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Lesson Plan

A "Brief, Urgent Message": Theme in Slaughterhouse-Five


A "Brief, Urgent Message": Theme in Slaughterhouse-Five

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions, plus additional out-of-class time for student work
Lesson Author

Suzanne Linder

Suzanne Linder

Champaign, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



In Slaughterhouse-Five, author Kurt Vonnegut describes Tralfamadorian literature as "brief, urgent message[s]—describing a situation, a scene"; when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep" (111-112). Students use this literary perspective to analyze passages from Slaughterhouse-Five and then apply that perspective by creating a compilation album, CD cover, and liner notes that demonstrate their interpretation, understanding, and evaluation of the themes and ideas in the novel.

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Slaughterhouse-Five CD Project: Use this one-sheet set of directions to have students create personal connections to the novel by identifying and writing about a collection of songs they believe help represent the themes in the book.

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Believing that "popular culture has an important place in the English classroom-as an object worthy of study and as a means for students to access and study literature successfully," Jerome Evans discusses an assignment in which students use popular music to access the literary concept of theme (32).  "By showing the connection between a selected theme and specific lines in the song lyrics," he argues, "they engage in critical thinking about literature in much the same way they will when using quoted passages to support their assertions" about a novel, play, or poem (33).  This assignment similarly engages students in the act of accessing and critiquing literature through popular music.

Further Reading

Evans, Jerome. "From Sheryl Crow to Homer Simpson: Literature and Composition through Pop Culture." English Journal 93.3 (January 2004): 34-38.

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