Fear: "Life's Only True Opponent"--Personalizing Literature Circles through Universal Theme Analysis

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SWBAT write about a personal fear and about the role fear plays in the life of a character in their literature circle selection.

Big Idea

The meaning of life is taught in reading experiences.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

For this lesson, students are working on five different texts as part of the literature circles unit, which I introduced in the "Boarding the Frigate" lesson plan as part of the "Teacher to Teacher" section.

One of the biggest challenges a teacher faces when students are reading five different books is how to manage each text w/out losing control of the class. I look for common themes in the literature and use those to organize whole-class tasks. 

Fear is a common theme among the five books students are reading: Life of Pi, Tuesdays with Morrie, That Shakespeare Theme, Pride and Prejudice, and MAUS.

After students have a few days to get into their books, I ask them to complete an in-class writing task that does two things:

  • Explores their personal fears,
  • Explores fear in their chosen text. 

The Fear In-Class Write with Life of Pi Passage.docx shows the excerpt I have students use. Additionally, personal connections can help students meet the CCSS writing and reading literature standards, as I talk about in Fear In-class Write.mp4

*As with other lessons in the unit, this lesson is very flexible in that a teacher can use it at a variety of points in the unit and with texts other than the ones I use. 

What We Fear: Introducing Students to Fear Personified

15 minutes

We begin with a brief discussion about our fears. I tell students how I'm afraid of both water and heights. Then I ask them to share some fears. 

One student talks about being afraid of cliff diving at Lake Powell; another mentions being afraid to ask girls on a date. A female students tells him that "girls are afraid of not being asked on dates." Our foreign exchange student talks about being afraid to leave her home in France for a year. 

The students are feeling nostalgic as they prepare for the last two weeks of school, so they don't mind talking about days gone by and their experiences. 

Next, I pass out the handout Fear In-Class Write with Life of Pi Passage.docx and tell them they'll be completing two writing tasks: 1. Write about a personal fear; 2. Write about a character in their book who experiences fear. Then I read the passage from Life of Pi and ask students to identify the figurative language. 

One student says fear is personified as an enemy who is treacherous. Another says fear is compared to a spy, such as in a war. Another says fear wins out over reason. The discussion continues in this vein for a few minutes. 

Fear-Filled Writing My Fears and the Fears of a Character

30 minutes

Having established the criterion for the in-class write, I give students time to compose their responses. I encourage them to pace themselves and to allow their voices to show in their writing. Additionally, I encourage them to compose their responses for the personal fear first. Students Writing about Fear shows the intense focus of the class as they worked on their responses. 

For the way fear occupies the minds of specific characters, the responses were varied. Those writing about That Shakespeare Kid focused on Peter's fear that others would learn his secret and his fear at first that he'd never recover. Students reading Pride and Prejudice often wrote about Mr. Bennet's worries about his daughters. For Tuesdays with Morrie, students focused on the fear of growing old Mitch articulates. Fear of being alone was a popular choice for those writing about Life of Pi, and MAUS, of course, focused on the Jewish fears of the Nazis. Student Working on Fear Writing.

I asked students to use parenthetical citations in their responses for the literature, and most did. This should not be a problem at this juncture because we are past the required research paper. 

The student work shows how the personalized prompt helps them build up to the textual analysis. First we see a response specific to Fear in"Pride and Prejudice, followed by a student who writes about Vladak's Fear in"MAUS"

Finally, a student reading Life of Pi connects Pi's fear to her own while cliff diving at Lake Powell: Fear "Life of Pi" p 1 and Fear "Life of Pi" p 2.

Not Afraid to Let Students Read

30 minutes

Once students finished their writing responses, they had the remainder of the period to read. This time varied because some students were so intent on the writing task that they had little reading time left. One student needed to stay during lunch and complete the task, but her personal response was very insightful.