In the previous lesson, students read the first half of “Hills Like White Elephants” and tried to make sense of what is going on in this story by engaging in discussion. They were unable to figure out that the “operation” refers to an abortion and left class wondering what it is Jig and the American are planning on doing. Today, they will work together to try and figure this out. Today's lesson relies heavily on discussion because I, like the Common Core, believe that talking about a text that is confusing is an excellent way of thinking through the challenging details and making sense of them.
Students need to finish the second full page of “Hills Like White Elephants” so I give them the first 15 minutes of class to finish reading it, highlighting important information and beginning to make initial inferences. I have them do this to illustrate the fact that with a modernist story we do not get the full story directly from the written text. Instead, we get part of the story directly and the rest is suggested so that we must make inferences to get the entire story. The idea is that by the time students finish highlighting and writing inferences on the margin, they will have the complete story. In this way, students are paying close attention to textual details to make inferences, as required of CCSS RL.11-12.1.
I know that through discussion, students will be able to make sense of this story. Although they really just want to talk to me and confirm their working interpretations and get answers, it is better for them to work together to find answers as this pushes their thinking and instills the independence they need to develop in order to tackle grade level texts on their own. So we begin discussing in small groups. I ask them to specifically discuss Jig and the American’s plan, which they wondered about the day before, and begin to figure out what this plan may be. I’m hoping they can figure out the plan is to get an abortion. I listen in on their conversations. Many are still considering that they are planning a criminal operation. I interrupt to redirect. I remind them that during the discussion in the previous lesson, some suggested that Jig and the American are planning a criminal operation and that others disagreed with that, but that now most are reconsidering that possibility. Several students nod. I ask them to identify the word we should be focusing on to determine this. A student says the words are, “simple operation.” I confirm and we narrow it down to “operation.” I tell them that I am about to let them return to their group discussions and that I want them to focus on figuring out what this operation may be. I specifically ask them to think of other meanings of this word, besides a criminal mission. I am hoping that they can think of the word “surgery” and then begin to ask what this surgery might be. I don’t hear any groups heading in this direction so I move on to a whole class discussion.
I open the discussion by inviting students to ask a question or state what they believe this operation is. As they begin to ask questions and make comments, I continuously ask them to back up their statements with evidence, important part of CCSS RL.11-12.1. Still, one group proposes that the plan is to rob the train and the evidence they offer is the girl asking what time the train is arriving. I ask for more evidence and they are unable to provide more. Other students begin to suggest possible evidence for this interpretation and I have to stop them. I ask, “Are there any other meanings for the word operation?” Someone says that the word also refers to a surgery. I tell them that this is the meaning I hoped they would focus on and tell them that in fact, the operation they are talking about is a surgery. I now tell them that they need to figure out what kind of operation they are talking about and give them 1.5 minutes to look over the information they highlighted to figure out what kind of operation this is. Going back to the text and focusing on specific language is a habit I have been trying to instill as it is the key to figure out matters such as the “operation” Jig and the American are considering. Once the 1.5 minutes are up, I ask them to share their conclusions. They now begin to make guesses such as the possibility that it is an organ transplant. The evidence for this interpretation is that they say that only one of them can do it. I have heard this initial conclusion from other students in past years so I am now confident they are headed in the right direction and invite them to come up with other possibilities. Other common suggestions is a lung transplant because the American says, “It’s just to let the air in.” It is important to point out to students that these interpretations have only one line of evidence and that the fact should suggest that there may be a better interpretation.
Eventually, a student suggests it is an abortion and she begins to cite multiple pieces of evidence. As she reads each piece of evidence, a look of realization whips around the room. They are now all convinced that it is an abortion. I still don’t confirm because they begin to ask important questions such as, “Why is she drinking? Why are they going to Spain to get the abortion?” After these questions have been answered, I finally confirm that it is an abortion they are talking about.
This text is a good example of what CCSS RL.11-12.6 describes as a case where there is a difference between what is directly stated and what is really meant. When students arrive at the accurate conclusion that the two characters are talking about an abortion, they will have gone through an important process of paying attention to textual evidence and making sense of it.
Now that students have worked together to make sense of this story, I give them time to finish annotating. I instruct them to consider the written text as the clues that indicate it is an abortion they are considering and to review the text to identify all the “clues” that make this clear. I then ask them to focus on these “clues” to make all the inferences we need to make to illustrate the complete story on their paper. I also instruct them to search for “clues” in the dialogue that can help them infer how each one feels about this situation, which is an important aspect of this story. This is a sample student copy of this story fully annotated.