Standard Lesson

Developing Characterization in Raymond Carver's "A Small, Good Thing"

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 50-minute sessions
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Students read Raymond Carver's short story "A Small, Good Thing," focusing on characterization in order to develop one of the static characters—the hit-and-run driver who causes Scotty's death—more fully. Students use a literary graphic organizer to analyze the three major characters. They compare the story to an older version titled "The Bath." Finally, they create an original anecdote involving the driver, share their stories, and respond to each other's writing.

This lesson plan was developed as part of a collaborative professional writing initiative sponsored by the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project (KMWP) at Kennesaw State University.

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From Theory to Practice

This lesson focuses on transforming text, a practice that is "powered by imagination" and that "reduces the distance between students and texts via processes of personal and active engagement," according to Kathleen Andrasick (132). Students "reduce the distance" between themselves and the text as they consider the writer's characterization strategies. They then actively engage with the text as they add dimensions to one of Carver's static characters, creating a scenario which demonstrates the dynamic traits of the character.

Carver's writing lends itself well to this activity. As Susanne Rubenstein notes, "This is why my students love Carver, because his fiction speaks the truth, because the people who fill his pages and the problems they face are real... It's this kind of heartfelt reaction to Carver's life and work that can be used so effectively to inspire good writing in the high school classroom."

Further Reading

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.

State Standards

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).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).



Student Objectives

Students will

  • analyze static and dynamic characters in "A Small, Good Thing."

  • discuss character development in the short story.

  • compose a narrative of an incident involving one of the static characters.

  • share their work with classmates.

  • respond to a classmate's writing.

Session One

  1. Distribute copies of Raymond Carver’s short story “A Small, Good Thing” to students. Have students take turns reading sections of the story in small groups of three or four students.

  2. Share the Dynamic vs. Static Characters handout with students. After the discussion, students should understand that dynamic characters undergo basic changes during the course of a story.

  3. Ask students to name the dynamic and static characters in “A Small, Good Thing,” and record their responses on the board. Students should note that in this story, the baker is a dynamic character who undergoes a change at the end of the story, after his confrontation with Ann and Howard Weiss.

  4. To develop discussion, ask students questions such as the following:

    • Why is the baker a dynamic character?

    • How would you describe his character at the beginning of the story? In the middle?

    • How did he change after his meeting with Ann and Howard Weiss?

    • Why do you think he changed in this way?
  5. Direct students to the Literary Elements Map, and have them use the Character Map Graphic Organizer option to map the three main characters: Ann Weiss, Howard Weiss, and the baker. Note that they will complete and print the organizer three different times.

  6. Next, tell students that Carver’s first version of this story is titled “The Bath.” For homework, have students read “The Bath” and note how the original version differs from “A Small, Good Thing.”

Session Two

  1. Ask students the following questions about “The Bath”:

    • How is the ending of “The Bath” different from that of “A Small, Good Thing”? (Students should note that the original story ends with the lines, “‘Have you forgotten about Scotty?’ the man said. Then he hung up.”)

    • What do we learn about the baker in “A Small, Good Thing” that is not revealed in “The Bath”?

    • How has changing the ending altered the baker from a static to a dynamic character?

    • Why might Carver have altered the resolution to this story?

    • Which ending do you prefer as a reader? Why?
  2. Tell students they will now create an anecdote or incident involving the hit-and-run driver that will allow them to turn him into a dynamic character.

  3. Have students read through the “A Small, Good Thing” Characterization Worksheet and write responses after each step.

  4. After they have completed the worksheet, ask students to share their papers with partners.

  5. Next, have students use the TAG Writing Response handout as a guide for peer conferences. Using the sheet, students prompt their partners to:

    T—Tell how the hit-and-run driver has become more of a dynamic character. (Anticipated response: “He has changed from ____ to ____.”)
    A—Ask the writer a question about something in the story that needs clarification.
    G—Give advice about how the writer could improve this story for publication.

  6. Ask students to use their TAG Writing Response sheets and completed “A Small, Good Thing” Characterization Worksheet handouts to write an anecdote or incident involving the hit-and-run driver for homework.

Session Three

  1. Ask students (in small groups or as a whole class) to answer the following questions about their anecdotes:

    • How has the hit-and-run driver in your anecdote changed from a static to a dynamic character?

    • How might this characterization alter Carver’s story?

    • What role do you think static characters play in a story?
  2. Call for several volunteers to read aloud their anecdotes to the class, or have students share them in small groups.

  3. Collect the anecdotes and provide feedback.


Student Assessment / Reflections

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