They Carried Tangible And Intangible Things

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SWBAT gain better understanding of the characters in The Things They Carried by examining tangible and intangible items the soldiers carry and engaging in informal discussion.

Big Idea

The intangible is often more profound than the tangible.


10 minutes

Students read Ch. 1 for homework last night. Today I have students create a chart in which they list the tangible and intangible items the soldiers carry. I explain the meaning of tangible and intangible, stating that tangible items can be touched and intangible cannot. Understanding the meaning of tangible is easy. Intangible requires a bit more. I explain that intangible things in the novel refer to the abstract things O’Brien lists in chapter 1. To illustrate and clarify, we come up with the first example:

In the Tangible column we write, “Lt. Jimmy Cross carries letters.” In the Intangible column we write, “Lt. Jimmy cross carries memories of Martha.” I instruct them to write the item along with the name of the soldier who carries it, when the name is specified. This is to focus students on what we learn about specific characters, as is the purpose of this activity. Students are ready to work on the entire chart on their own.


Independent Work

25 minutes

I give students time to work on their chart. Students call me over to ask me to check what they have written, especially the intangible items because they are still working on understanding the meaning of intangible. For the tangible items, I make sure to tell them to focus on the most important ones because there are countless items. I ask them which items caught their attention and they say things like the pantyhose, the thumb, the rabbit’s foot, Martha’s pebbles, the dope, and ammunition. It makes sense that these details stand out in their mind as they are largely unexpected according to my students. I also point out that some of the tangible items suggest intangible things. For example, Kiowa’s tangible Bible suggests the intangible religion. Someone suggests that tradition is an intangible suggested by Kiowa’s act of teaching the rain dance. Once they begin to make comments like this one, I feel sure that they are getting to know the characters in the novel, as is an intention of this activity. Also, the conclusions they are making about the characters are rooted in textual evidence, like that tradition is important for Kiowa. In this manner, they are practicing the important Common Core standard that requires students to cite textual evidence as they draw conclusions about a text.

Some of the things they have listed in the Intangible list include: they carried ghosts, fear, Vietnam, their own lives. These are the details I am looking for and share with the entire class as I read them on their charts.


Independent Reading

20 minutes

The next two chapters of the novel are pretty short. I give students the rest of the class period to read them.

Following these two chapters is the one titled “On the Rainy River” and we will be spending more time with that one. Students should be ready to tackle “On the Rainy River” after today.