Open Boat, Open Discussion: Reviewing Key Ideas

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SWBAT propel class discussion by asking about and responding to key idea about Naturalism and characterization in Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat."

Big Idea

Life, Death, and Nature "Just Is"; a whole-class, whole-period discussion and review.

Introduction & Welcome: A Memory and Birthday Wishes

8 minutes

Actor, director, screen-writer, and Chicago boy Harold Ramis passed away yesterday, and I took the opportunity to share my memories of the man with the students: "Ghostbusters" was a favorite of mine growing up, "Groundhog Day" was filmed (relatively) locally and still remains a favorite among all generations, and I heard the greatest eulogy on NPR, that Wes Anserson could bring out Bill Murray's sadness, but only Ramis could find his laughter. I also ask students for their favorite Ramis films.  

To shift focus, I also share it's the birthday of Anthony Burgess ("A Clockwork Orange"), George Harrison (The Beatles, The Travelling Willburys), and Jack Handy ("Deep Thoughts" on "Saturday Night Live.")

As always, the Daily Holidays--even those "In memoriam"--serve to draw students in, building student ownership and a sense of community in the class.

Traditional, But Effective: An In-Depth Review of "The Open Boat"

40 minutes

For today's review of "The Open Boat"* students spend the period reviewing and discussing the study guide they have been provided ("The Open Boat" Reading Guide).

Students have prepared for today's discussion, using the reading guide to provide evidence to draw on as part of a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas (SL 9-10.1a). In order to continue this preparation, students are given ten minutes to discuss the questions and the story with a partner. 

While the questions students discuss with their partner address specifics, I do not follow the "script," as such, going through each item one at a time. Rather, I ask students to draw upon the strong and thorough textual evidence they cited to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text (RL.9-10.1) about:

  • Analysis of the key idea of the portrayal of nature as it develops and is refined by specific details, especially through the lens of Naturalism (RL 9-10.2).
  • The role of the characters as they develop over the course of the text, how and they are reduced to anonymous figures in a tiny boat in order to develop Naturalism's theme of the power of nature over man (RL 9-10.3).

The study guide responses provide a foundation to scaffold into deeper understanding in today's discussion.

As we discuss as a whole class, students propel the conversation by responding to (and posing) questions that relate the current discussion to the larger ideas of Naturalism that students have already addressed in their background reading, clarifying or challenging as needed (SL 9-10.1c):

  • the power of nature over the powerlessness of people
  • common people and life accurately
  • environment and instinct determine behavior
  • human destiny or fate is beyond the control of the individual
  • uses setting, theme, and irony to express these ideas


Additionally, in this whole-class discussion, students are qualifying or justifying their own views and understanding through this discussion, making new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented (SL 9-10.1d).

While students share their ideas and react to each other, I take notes on the board on their thoughts, providing them with a visual study guide.

After ten minutes to check their answers and discuss with peers, the whole-class discussion format provides students with the opportunity to hone their skills at presenting information in class, as well as listening to, reacting to, and building on their peers' ideas. 

*"The Open Boat" is included in the collection, "Men, Women, and Boats" by Crane at Project Gutenberg. 


Two-Minute Warning: Wrap-Up and Reminders, Homework

2 minutes

To wrap up class today, I remind students that reading background on the Progressive Era, focusing on "The Struggle for Women's Suffrage" Kate Chopin's biography and "The Story of an Hour" are due for our next class. We will be addressing the story, and specifically the use of irony, as we bring out short story unit full circle, back to Realism.