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Lesson Plan

In Literature, Interpretation is the Thing

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Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two to three 50-minute class sessions
Lesson Author

Mary Callahan

Medford, Massachusetts

Publisher

International Reading Association

 

Student Objectives

Session 1

Session 2

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • Practice working cooperatively by dividing into groups to analyze information, form a consensus, and present this information to the class

  • Analyze texts by reading and reacting to passages from a work of literature and critical interpretations of that same work

  • Listen to and critique opposing interpretations of the same reading and consider how these opinions were formed through classroom dialogue and independent writing

  • Practice critical thinking by defending the validity of an assigned point of view even if it opposes their personal interpretation of the reading

  • Synthesize diverse interpretations by listening to student presentations and writing an essay that compares and contrasts them

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Session 1

1. Begin the lesson by asking students to respond to the following questions:
  • Have you ever had a discussion with someone about a novel or movie that you thought was great but the other person disliked?

  • How did you feel after hearing a different perspective?

  • What causes one person practically to fall in love with a piece of art, another to hate it, and still another to be not sure of how they feel about the work?
Facilitate a 10- to 15-minute class discussion by allowing students to speak anecdotally of their experiences with opposing viewpoints.

2. Next, explain to the class that they will examine how individuals "interact" with art, in this case classic Shakespearean literature. This lesson uses a Shakespearean play as an example, but you can substitute any piece of literature that you are working on in class.

3. Ask students to define the term classic as it relates to literature. Have them create an analogy to explain or defend their definition using specific examples. You may want to point out that what is considered to be classic is a contentious subject. Ask students why that might be.

4. Divide the class into four groups. Inform students that they will be looking at four passages from a classic play. But first, they will look at different interpretations of a specific character from that play.

5. Direct students to the websites you have bookmarked and ask them to review at least three featured interpretations of Shakespeare's Ophelia. They should take notes on these interpretations, as they will use them during Session 2. This will help introduce students to a sample of the divergent opinions of Ophelia throughout history.

Note: This activity may also be assigned as an independent in-class task or as homework prior to Session 2 of the lesson.

6. Provide each group with a different passage from Hamlet: List of Scenes, on chart paper or a computer. List the following tasks they are to perform:

a. Each student in the group reads the assigned passage.

b. Group members discuss their initial reactions to the piece. How does the character or characters make them feel?

c. Students consider why they feel as they do and why other group members may feel differently. What factors affect one's reading or interpretation of a text? How can opinions vary widely or seem consistent?

d. In this activity, students' answers cannot be incorrect; however, they will need to defend their opinions. It is not permissible to say, "That's just how I feel." Instead, they will need to examine why they feel as they do and what factors are shaping their opinions. A scribe within the group should be assigned to record the group's reaction and defense. Assigning a different student for each passage is recommended.

e. When finished (after approximately 8 to 10 minutes), students pass the passage to the next group and receive a new passage.

f. Continue until each group has read all four passages.

7. Reconvene as a whole class and lead a general discussion about the different reactions groups had to the passages. Assign a speaker from each group for each passage, preferably not the recorder. Ask students if different interpretations about the same passage, scene, or character can be valid? If so, why?

8. Inform students that in the next session they will be given a different perspective on the same character or characters. Their assignment will be to defend a particular interpretation of a passage.

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Session 2

1. Begin by asking students to briefly recap their discussion from the first session.

2. Ask students to get into the same groups or four different groups. Provide each group with a character's name and an interpretation of that character. Using Ophelia as an example, the four interpretations may be:
  • Ophelia as innocent victim

  • Ophelia as insane

  • Ophelia as a conniving and evil individual

  • Ophelia as ______________ (Here the group chooses an interpretation of their own that is independent of previously stated interpretations.)
3. Inform students that they are charged with creating a coherent and clearly stated oral argument that audience members can record and use in a concluding essay. Students must support their assigned interpretation using what is stated in the text or implied by the author as well as what they found online during Session 1. The presentation must include at least one reference to an interpretation from the assigned websites that is germane to the group's stance on Ophelia. Provide groups with chart paper to record statements with supporting reasons to guide them as they present to the group.

Remind students that the purpose of this activity is not to simply arrive at an interpretation, but to examine divergent interpretations, consider how they are constructed, and what determines their validity. This step can be the most challenging, as students will need to empathize with an interpretation that may oppose their own.

4. Allow groups about 15 minutes to prepare a two-minute presentation. The presentation should be delivered orally by at least two members of the team to their classmates explaining their team's assigned interpretation and its rationale.

5. Have students present their interpretations and supporting evidence to the class. Students in the audience should note each group's interpretation and at least two supporting arguments. The notes students take during the presentation will be used to help formulate a brief essay about the differing interpretations and reasoning of each team. Students are responsible for making sure that they get the information needed by each presenting group. To satisfy this requirement, students may need to further query presenting groups. If presenters are unable to satisfy the audience's questions, the team must reconvene and improve their presentation in light of what is needed by their peers to complete the cumulative essay.

6. At the end of this session, assign an essay that compares the divergent interpretations of Ophelia presented by each group and explains what factors may contribute to the validity of each one. Students should use the notes they took during the oral presentations. Because a successful essay depends not only on the attention of audience members but on the quality of each group presentation, this essay will help ensure that each group presents a clearly stated interpretation.

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EXTENSIONS

  • If the majority of the class holds one opinion about a character or text passage, ask students to reflect on why that may be.

  • Ask students to interpret a character as if they were older, younger, from another part of the world, etc.

  • Have students read opposing critiques of a text or character, and consider whether these divergent interpretations can both be valid. Must a reader agree with someone to consider his or her interpretation respectable or at least defendable?

  • Have students address their classmates as a "lawyer" for one specific interpretation of Ophelia (or the character you have selected for the lesson). You can assign which Ophelia students will defend either in advance or on the spot.

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

  • Observe and take anecdotal notes during group discussions to see how well students are able to analyze and interpret texts. You might choose to give students a participation grade based both on whole-class and small-group discussions in Sessions 1 and 2.

  • Assess student presentations. Questions to consider include: How well were students able to defend viewpoints with which they didn't necessarily agree? Did they come up with supporting statements to defend those opinions? Were background materials incorporated into their presentations? How well did they answer questions from the class?

  • Evaluate the essays to see how well students were able to understand and synthesize the different viewpoints presented in class. You may also use the essays as a means of measuring group presentations as well. If you find that a particular group's presentation generated unclear or incomplete writing, have the class discuss constructively what they felt was lacking in the presentation. The group in question should then be allowed to use the feedback to improve and redo their original presentation.

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