Getting To Know the Structure of The Things They Carried

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SWBAT make sense of the details and structure of The Things They Carried through a read aloud of the first few pages and a discussion about it.

Big Idea

The goal of the first day we open a novel we are reading in its entirety is always to hook as many students as possible.


Today we jump into, or rather take a step into, the first chapter of The Things They Carried. I want to increase the chances of students tackling the entire novel with less reluctance. I also want them to begin to understand the structure of the novel so they don’t get lost along the way. 

Brief Discussion About the Vietnam War

15 minutes

It is important for students to have some background on the Vietnam War and that entire period in the history of this country. In my classroom, there are several students who know almost nothing about this war, but I do have a few who know a lot about it. Those few are those students with a personal passion for history and who actually learn about history on their own in books or on the internet. I make sure to find these students right away and make use of them in my broad overview of the Vietnam War. I am not interested in an in depth study of the Vietnam War. We just don’t have the time. What I am interested in is giving students a good glimpse of what it was like to live through this time. In this video, I explain a bit about how I share with students.

These are the points I want to make sure students walk away with:

The war lasted a long time

The U.S. got involved to try and stop the spread of Communism

It became a very unpopular war because of the casualties.

Overlaps the civil rights movement.

The people, through protests, stopped the war.

The U.S. lost.

 I hope the details I provide today will help them understand the significance of this time and the experience O’Brien is portraying in this novel.


First Chapter of the Novel

15 minutes

I usually begin a text by reading part of it aloud to students. I do this as an attempt to engage them in the reading. I am able to achieve the fluency and expression that can draw in the reader while many of my students may not be able to achieve it on their own. I read a few pages and then give students an opportunity to ask questions or make comments. I also ask questions. These questions are mainly to make sure they understand what is going on in the story. It is also important that they understand what O’Brien is trying to achieve in this first chapter. In the first few pages, students need to understand that the narrator is one of the soldiers in a company marching on a mission. They should know details about Lt Cross and his love for Martha. They should also understand that we are reading a long list of things the soldiers carry because O’Brien is introducing us to the characters in this way. This should make sense to them given that in the previous lesson we engaged in an activity where they specifically looked at the contents of their bags and created a quick sketch of themselves based on it. Discussing chapter 1 is important. If we don’t have this discussion, I run the risk of massive confusion over the long list of things the soldiers carry, as detailed by O'Brien.

Students begin to ask for more details, such as details about Lavender’s death. I don’t answer these questions because they will learn the details as they read. I do tell them that what we know about his death at this point is what we are expected to know. One thing O’Brien does in this novel is to tell us parts of stories and to fill in the details as the novel unfolds. 

Independent Work

20 minutes

Students are beginning to express interest in the plot so it is a good time to let them read on. I give them the rest of the period to read as much of chapter 1 as possible. They are to finish the rest of chapter 1 for homework.