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Conversations in Literature

Moving Through

In this session, the community of readers shows how they create an envisionment as they are in and moving through a text, a time of great personal involvement in the action and character motivation. The group works with two texts, Cathy Song's poem "Lost Sister" and Stephen Dixon's short story "All Gone," building on their initial impressions to examine motives, feelings, causes, interrelationships, and interactions as they create a more complete envisionment of these texts. At this point in their reading, the community steps inside each text virtually, living through it as it unfolds.


Being In and Moving Through a text is the point in the envisionment-building process where readers develop a deeper understanding, all the while connecting human possibilities and experiences to make meaning out of the text. Readers in this stance are utilizing ideas, hunches, past experiences in reading, and life experiences to build a hearty envisionment. Readers immerse themselves in the text world, trying on multiple perspectives and posing “what if” questions to examine all aspects of the story.

This is the stage in the reading experience when readers actually live in the text, trying on characters and their interactions, totally immersing themselves in the text’s words and images. When readers enter this close transaction with a text, they often have more questions than answers. Not only is this expected in the envisionment-building process, it is celebrated. By capitalizing on the experiences and questions of many, each individual in the classroom community creates a fuller, but somewhat unique, vision of the text than what might have occurred without the company of others in that journey.

Some of the questions that readers consciously and subconsciously ask themselves during this stance might include:

  • What isn’t being told? What would you still like to know?
  • Who are these characters and are they like anyone I know?
  • How do those people feel about their circumstances?
  • How do I feel about…?
  • What have I experienced in my own life that is similar to this? Different from this?
  • What if the character…?
  • What if it happened this way?
  • What other texts have I read that inform this one and in what ways?
  • How have the characters changed over time or across the story?
  • What motivated the characters’ behaviors or what led them to their actions?
  • How would you describe the relationships of the characters in the text?
  • How would someone from a different culture or background interpret the story?
  • Do I like these characters? Does what they are doing make sense? Would I have done the same thing in this situation?
  • How is the plot developing?
  • What are the characters like? Are they acting as I expected?
  • How do the characters feel about and relate to each other? How will this affect the story?
  • How do I think the piece might end?

It is important to understand that Being In and Moving Through is just one position readers take in relationship to a text. Readers recursively draw upon all four stances in order to build a rich understanding. If teachers are aware of what readers do in this stance and others, it allows them to strategically design instructional activities, so that students become effective readers, intuitively asking these questions on their own.

For a complete guide to the workshop session activities, download and print our support materials.

Key Points

  • Readers test their hypotheses by calling upon personal experiences, other literary experiences and by posing questions.
  • Readers connect their cultural roots and life experiences to the text in order to develop their envisionments.
  • Readers make connections across the text, across the characters, as well as to other readings.
  • Readers use past reading experiences to make intertextual connections.
  • “What if” questions are posed during this stance.
  • Multiple perspectives shared during literary discussions are valued, and they help individuals revise and build their own rich envisionments.
  • Questions are paramount to the envisionment-building process and they should be encouraged and celebrated in a classroom. Questions help individual readers develop their interpretations of a text, as well as members of the classroom community.

Learning Objectives

After viewing this program, participants will be able to:

  • Understand how a reader’s cultural, personal, and literary experiences impact interpretations of text in the envisionment-building process.
  • Utilize multiple perspectives in a literary community in order to enrich all members’ envisionments.
  • Build a literary discussion around the principles of Being In and Moving Through, including the use of multiple perspectives and questions for developing envisionments.

Background Reading

In preparation for this workshop, you may want to read the poem “Lost Sister” by Cathy Song and the short story “All Gone” by Stephen Dixon. Literature selections can be found in Literature: An Introduction To Reading and Writing, 5th edition, Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs, ©1998, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-010076-5.

Some online resources related to the featured texts include:

Poem: “Lost Sister” by Cathy Song

Short Story: “All Gone” by Stephen Dixon

Within the workshop session, you will be reading the poem “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The poem can also be found in the anthology mentioned above. Some online texts and resources related to the poem and author include:

If you have not already, you may also want to read Chapter 2, “Building Envisionments,” pages 9-17, in Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature. This excerpt examines the process of envisionment building and defines the stance Being In and Moving Through an Envisionment.

For other resources, look under Additional Reading.


Homework Assignment

Journal: How do multiple perspectives and the posing of questions enhance an envisionment-building classroom?

Reading: In preparation for Workshop 5, you may want to read the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Select a passage from the text that you personally connected to or that made you reflect upon a life experience and rethink your way through it.

Some online resources you may want to consult include:

If you have not already done so, you may also consider reading Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature, Chapter 2, “Building Envisionments,” pages 9-23, which examines the envisionment-building process and defines the stance Stepping Out and Rethinking What One Knows.

Extension: Classroom Connection

You may want to try these activities back in the classroom.

Activity One

Short Story Reading and Discussion:
Read “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson. Using “The Lottery” Discussion Guide Activity Sheet guide students through a discussion of the text [click here for a PDF version]. As the discussion facilitator, focus on drawing out multiple perspectives and interpretations. Discuss the different interpretations and possibilities. Invite questions throughout the discussion and use them as a springboard for further discussion.

Discussion Debriefing:

  • Discuss how the multiple perspectives add to the conversation, as well as to the ability for each individual to build their own understanding of what they read.
  • How have other texts you have read impacted your understanding of this one?
  • How did others’ questions help you build a richer understanding of your own?

A biography, criticism, and links related to Shirley Jackson.

Professional Resources Related to Classroom Instruction:

Appleman, Deborah. The Lens of Reader Response: The Promise and Peril of Response-Based Pedagogy in Critical Encounters in High School English, by Deborah Appleman, NCTE, 2000.

Moon, Brian. Studying Literature: New Approaches to Poetry and Fiction. NCTE, 2000. ISBN: 0-8141-4871-9.

Activity Sheet: "The Lottery" Discussion Guide

Directions: Use this discussion guide to facilitate thoughtful responses to the story “The Lottery.” Before students read the story, utilize the “accessing the story” questions to assist students with recalling their prior knowledge. Invite multiple interpretations throughout all discussions, giving the students opportunities to explore a variety of perspectives and pose an array of questions.

Accessing the Story
This story by Shirley Jackson takes place in a small rural village. The people are gathered for the drawing of a lottery. Consider what you know about small towns. What are some characteristics of a small town or community? Have you ever been to a small town? What was it like? When you think of a lottery, what do you expect to take place? How would you define a lottery? Have you or do you know someone who has participated in a lottery? What was the outcome?

Making Meaning
Use the following questions to guide students through a post-reading literature discussion. Focus on inviting all students to participate, inviting a variety of interpretations and perspectives. Utilize student comments to probe at the meaning of the story and to move the conversation along. Encourage students’ questions and celebrate them. Use students’ questions to lead to others, helping students to develop their own unique visions of the text.

  1. Why do you think so much time is spent describing the black box?
  2. What do you think the purpose of the lottery is in the village? Why do you think people continue to participate in it?
  3. Why do you think the lottery is such a long-standing tradition in the village?
  4. Does this compare to anything you know in real life? Explain.
  5. How do you think the village people feel about the lottery? Explain.
  6. What would you have done in Tessie Hutchinson’s situation? Explain.
  7. How did you feel about the lottery at the end of the story? What was your reaction?
  8. Do you think this sort of lottery could take place in your own community? Why or why not? Are there any events that have occurred in your community that remind you of the events in “The Lottery?”
  9. How did your initial understanding of the term “lottery” compare to the lottery in the story? How did your initial understandings help or confuse your interpretation of the story?
  10. Do you think this story has a message for readers? Explain your view.
  11. How have other classmates’ interpretations of the story impacted your own understanding of it?

Creative Response
Consider how this story would change if it was told from a different point-of-view. How would Bill Hutchinson or Tessie Hutchinson tell the story? What if the reader knew all of their thoughts? Write a news story about the event of the lottery, focusing on an interview with one of the townspeople. What would they say about the event? An alternative to this activity is to conduct a dramatic interview of some of the townspeople, as in a talk show format.

Across Texts
Consider using other texts to inform the students’ understanding of this one. Students may point out texts on their own, or the teacher may point out texts students have read or ones they are going to read in the future. You might consider the following:

Novel: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Novel: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and

Novel: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Novel: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Novel: 1984 by George Orwell

Novel: Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Short Story: “Charles” by Shirley Jackson

Short Story: “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell and

Short Story: “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury

Short Story: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Old Testament: Leviticus 16:22, ritual of purification
Current events identified by students, and teacher.

Additional Reading

An article by Dr. Judith Langer, “A Response-Based Approach to Reading Literature.” Here, Dr. Langer offers guidelines for instruction and a framework for teaching strategies that support an envisionment-building classroom.

A comprehensive summary of Dr. Langer’s research and the envisionment building process entitled “Thinking and Doing Literature.”


Dr. Judith Langer’s article “Discussion Exploration: Literature and the Horizon of Possibilities.” This article explores how the teacher can frame discussion and move along students’ critical thinking and exploration of a horizon of possibilities in envisionment building.

A guidelines booklet on “Teaching Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well.” This practical guide offers six effective features of successful instruction.

Additional reports and articles about envisionment building.