Comparing Versions of "To Build a Fire," Part I

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SWBAT compare three versions of "To Build a Fire": the original, the revised (and more famous) version, and the film.

Big Idea

Looking at three versions of a story allows us to focus on the changes and decisions that each one represents.

Introducing and Distributing the Stories

5 minutes

Jack London wrote two versions of "To Build a Fire."  The first one, which is lesser known, was published for a young audience in 1902.  The famous version, which appears in English anthologies, was published six years later.  This provides us with a great opportunity to analyze texts side-by-side and compare them.  

The first version is shorter and the text and sentence length is more manageable.  When I do this lesson, I try to pass the stories out strategically, with my faster readers getting the longer version.  However, I inevitably miscalculate and there are some stragglers.  For that reason, I ask the students to identify elements of Naturalism in the story and write them down in their notebooks. That way, the slower readers can catch up.

Reading Time

30 minutes

As I mentioned in the previous section, I do try to match the readers and texts so that everyone finishes around the same time.  However, as every teacher knows, things rarely work as planned.  Thirty minutes is enough time for almost everyone to read the story, and the note-taking I described keeps them busy while their peers finish up.

Note:  This reading is probably too long and dense for anyone who is reading below grade level.  In fact, I would recommend that you break it up if you are not working with very strong readers.  One of the challenges of this story is that there really isn't action -- apart from snow dumping on a fire and a man slowly freezing to death -- so students who aren't really enthusiastic readers may get bored.  I have seen this story broken up with questions, which doesn't really work for me, but it might help kids who have comprehension issues.  Also, there are lots of recordings online, at least of the "famous" version, to help struggling readers.

The Film

20 minutes

Since this is a two-day lesson, I opted to start the film and let the students just get a taste of it. We will watch the rest of it (and do the comparison activity) tomorrow.

This version is available on YouTube, in its entirety.  I think the man curses twice in it, but it's pretty mild.