Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment
- Common Beliefs About Football. What do your friends and neighbors know about football? Are they aware of the prevalence of brain injuries and diseases, such as CTE and ASL, in retired players? Have your students create surveys in small groups, and have them administer the survey to a range of friends and neighbors of different ages. Your class can brainstorm the commonalities that the surveys must have. You can use plain old paper and pencil to conduct the surveys or a digital tool like Survey Monkey. When the results are in, have the students compare and contrast their findings with one another. What have they discovered? This is a great opportunity to collaborate with the math teacher on your team or within your school.
- Public Service Campaign. Either drawing from the surveys students completed in the above activity or as a stand-alone activity, have students develop a public service campaign on contact sports and traumatic brain injuries. Students can be divided in small groups based on target audiences, different sports, types of brain injuries, etc. Including them in the decision-making about how you create the categories for the campaign will be an important motivator. This is an ideal activity with which to collaborate with the athletic director of your school district, gym and health teachers, as well as the coaches of after school athletics.
- Are Football Players Gladiators? While your students are reading Fourth Down and Inches, have them listen to NPR commentator’s story, “The (Very) Long Viewon the State of Football” from January 1, 2014. What are the comparisons and contrasts that Deford makes between ancient Roman gladiators and football players? What connections can they make between the points made in the radio story and the points made about the game in the book?
- Should Young People Play Football? After reading the book, have your students complete more research on football and traumatic brain injury drawing on the books and digital resources included below. Next, have students write editorial pieces for your local paper arguing for or against playing football at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Are there enough rules and regulations in place to avoid students getting permanently injured or killed? How so? How not? This is an ideal collaboration with the science or health teacher on your team, if it is possible to time the reading of this book with a study of the brain and how it functions.
- Contact Sport Research. If all of your students have read this book as a mentor text for research on concussions, traumatic brain injury and disease in football players, divide them into small groups (or have them choose their topic) to research other contact sports and the related injuries, or other sports and performing arts in general, like gymnastics and ballet. What are the risks of participating in a sport or art form that can damage the body? What are the benefits? How does one make choices at a young age? Have the small groups collaborate to conduct research and write digital or print texts modeled on Fourth Down and Inches.
- Reading Like a Writer: Inform or Persuade?Oftentimes in school, we will tell students that they are either writing to inform or writing to persuade. What is author Carla Killough McClafferty doing in Fourth Down and Inches? Have students consider the title of the book. What does “fourth down and inches” mean in football? Is this football’s “make or break moment?” What about the chapter titles? Opening and concluding paragraphs? Final author’s note? Is she writing merely to inform or is she writing to inform and persuade? Is there even a difference when considering a topic such as this?
- Reading Like a Writer: Capturing the Past.The first two pages of the book read like an action-packed commentary on a contemporary football game. We are on the field with the players, experiencing the action. It is only towards the end of the second page that we are told the game we have just read about happened in 1897. Collect several short articles on several different topics that stretch back 100 years or more, such as cars, or the telephone. Have students read the articles to learn a little more about the topic 100 years ago, and then have them try to write about it in a “timeless” way. How can they foot their reader into thinking they are reading about something happening right now? What kinds of writing techniques do they draw on? What techniques does the author model for them?
- Football and Concussions. After reading Fourth Down and Inches, have your students examine the ways in which the NFL, NCAA, and Pop Warner discuss the connection between football, concussions, and traumatic brain injuries and diseases. What are some of the differences in approach or language? Does the writing share the same mood or are there differences in tone? Are there inconsistencies in information? If you knew nothing about the connection, what would you learn from reading the websites? What power do they have by shaping the conversation on their website? What responsibility do football organizations have to educate the public about the connections? Do your students think these football organizations do a great, adequate, or poor job of educating the public?
Filed under: Nonfiction
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
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