Analyzing First-Person Narration in Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind
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As part of their study of Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind, students analyze the ways in which Draper creates the first-person narrator of Melody and the effects these choices have on the story and the reader. Melody has cerebral palsy; instead of asking students to research about the condition before reading, this lesson invites students to learn about it through the narrator herself in the context of her story. Students meet to discuss the narrator at several pre-determined discussion points and eventually write a brief analysis of the narration. This lesson does not intend to represent a complete approach to learning about Out of My Mind, but rather focuses on one important aspect that can supplement other activities and approaches.
Analyzing First-Person Narration in Out of My Mind Handout: This graphic organizer is divided by thematic sections from the book and supports students' selection of textual evidence and analysis of the first-person narrator.
From Theory to Practice
Discussing the complex appeal of first-person narrators, Carol Jago (2004) writes that “readers know they are hearing only the narrator’s side of the matter, and that the account is likely to be biased and unreliable. They can’t witness anything the narrator chooses not to tell us. Yet instead of detracting from the power of the story, these limitations draw readers deeply into the narrator’s world” (Jago, p. 54). She goes on to explain that sometimes teachers are motivated to provide extensive background knowledge to compensate for the limitations a narrator brings to a story, but contends that “the solution to students’ lack of background knowledge isn’t more field trips. The kind of travel that students...need is textual. As young readers view the world through points of view seemingly foreign to their own, the boundaries of their world expand” (p. 54-55).
Smith & Wilhelm (2010) offer students tools that help to expand those boundaries while also analyzing point of view, rather than accepting it completely at face value. This lesson will make use of several of their scales that provide continua on which a narrator may lie, including
- equal to author/separated from author
- omniscient/humanly limited
- completely reliable/totally unreliable
- respect for audience/contempt for audience
- clear attitude/hidden attitude
Combining Jago’s (2004) appreciative stance of using the narrator as a window into an unfamiliar life world and Smith & Wilhelm’s (2010) layered critical stance of narrator as construction of an author offers students a chance to learn from Melody’s story and appreciate Draper’s craft in constructing her.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Materials and Technology
- copies of Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
- copies of Analyzing First-Person Narration in Out of My Mind Handout
- projector and projection space
- five long strips of paper, suitable for posting around the room
This site provides an overview of the concept of literary point of view as well as linked subpages to specific information on different types of point of view.
- Make copies of the Analyzing First-Person Narration in Out of My Mind Handout and think about ways different first-person narrators that students will know fall on the different criteria. A good deal of this lesson rests on discussion of these criteria, so it is important to be as comfortable and familiar with these concepts as possible before introducing them to students and facilitating conversations around them. Review content from the website Point of View in Literature as necessary.
- Before the final session, prepare a long strip of paper with each of the continua written or printed on it (knows everything that is happening ↔ knowledge is limited by point of view, seems completely reliable as narrator ↔ seems totally unreliable, has respect for audience ↔ has contempt for audience, has a clear/obvious attitude ↔ has a hidden/difficult to grasp attitude, seems sympathetic to reader ↔ seems hard to relate to reader) and be ready to post them in clear places around the room.
- explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator of a text
- analyze the effectiveness of the use of a particular point of view
- Read aloud chapter one of Out of My Mind and then ask students to comment on what they noticed or what struck them about the narrator. Students will likely focus on the revelation at the end of the chapter: that the narrator is eleven but has never spoken.
- Review with students the general characteristics of a first-person narrator and facilitate a brief conversation about the benefits and drawbacks of different points of view: first person, third person, and (less typical) second person. Note, for example, that a first-person narrator makes a story feel more immediate by drawing readers in with his or her perspective, but the reader may not always be able to trust his or her perception of the events taking place. Depending on students’ background knowledge and experience on the topic, use the website Point of View in Literature for ideas for specific points to share with students. Have students share examples from books they have read as a class or on their own, as appropriate.
- Explain to students that the narrator will continue to reveal important details about herself and they should pay careful attention to them as you continue to read. Read aloud until the end of Chapter 4 and then give pairs or small groups time to share some of what they inferred or are wondering about the narrator. Project or display a T-chart with the headings “We inferred…” and “We wondered...” to help students visualize the task.
- Distribute copies of the text and explain that one of the things the class will focus on while reading the novel will be the way the author creates the character of the narrator. Share the Analyzing First-Person Narration in Out of My Mind Handout and explain the different concepts on each spectrum:
- knows everything that is happening ↔ knowledge is limited by point of view
- seems completely reliable as narrator ↔ seems totally unreliable
- has respect for audience ↔ has contempt for audience
- has a clear, obvious attitude ↔ has a hidden, difficult to grasp attitude
- seems sympathetic to reader ↔ seems hard to relate to reader
- After explaining the concepts on the Analyzing First-Person Narration in Out of My Mind Handout in general terms, use a book or story familiar to the class to clarify each spectrum. Then ask students to think back to the first-person narrators they shared earlier in the lesson to provide additional examples and clarification.
- Explain to students that in the next session, they will review the introductory chapters (1-4) in groups and begin analyzing the narrator along each of these spectrums.
- Explain to students that their work today will involve applying the concepts from the different spectrums to their understanding of Melody as narrator. Have them get out their Analyzing First-Person Narration in Out of My Mind Handout and go over the expectations for thinking, discussion, and writing for each column:
- In the first column, they will see the section of the text under focus. In addition, here they will take notes on key sentences that reveal character, conflict, and theme, remembering that everything they read is coming from the perspective of Melody.
- In the second column, they will use the concepts from the top of the handout to discuss how these quotes give them insight about Melody as first-person narrator.
- In the last column, they should reflect on how these quotes give them insight into living with a disability like the one Melody lives with.
- If necessary, model this process with a quote from the first section, thinking aloud about your selection of the quote and analysis through the different columns. For example, consider drawing attention to Melody’s comment that “every word my parents spoke to me or about me, I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them” (p. 2). From this statement, readers can infer that language is very important to her and that she is extremely attentive to what her parents think about her. We might wonder, though, if she is accurately representing what all she can remember or if she is exaggerating for effect. We might also wonder whether this kind of attentiveness to language is related to her disability’s effect of limiting her ability to produce speech.
- Form students into small groups where they should review the text, find quotes, and analyze them.
- Circulate among groups as they are working to guide students as they select worthy quotes and apply the concepts of first person narration to them.
- Close the session with a full class discussion of the analysis from groups, helping students understand that their primary focus should be on considering where they see Melody falling on the various continua. Does she
- know everything that is happening or is her knowledge limited by point of view?
- seem completely reliable as narrator or seem totally unreliable?
- have respect for audience or have contempt for them?
- have a clear, obvious attitude or is her attitude more hidden and difficult to grasp?
- seem sympathetic to reader or seem hard to relate to reader?
- Ask students to read the next section of the book or plan to read aloud to students the next section of the book (see the suggested chapter groupings on the Analyzing First-Person Narration in Out of My Mind Handout). Remind them to keep the narration questions/criteria in mind as they are reading, understanding that they are not seeing a single answer for any of them, but rather evidence that will help them discuss the complex and varying ways Melody comes across throughout the novel.
Sessions Three–Seven (Repeated for the remaining sections of the book)
- For each session, have groups meet to analyze and discuss the section using the Analyzing First-Person Narration in Out of My Mind Handout a starting point. Note: The number of suggested meetings can be adjusted for the needs of the particular group and the amount of time that can be devoted to this topic.
- As you circulate among groups, encourage students to look for changes in their perceptions or understandings of Melody or disagreements in interpretations within the group.
- Allow time for groups to share key points from their conversation in a full-class discussion, answering questions and clarifying understanding along the way.
- Facilitate a closing discussion of the book by first posting at different areas in the room long strips of paper with the analytical criteria students have been using:
- knows everything that is happening↔ knowledge is limited by point of view
- seems completely reliable as narrator↔seems totally unreliable
- has respect for audience↔has contempt for audience
- has a clear, obvious attitude↔has a hidden, difficult to grasp attitude
- seems sympathetic to reader↔seems hard to relate to reader
- Ask students to get out their completed Analyzing First-Person Narration in Out of My Mind Handouts and review their observations over the course of the book. Form students into their typical groups and ask them to consider each of the criteria and choose one important quote for each. They should write the quote in large lettering on a piece of paper, post it in what they believe is the appropriate the spot under the continuum, and be prepared to justify both the choice of the quote and their interpretation.
- After students have met and posted, have a group member share with the full class their quote for each of the criteria.
- Close the class by asking students which of these criteria applies most in understanding Melody as a narrator and evaluating her effectiveness as a character created by Sharon Flake. They should note, for example, that in this story her lack of knowledge matters sometimes (the change in travel plans, for example), but that this lack serves to heighten suspense, not to shortchange the reader. Her reliability is similarly never really called into question. Much more important for this narrator are the ways in which she comes across with clear and specific attitudes and is made to be very sympathetic with and to the readers of the novel.
- Consider using the writing at the end of the last session, as well as all note-taking and discussion throughout the lesson, as preparation for a more substantial analytical essay. Consider sharing the ReadWriteThink Essay Map planning tool to support students.
- Have students compare and contrast (using the Venn Diagram tool if desired) Melody to another first person narrator they have recently read. Ask them to think of a narrator who falls on very different places for the continua and/or has aspects of the continua that matter differently than Melody does.
- After learning about Cerebral Palsy through the character of Melody, have students complete additional research to answer questions they have or to learn more about the topic generally. Then have them reflect on what it was like to learn about Cerebral Palsy through a fictional narrator as opposed to through more formal research.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Ask students to write briefly about their understanding of Melody as a narrator at the end of Session Eight, explaining her main traits as narrator, her effectiveness as narrator, and how Sharon Draper created her through language and choices about her character. Look for evidence of students’ use of the language or concepts from the continua, as well as evidence from the text to support their thinking.
- As students continue to encounter first person narrators in their full class or independent reading, remind them to use the facets and criteria to analyze and evaluate how they work.