The Bet, Part 1: Sequence of events in a complex text
Lesson 3 of 8
Objective: SWBAT construct their own sequence of events chart after reading Anton Chekhov's "The Bet."
Because this text is really rich and layered, I start the students thinking about ideas first. I do not discuss the story or even give them the name of it.
I have a term on each of the whiteboards in the front. On the left one, I have written "Capital Punishment." On the other, I have written "Life in Solitary Confinement (No Parole.)
The question that I ask can take two forms: 1. If you committed a crime and could only choose between the two options on the board, which would you choose and why? OR, for the less personal approach 2. Which is more humane, capital punishment or life in solitary confinement?
The students run the gamut on this question. Some say that they would "go crazy" in solitary confinement; others say it is against their religion to choose execution. There are always a few who bank on the possibility of escape (I know, I know) and some who just can't wrap their mind around the question. [This is also a good time to focus their attention on the question. #2 asks which is more humane (for the prisoner is implied), not which is cheaper, which deters crime, etc. Keeping the students focused on the question will keep you out of those murky political waters for which the kids, themselves, are not prepared.
To wrap up the opener, I show them a painting. (This is straight out of the literature book, not my own idea.) The painting is entitled Gauguin's Armchair by Vincent VanGogh. I ask them to take five silent minutes and write the mood, the details, anything they can think of related to the painting (no wrong answers!) We will come back to this painting further on in the unit.
This story is one of the best ones in our anthology, but it is a bit complex and the writing style can be challenging for kids. I try to get them excited by explaining that this is not "young adult" literature, but that it is a classic short story that probes deep questions about what it means to be alive. Depending on the group, this intro has them on the edge of their seats or doodling in their notebooks; with 13 year olds, this outcome can be pretty unpredictable. But, either way, we move into the story.
There are a couple of ways that I like to read this story: 1. Use the CD that accompanies the anthology and have the students read along; or 2. Read the story aloud and assign one student to read the banker's dialogue and another to read the lawyer's. This is a pretty tiring job for the teacher and it relies quite a bit on the student "actors." If they can be prepped ahead of time, that is ideal.
The story is told in flashbacks, but that doesn't really have much of an effect on the reading. Basically, the fact that it is flashback is tied to the point of view (that of the old banker.) Without hearing the story from his perspective, the reader would never know that the banker had lost his fortune. This detail is really important to building the tension and suspense.
As they are listening (if possible) or just after listening, the students should complete the sequencing chart.
In the next lesson, the students will work in stations to work through some connections to the story, and they will develop their thinking about the issues in the plot.