"What Men Live By" - Day One

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SWBAT demonstrate applied comprehension of "What Men Live By" through writing and collaborative discussion.

Big Idea

“It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” ― William Ernest Henley

Lesson Overview and Note to Teachers

My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions every other day.  In today's lesson, we explore "What Men Live By" through reading, writing, and collaborative discussion. Activities for this work of literature take two class periods to complete.

The lesson below outlines Day One of activities.

"What Men Live By" - All-Class Reading

80 minutes

I tell students to think about an essential question for today's lesson: Who is the master of one's fate?

I introduce "What Men Live By" by explaining to students that the story may reflect Tolstoy's personal experiences.  We read background on Tolstoy from our literature book and discuss his sensitivity to social issues.  

Since we have limited time and this story is lengthy, we read through the first section by listening to accompanying audio from our literature series.  I stop after the exposition in Part I and ask students to write a bulleted summary of the action in this section.  We debrief as a class with a volunteer sharing her summary:

  • Simon is a shoemaker, who struggles to pay for new coats for himself and his wife.
  • He spends all of his money on food.
  • He can't save up enough money to buy new coats because people from the village owe him and can't pay. 
  • He still tries to get the coats but fails since he can't buy them on credit.
  • He buys vodka and realizes it makes him feel warm.
  • Simon sees an "ox" that turns out to be a naked man; he tries to ignore the man; but his conscience gets to him.

Due to limited time and students' ability to read and comprehend complex text proficiently, we continue to read while listening to the audio.  Once the story ends, I give students about seven minutes to write down their impressions of the text. I ask students to share their impressions with a partner; then we debrief as a class.  Two volunteers share their impressions with the class:

  • I was very shocked by the story "What Men Live By." Throughout the story, I thought Michael was scamming Simon. It really took me by surprise when Michael was an angel from God who had been punished.  Michael was a little odd because he never spoke and only smiled three times in six years. 
  • I really liked the story. I was happy to learn that Michael was a fallen angel and how even when you think you have nothing to give...you do, and that's love. This short story was based off of our capacity for love. Simon saw Michael in need of warmth, food, and shelter and provided him with it even when he barely had anything to spare.

"60 Minutes" Health Wagon Segment

14 minutes

I tell students that when watching "60 Minutes" last night, I saw a story that reminded me of "What Men Live By." I show them the story on the Health Wagon and tell them that they will complete a ticket out on what they learned today.

Ticket Out

6 minutes

I ask students to write about what they learned today.  Student insights demonstrate their understanding of the text and its connection to the Health Wagon segment (Student Work: Ticket Out).

Next class, we will explore the theme of "What Men Live By" and the connection between theme and technique in Day Two, which has been filmed with video clips to appear in the lesson.