Working on a Application Question exercise with the kids. That is, take two articles discussing a similar area of concern, extract relevant points from both from which to spin off a short essay in 20-25 minutes. It's a sort of hand-held practice for Term Paper research and writing. A US high-schooler should ace this test, no problem.
The two stimulus readings are abridged versions of the following:
Foley, Michael. "The Age of Absurdity". Chapter 1.
Cohen, Roger. "The Happynomics of life".
The question the kids had to respond to reads:
[Using the above two readings, blah, blah...] How much emphasis does your society place on the pursuit of happiness? Do you think this is beneficial?
[And, no, I didn't come up with the question, or select the articles either].
Often, the kids' responses show a huge misconception about the nature of the exercise. Without even looking at the question they simply tear into the two articles, looking for one to agree with and one to refute, using examples drawn from the kids' own local experiences.
But unless the question specifically asks for agreement with one author or another, there is no necessity for the kids to do so. And the exercise is meant for the kids to draw points from the articles to support their own observations of their local society expressed in an essay, not the other way around.
For a teaching guide, I came up with my own response to the question. I over-wrote (as usual) but under time pressure, the same as the kids would face under exam conditions. Caution: There is no standard author citation system, but the kids aren't expected to adhere to any due to time constraints -- a brief name-drop does the trick. I'm not entirely happy with it 'cos it turned into more of a rant than I intended; lots of loose ends too and an extremely forced conclusion due to timing-out. But it'll do to show the kids what they can do with focus and more importantly, an approach to the question with clear intent.
Guess what, kids? It's model essay time!