterans to vote on the winner. He then penned a beautiful letter commenting on each of the top 3, including reasoning for his winning selection. I couldn’t have asked for a better culmination to my unit.
Like Rick argues in his MacLean’s article, ranting is a necessary skill – one that students will use in and outside of classroom walls for the rest of their lives. I love that this unit teaches them to use their voice both in writing and verbally. It gives many of them the confidence they need to write and speak about something that they feel matters. Moreover, it teaches them to be engaged citizens. If we don’t teach our students to rant, how will they be able to stand up to their boss who has taken advantage of their hard-working nature one day, or the local politician who has squandered taxpayers money on fancy new signs when roads are falling apart? Also, how will they be able to teach their kids to rant?
I try to adapt my Rant like Rick unit to suit a variety of levels of English courses I teach, from grade 7 to senior university courses. Students love that they have ownership on their ranting topics and enjoy emulating the literary techniques Rick uses to create humour and meaning in his work. Their rant competitions have also become a fun expectation. As soon as we begin the unit I’m bombarded daily with “when can we do the contest”? Fun = engagement = work completion = student achievement. What more could I ask for? Oh, and I’m teaching something fun that I participate in as well. Who doesn’t enjoy writing a good rant?
Have I convinced you to teach your students to rant? Creating a unit is pretty easy – start with what works for your students age and ability level, then go from there. If you are interested, but don’t have time to create your own resources, my unit it is available for sale on my TpT (teachers pay teachers) web store: Teacherevolution.
This blog is dedicated to Rick Mercer for inspiring Canadians to rant!