Common Sense Lesson Plan

  • 21 pages
  • Subject: Historical Context, Literary Devices, Rhetorical Devices, Themes, Thesis, Lesson Plans and Educational Resources
  • Common Core Standards: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.2, RL.9-10.4, SL.9-10.1
  • Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12

Product Description

This lesson plan focuses on how Paine uses counter-argument and refutation in “Common Sense” to persuade readers that the thirteen North American colonies should pursue independence from Britain through armed revolt. Students will examine several instances of counter-argument in the text, describe the strategy of each refutation, and evaluate its effectiveness. In studying the varieties of strategies used to refute counter-arguments, students will better able to explain how a writer can incorporate opposing viewpoints in a persuasive text in order to bolster an argument.

Skills: close reading; identifying counter-argument, refutation, and the rhetorical devices used; explaining how rhetorical devices contribute to a text’s persuasiveness; drawing inferences from the text

Learning Objectives: By the end of this lesson, students will be able to

  • explain the historical context and impact of Paine’s “Common Sense”
  • define and explain the rhetorical strategies of counter-argument and refutation
  • define and explain the rhetorical devices of analogy, allusion, accommodation, rhetorical question, and cause and effect
  • explain how Paine’s use of counter-argument and refutation contribute to the essay’s popularity and effectiveness in increasing support for independence from Britain

About This Document

Owl Eyes lesson plans have been developed to meet the demanding needs of today’s educational environment and bridge the gap between online learning and in-class instruction. The main components of each plan include the following:

  • An introduction to the text
  • A step-by-step guide to lesson procedure
  • Previous and following lesson synopses for preparation and extension ideas
  • A collection of handouts and worksheets complete with answer keys

Each of these comprehensive, 60-minute plans focus on promoting meaningful interaction, analytical skills, and student-centered activities, drawing from the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and the expertise of classroom teachers.

Introduction to the Lesson

Having lost his first wife, separated from his second, and failed several careers, the English stay-maker Thomas Paine determined that a fresh start was in order. On the advice of his friend Benjamin Franklin, Paine left his native land to emigrate to the North American British colonies. Within weeks of landing in Philadelphia in November of 1774, Paine’s luck began to change. In January of 1775, he began editing the Pennsylvania Magazine and started working on an essay that would become an instant, runaway best-seller. Published in January of 1776 and titled “Common Sense,” Paine’s pamphlet issued an ardent plea for the colonies to sever ties with Britain. Its message was widely embraced throughout the colonies, and discussed and read aloud in public places. It is generally credited with precipitating the American Revolution.

Paine first set foot in the colonies at an opportune moment, when anger over new taxes and defiance against British rule were mounting rapidly. Just months earlier, in March of 1774, the British had imposed a blockade of the port of Boston to punish the city for the Boston Tea Party the previous December. The blockade was meant to discourage other colonies from staging similar protests against British taxes. Its unintended result was a powerful, unprecedented unity, as other colonies empathized with Boston’s plight and rallied around its cause. Despite this surging spirit of defiance, a majority of colonists were still inclined to see themselves as British, hesitating to support a complete break from the British crown. Even after armed conflict broke out in Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, many colonists still professed a deep connection to the home country.

In Paine’s view, this persisting loyalty was merely frailty, the product of sentimentality and habit; a few well-chosen words, he believed, would dissolve it. He published his pamphlet “Common Sense” to convince his colonial readers that the beliefs and emotions tethering them to the crown could not stand up to “simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.” Since his objective was to discredit any opposing viewpoints he expected his readers to hold, counter-argument plays a significant role in Paine’s persuasive strategy. He establishes a simple but effective pattern. He summarizes the arguments and attitudes that compel colonial loyalty to Britain, and then he explains how they are wrong or misapplied. Paine writes as if his readers, as sensible people, already understand these truths on some level and simply need to be nudged toward acknowledging them.

Worksheet Excerpt: Analyzing Counter-argument and Refutation

Passage 2

  1. Working in your group, underline and label two examples of counter-arguments and refutations.
  2. Discuss and analyze the tone and attitude in Paine’s refutation of each.
  3. Identify the notable facts and persuasive techniques used. Persuasive techniques may include analogy, allusion, cause and effect, hyperbole, or rhetorical question.
  4. Evaluate the effectiveness of each refutation, considering the tone, facts, and techniques used.
  5. Highlight and annotate the passage you have analyzed together on Owl Eyes.

[Excerpt from the text]

First refutation

  • What is Paine's tone and attitude?
  • What facts and persuasive techniques does Paine use?
  • How effective is this refutation?

Second refutation

  • What is Paine's tone and attitude?
  • What facts and persuasive techniques does Paine use?
  • How effective is this refutation?