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In Search of the Novel

Teachers & Lesson Plans

Milton Brasher-Cunningham - Frankenstein

Milton Brasher-Cunningham has master’s degrees in English and theology, and he taught English for seven years in the Boston Public Schools. He currently teaches ninth-grade English, tenth-grade English (a combination expository writing laboratory and American literature course), and Honors British Literature (for juniors) at Winchester High School, Winchester, Massachusetts. He is also both a songwriter and a fiction writer.

Lesson Plan for Frankenstein


To bring the old horror story into the present.


  1. Take students on a field trip to a laboratory investigating synthetic intelligence or some related field, or bring in a guest speaker on the subject.
  2. Assign students (working individually, in pairs, or in small groups), to construct their own creature/robot/monster/automaton/machine and to report on their design to the class.

Donna Denizé - Great Expectations

Donna Denizé has taught English at St. Albans School in Washington, DC, since 1987. She is an oft-published poet and a contributor to scholarly books and journals, including Shakespeare Set Free (The Folger Library). Ms. Denizé has also contributed to projects with the NCTE, the NEH, Mobil Masterpiece Theatre, and the Smithsonian Institution. She has received numerous grants and awards, among them the Distinguished Teacher Award (The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars). She has an M.A. from Howard University in Renaissance Drama and has completed the Ph.D. course work. Ms. Denizé serves as chair of the Faculty Diversity Committee at St. Albans and is the faculty advisor of the school’s literary magazine.

Lesson Plan for Great Expectations


To allow students to become active learners and even teachers as they read
and understand Great Expectations.


(Ninth grade, six weeks)

  1. Lecture: Definition by the teacher of the genre, the four elements of fiction (character, plot, setting, and theme), and many literary terms that will allow students an opportunity to speak about the book.
  2. Reading assignments: About 25 pages a night.
  3. First 28 or 29 chapters: Reading quizzes on the nightly assignments (objective, non-interpretive questions) Also, notes on the rise of the novel; Dickens’s contribution to the genre; his symbolist method; and the social and political changes and criticisms that the novel presents to readers.
  4. From Chapter 29, once the love story has begun, students take over teaching. In groups of two or three, students are assigned two consecutive chapters each. The aim is to encourage students to take ownership of their learning and to develop cooperative and respectful skills. Students have a week to prepare to teach their assigned chapters according to a required format. The format requires a handout, which should raise themes, include questions for discussion or essays, and propose motifs and major concerns raised in the assigned chapters regarding the elements of fiction. The format also includes guidelines for evaluation—both the content and the form. Creativity is encouraged, as is ownership of the novel and of the moral, social, and philosophical issues raised by the text.
  5. Students have a full class period to teach their chapters. They are in charge, deciding on such matters as quizzes to give and so on, all under teacher guidance.
  6. Students must reflect thoughtfully on their teaching and then write a five-paragraph essay evaluating that experience, which is evaluated by the teacher. The essay should reveal that learning is an active process, one in which the “teachers” make discoveries.

Assignment to Students (Handout)

Great Expectations Assignment and Guidelines for Oral Reports/Teaching the Class:

  1. You must have a handout that includes the information itemized below; you may arrange this information in the format that best suits your chapters and your teaching style. You will be evaluated not only on your knowledge of the novel, but also on the effectiveness of your teaching methods and style, so be creative and try to engage your audience fully in the subject matter through lively discussion.
  2. This information will appear on the formal Great Expectations test, as well as the final exam, so it behooves you to do a thorough job as teacher. In effect, you should become a master of your chapters, and the class should be a thoughtful, inquisitive audience.
  3. You need to present a provocative analysis that looks carefully at the individual elements listed in the guidelines below.
  4. You may decide to place some challenging questions at the end of your handout, questions or problems that you had when analyzing the chapters.
  5. You may give a quiz, but it must be fair and thoughtful. Remember that you will have to grade it, so you will want to make the questions clear.
  6. Do not give biographical information about the author in your report or the handout.

Guidelines for Handouts

(Listed in no particular order)

  1. Major issues raised in the chapters: For example, identity, class, race, family relations, church, social problems, education (formal and informal), and ethical choices and dilemmas.
  2. Elements of fiction: Write a plot summary of your chapters. Identify conflicts (internal/external) and discuss possible resolutions. Identify the setting(s) for events in your chapters and how the setting(s) affect the conflicts you’ve identified. Identify characters’ major recognitions that occur in the chapters.
  3. Dialogue: How is dialogue used (i.e., to reveal character or social problems)? What does the dialogue reveal to you about British culture, fears, and/or contradictions?
  4. Literary devices: irony (verbal, situational, dramatic), imagery, metaphor, symbols, simile, catalogs, personification, parallel sentence structure, puns, satire, tone, etc.
  5. When appropriate, give evidence of capitalism in your chapters and explain.
  6. Type out key passages from your chapters for the class’s consideration.
  7. Identify any motifs and discuss what the motifs suggest.
  8. State the theme or themes of your chapters. Suggest topics for three papers.
  9. Identify questions or issues for discussion raised by the chapters, as well as current events and/or movies that are related to issues in the novel.
  10. Identify any historical allusions that appear in your chapters.
  11. What moral virtues appear in your chapters, and who or what demonstrates these virtues? What vices appear in your chapters, and who or what demonstrates these vices?

Dirk Detlefsen - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Dirk Detlefsen teaches sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade English in Gaviota, California, and he is presently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at Santa Barbara. In 1998–1999 he taught in a middle school in Cairo, Egypt. A theater major in college and an experienced actor, Mr. Detlefsen directs his school’s yearly plays and brings his skills in teaching drama into his literature classes.

Lesson Plan for
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


To encourage students to find the voice in the novel and to allow them to find their own individual ways into the experience through various projects.


(Sixth grade, four weeks)

Daily: We begin each lesson with a discussion of the previous chapter, especially if it was finished for homework. We then read together 5-7 pages. I usually have each student take a paragraph. When we finish our reading, we find five new vocabulary words to add to our personal dictionaries. The students are required to look them up and use them in a meaningful sentence for homework. We save the last 20 minutes for project time.


  • Author parody: Rewrite a chapter of the book in the author’s style, but with a personal touch and plot twist.
  • Butcher-paper illustrations: The students choose a favorite character and create a painted poster-sized illustration with a quote the character is known for.
  • Newspaper: Students make a two- to three-page newspaper from the setting of the story, i.e., “The Hogwarts Gazette.”
  • Newscast: Students simulate a television news program with events from the novel.
  • Dramatic reading/reader’s theater: Students take a passage from the book and present it orally to the class.
  • Students are responsible typically for two or three of the above projects. One must be done individually, the others in a small group. I assess the class’s knowledge of the novel with a combination of projects and written work. I usually have a weekly quiz on the vocabulary and a short paper on character, plot, and theme toward the conclusion of the book.

Sharon Madison - Ceremony

Sharon Madison teaches Senior Humanities (AP English and AP U.S. Government) in Fairfax County, Virginia. A Council of Basic Education Fellow, Ms. Madison has expanded the literature in the language-arts curriculum to include more contemporary, minority, and international authors. She has worked across disciplines to create integrated programs of World Studies, AP English, and U.S. Government and to establish common objectives for IB and AP programs. She is a Faculty Consultant for The College Board, scoring Advanced Placement Examinations in Literature and Composition and presenting seminars to international audiences on developing curriculum and preparing students for the AP examinations.

Lesson Plan for Ceremony


To understand Ceremony in the context of the “monomyth,” as defined by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.


Day 1
Begin by soliciting from students their reactions to the novel (single adjectives will suffice) and compiling the reactions on the board. In response to students’ reactions concerning difficulties with the novel, introduce the underlying pattern of the novel as it follows Campbell’s monomyth.


  • Give students an outline of the monomyth (see a brief description below; much more is on the Web or in the library).
  • Lecture from a circle on the board. It may be helpful to use different colors to indicate the “real” world and the world of “adventure” and to differentiate the three stages: separation, initiation, and return.
  • Illustrate Campbell’s monomyth with many different stories that are familiar to students. Ceremony should be used after the pattern is well understood.

Day 2

Spend another class period applying the monomyth to familiar works or, if students are ready, discuss how Ceremony fits the pattern. Ask students to go to the text to find examples of Tayo’s progress through each of the stages: separation, initiation, and return. Give students—individually, in pairs, or in groups—a model of the circle and ask them to match examples from the text to each stage. Tayo’s journey will not match perfectly.

Follow-up activities:
Research and discussion questions: Was Silko aware of the pattern when she wrote Ceremony? (She was not.) How might the novel be a reflection of Silko’s journey? What myths of the Southwest Native Americans shed light on Ceremony?

Bring in and/or discuss a variety of films to test the monomyth paradigm. Show The Wizard of Oz (which shows the two worlds through black-and-white and color) or the Star Wars films, which were written to follow Campbell’s monomyth.

As Campbell traces the underlying journey of the hero through the myths of many cultures, we come to understand human nature. It is an archetypal journey that reflects culture, literature, religion, anthropology, and psychology. And it may appear to individuals in the unconscious world of dreams or to entire groups of people and their epic histories.

The Monomyth:

  • Stage One: Departure/Separation (The Call to Adventure, The Refusal, Supernatural Aid, Crossing the First Threshold, The Belly of the Whale, Rebirth in the Worldwide Womb)
  • Stage Two: Initiation (The Road of Trials, Meeting with the Goddess, Woman as Temptress, Atonement with Father, Apotheosis, The Ultimate Boon)
  • Stage Three: The Return (Refusal to Return, Magic Flight, Rescue from Without, Crossing the Return Threshold, Master of Two Worlds, Freedom to Live)

Pauline Moller - Bridge to Terabithia

Pauline Moller has been a sixth-grade English teacher and team leader at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring, Maryland, since 1995. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a Master’s degree in reading/writing/literacy. Ms. Moller has served as writer and editor for the development of Montgomery County’s sixth-grade English curriculum. In addition, she has conducted workshops in Montgomery County on strategies for teaching reading and differentiating instruction. She has presented at the NECC conference and is her school’s technology committee chairperson. Ms. Moller has been nominated for the Sallie Mae First Year Teacher Award and Teacher of the Year.

Lesson Plan for Bridge to Terabithia


To transform the text: help students “see” the setting and hear the dialogue.


Day 1, part 1: “Seeing” the setting

  1. Reading Aloud/Visualization—“Seeing Terabithia”
  2. How does the author paint a word picture?
  3. Students find example of words from Chapter 1 that paint a picture. They work independently and then share. Student recorders use chart paper to record words and phrases.
  4. Class discussion: How do these words and phrases enhance the story and make it more interesting?
  5. Teacher reads aloud from page 38 while students draw. Students list words and phrases that helped them “paint” their picture on their drawing.
  6. Gallery posting and walk; follow-up discussion about seeing the setting.

Day 1, part 2: “Hearing” the dialogue

  1. “Who Am I?” web for character development. Teacher-directed; students work in groups.
  2. Locate words, actions, and dialogue that tell about your character’s personality. Students find examples using selected sections of the text.
  3. Develop “Who Am I?” profiles that present but do not give away the character. Students put sticky notes on paper to indicate their guesses.
  4. Students read aloud sections of text that reveal a character’s personality and discuss why.
  5. What can be revealed about a character through description? Through action or plot? Through dialogue?
  6. Students read in pairs, changing the tone and inflection and adding nonverbal expressions.
  7. “Feeling” (using prompts).
  8. Friendship: Write about a time a friend made you feel good about yourself. Paint a word picture.
  9. Write letters to Jess or Leslie commenting on the qualities they possess that make them good friends to each other. Share the letters.

Day 2

  1. Class discussion: Why do Jess and Leslie become such good friends? Why do they depend on each other? What makes Terabithia so special to them? Why do they work to keep it only to themselves?
  2. Seeing the setting by taking a field trip to Sligo Creek Park, a wooded area with a stream. Think about the questions above and hear the natural dialogue of people. Note: It is helpful to get the students up and active—creating pictures, recording observations, seeing connections, and actively hearing—all so they can feel the story more fully.

Frazier O’Leary - Song of Solomon

Frazier L. O’Leary, Jr. has been a teacher of English at Cardozo High School in Washington, DC, since 1976. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from The American University and a master’s degree in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, and he has finished his course work for his Ph.D. in Literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He currently teaches AP Literature and Language, Senior English, and SAT Prep. He is a Faculty Consultant with the College Board in both AP and Building Success. He has coached various sports at the junior high, senior high, and university levels and is the happy father of five wonderful children.

Lesson Plan for Song of Solomon


To search for Toni Morrison’s characters and style.


As a culminating activity, students are assigned to write an additional chapter, Chapter 16. The only guidelines for this exercise are that the chapter must be at least 250 words long and that it must flow logically and artistically from the end of the book.


I have given this assignment for over twenty years, and none of them has ever sounded alike. I find this an exciting way to end the study of this particular novel especially when the students share their work.

Frazier O’Leary - A Lesson Before Dying

Frazier L. O’Leary, Jr. has been a teacher of English at Cardozo High School in Washington, DC, since 1976. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from The American University and a master’s degree in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, and he has finished his course work for his Ph.D. in Literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He currently teaches AP Literature and Language, Senior English, and SAT Prep. He is a Faculty Consultant with the College Board in both AP and Building Success. He has coached various sports at the junior high, senior high, and university levels and is the happy father of five wonderful children.

Lesson Plan for A Lesson Before Dying


To bring an author and other resources from outside the classroom into the class so that students can hear the author’s voice and feel his or her purpose and so that the novel can assume a more intense and realistic context.


Do research at the local library and organizations like PEN/Faulkner to find out if any authors are living and working nearby, and then invite one in to read from his or her works and to answer students’ questions. Also invite other people from the community who can discuss their experiences in relation to those in the novel.


One of my classes was fortunate enough to have a visit from Gaines on the eve of the publication of A Lesson Before Dying. They had read the novel, and our discussion was very exciting. One of the highlights was Mr. Gaines’s reading the chapter that included Jefferson’s diary. Mr. Gaines was affected by his own words, and his feelings were infectious.

I invited a former student who had been in and out of prison for the previous twenty years, to visit the classroom. His writing skills, though not so low as Jefferson’s, allowed me to discuss with my class how much art imitates life. We translated some of Jefferson’s paragraphs into standard English so that students could see and hear cultural differences.

Ashby Reid - Flowers for Algernon

Ashby Reid completed her first year of teaching in June 1999. A graduate of the College of William and Mary (B.A. 1994) and George Washington University (M.A. 1998), Ms. Reid teaches middle school English in Arlington, Virginia. She was nominated by Arlington to receive the Sallie Mae First Class Teacher Award. At the 1999 NCTE convention she presented “Orchestrating Mutiny in the Classroom: Classroom Teachers Discuss Their Own Experiences in ‘Giving Up the Ship.’ ”

Lesson Plan for Flowers for Algernon


To help set the stage for reading.


  • Class discussion: Ask students to think what it might be like to be able to become more popular; what changes they might have to undergo in order to become more popular (better-looking, more athletic, more intelligent); and what would it be like to have an operation that would effect such a change.
  • Class activity: Construct a maze (either for a small animal or for students to trace with their fingers) and conduct time trials.
  • Class activity: Introduce the concept of Rorschach tests and ask students (working in pairs) to construct a sample.

Lesson Plan 2


To help students to synthesize their knowledge of the novel by carefully examining the text and creating a visual representation.


  • “Body Biography”
    Materials required for students: the novel, a roll of butcher paper, scissors, magazines, and markers. The teacher may also need a sample “body biography.”
  • Working in pairs or small groups, each draws a full-size outline of Charlie on the butcher paper and cuts it out. By printing quotations from the novel and taping clipped pictures from the magazines onto the “bodies” of Charlie, students are to show the two Charlies, before the operation and after.
  • With the body biographies taped to the wall as visuals, each group presents to the class its understanding of Charlie and invites questions and discussion.Note: This project takes two to three days and is useful as a culminating activity.

Diana Russell - To Kill a Mockingbird

Diana Russell has taught in the public schools of Arlington County, Virginia, since 1990. She has worked in the county’s “Transitions” program, which focuses on minority and ESL students. She is a consultant for and member of the National Paideia Faculty and a practitioner of the Paideia method, giving workshops, speaking at conferences, training faculties, and developing materials.

Lesson Plan for To Kill a Mockingbird


  • After reading and discussing To Kill a Mockingbird, students will gain a greater understanding of relevant racial issues, especially as they touch upon economics, class, education, politics, and religion.
  • Students will develop skills in the Socratic method, following the Paideia philosophy.
  • Students will increase their understanding of plot, theme, character, and setting.


Ninth-grade GT English/History, three weeks

Reading and discussion of the following:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • How It Feels To Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston
  • On Being Black and Middle Class by Shelby Steele
  • The Final Days of Emmett Till by John Wesley
  • We Were Led by the Children by David Halberstam
  • The Struggle for Equality (a National Education Association publication)
  • The Movement by Anne Moody
  • The Decade: Visual Narration from the 1930s–1990s (students’ group work from the history class, given in class in PowerPoint presentations)

Write a personal, reflective essay that considers and cites the black/white community in To Kill a Mockingbird(four citations) and the readings and visual narration listed above (one citation from each). The essay will discuss your understanding of civil rights and the treatment of the various communities in Maycomb, Alabama, taking into account economics, politics, social class, education, and religion.

Betty Williams - Things Fall Apart

Betty Williams teaches English at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. She has an M.A. in counseling psychology and a B.A. in English. Ms. Williams has served as Life Skills Coordinator and Social Services Coordinator at the Boys and Girls Group Homes and Shelters in Silver Spring, MD. She has also been a mental health counselor at the Center for Abused Persons in White Plains, MD. Since 1980 Ms. Williams has been a performer of African American traditional music with the a cappella sextet “Sweet Honey in the Rock.”

Lesson Plan for Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe


To involve students in the novel on an emotional level.


The class is assigned to adapt any chapter as a:

  • script
  • setting with original music
  • skit with characters faithful to the novelNote: These lesson plans are probably suitable for all schools, but they were developed particularly for the Duke Ellington School for the Arts.

Plan 2


To help students appreciate the reality behind the fiction.


  • The class travels to a nearby African American cemetery. In this case, it is an unkempt, freed-slave cemetery in Georgetown, a old section of Washington, DC. Students collected the names and dates of the dead.
  • Follow-up Activity: On their own initiative, some students went to the National Archives to research names found in the cemetery. They learned basic research techniques. Of particular interest was the concept of how family histories relate to history generally and to language and culture.

Plan 3


To extend students’ knowledge beyond the novel.


Students conduct research projects centering on one of the following:

  • The treatment of women among the Ibo
  • The treatment of children among the Ibo
  • The use of music among the Ibo
  • The use of parables and proverbs among the Ibo
  • Tribal beliefs
  • Racism
  • Colonialism