Tag Archive for The Things They Carried

Breaking Down and Creating Your Own EngageNY Unit

I’m sure at this point most (if not all) of us have seen the EngageNY materials and marveled at them.  I remember my first experience with an EngageNY lesson.  It was like a choir of English teachers were surrounding me in song and Carol Jago was looking down on me with a reverent smile.  However, the more time I have spent studying and using materials from EngageNY, I have come to recognize a certain equation that, once identified, we can all incorporate into our lesson planning “toolbox” and begin applying to texts we are teaching.  In my opinion, the success of EngageNY lessons is predicated on the following criterion: Read more

Close Reading Through Repetition

To students, annotating a text is just underlining a bunch of random words and phrases.  However, underlining does not indicate a close reading.  It might indicate comprehension, it might indicate completion, but it doesn’t provide clear evidence that the student knows the intricacies of the passage. Read more

Documentaries: Resources


Finding documentary resources can feel an insurmountable task. To find appropriate and engaging content can take hours.  It can also be difficult to determine how you will assess students’ interaction with these films.  Simple viewing questions can only go so far.

Today’s post will offer some resources for both of these areas in the hopes that you will be able to gain a foothold on how to implement short documentaries into your classroom.


Reading in the Reel World-John Golden

A must-have text if you want to implement better viewing and critical thinking strategies.  Golden argues that documentaries are non-fiction texts.  As such, students should SOAPSTone them as well as create their own essential questions while watching.   He also explains and models using levels of questioning to use in tandem with documentary viewing. A sample chapter is available via NCTE.


This website is a treasure trove of all types of documentaries.  The best part is that they have an entire educator’s resource center.  You will want to look specifically at the short films.  To get to them, search “short documentaries.”  Some of my favorites include:


Utopia Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall

A good piece to teach consumerism and personal folly.  Use this 13-minute documentary to teach argument and purpose.   Most definitely have them SOAPSTone the piece and create their own essential questions.  Consider having them tweet those questions while watching.

Watch Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall on PBS. See more from POV.


Trash Out

This is a good documentary to use when discussing the death of the American dream.  Consider having students use at the end of The Great Gatsby as Nick is watching Gatsby’s house stand empty or as a stand alone to teach argument in regards to how we see accomplishment and loss.

Watch Trash-Out on PBS. See more from POV.


An offshoot of SnagFilms, it’s a great resource for documentaries from National Geographic, PBS, and a whole host of other resources.  There are some simple lesson plans posted but for the most part you’ll want to create your own following Golden’s ideas of how students should interact with documentaries in writing.

The New York Times Learning Network has also partnered with them and has created some useful documentary “film festivals” that are worth a look.  The9/11 documentary lessons are especially helpful if you’re teaching Bush’s speech at Ground Zero or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

You’ll want to examine their documentary shorts specifically.  Titled Media that Matters, they have a range of films short documentaries between 5-10 minutes in length.  Some of my favorites include:

Alienated: Undocumented Immigrant Youth

A great short film that profiles one young woman specifically who works as a nanny/housekeeper.  It’s perfect to partner with The Jungle and the later chapters of Fast Food Nation.

Young Agrarians

A short film about young people/students involved in organic farming.  It would be a perfect pairing for anything by Michael Pollan or as a supplement to Fast Food Nation.  You might also use it to teach AP Language students the synthesis essay about locavores.

Night Visions

This documentary short focuses on one soldier’s experiences after his tour.  The short would serve as a good companion to The Things They CarriedAll Quiet on the Western Front and Catch 22.

Good Magazine: Infographics

The argument for using infographics is simple.  They’re cool.  Data and statistics never looked so good.  That’s what they said, anyway, and by “they” I mean people between the ages of 14-18. The glorious part of the infograph is that it can serve as a multi-layered argument as well as supplemental text.

Infographics are a bright idea for building student knowledge.


One of the best resources for introducing infographics in class comes from The Learning Network at The New York Times.  Their blog post from August of 2010 is a valuable resource when introducing infographics to students.  We’ve also discussed implementing infographics when partnering Transcendentalism with Occupy Wall Street.  They are powerful classroom resources that engage students and teach them critical thinking.

One of the best features about Good Magazine is their incredible collection of infographics, both static and animated.  Teach novels about war like The Things They Carried?  Create a modern tie-in by using an infographic about Women & Combat Readiness.  Teach the American dream via The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye?  Use an infographic entitled “The United States of Unhappy Campers.”  Infographics easily partner with core texts and can also supplement student knowledge for those pesky writing prompts that require outside information.

Below are some of the most useful infographics from Good Magazine along with some ideas for how to implement them.

Infographics to teach explicit/implicit argument

Life on Less than $2 a day

Good infographic to implement when teaching current events or A Long Way Gone.  You can also use it when teaching a prompt about the moral or ethical debate about charity, such as questions three on the 2005 AP Language and Composition exam.

Have students view and annotate the infographic.  You may use the following questions as a starting place for their annotations and/or your class discussion.

  • What is the implicit argument about poverty and tourism?
  • Identify two trends you see in the infographic based on the data.
  • Explain what data you would be interested to see linked to the infographic’s discussion of poverty and explain your reasoning. Think education, jobs, skills, disease, etc. 

Educating The Future

Good infographic to use when asking students to argue about the responsibility of education. You might consider pairing this with novels like The Catcher in the Rye.

Have students view and annotate the infographic.  You may use the following questions as a starting place for their annotations and/or your class discussion.

  • Identify two implicit arguments about education over the last forty years.
  • Construct an argument about the two highest and lowest wage earning fields based on the data.
  • Explain what data you would be interested to see linked to the information provided.  Think personal satisfaction, money earning potential, hours per week worked, etc.

Animated Infograpics

Using animated infographics will require students to watch and pause the material several times.  You may decide to do this together as a class or have them do it individually on their smartphones, itouches, etc. with headphones.

Many of the SAT/AP prompts ask students to consider the moral “responsibilities” of the individual.  An infographic of this nature can help “grow” their knowledge base.

“The Volunteers”

The Volunteers from GOOD.is on Vimeo.

Have students view and annotate the infographic.  You may use the following questions as a starting place for their annotations and/or your class discussion.

  • Identify one argument each about the following categories: age, type of volunteering, number of individuals involved.
  • What data would like you to see included?  Explain how this information would enhance understanding.    Think specific types of volunteering examples, number of hours worked, etc.

Week in Review: War Literature

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss student empathy and the role of war literature 

1.  What do you find the most challenging about teaching war texts? 

Emily:  I never really know how to remove my own opinions to the point that it doesn’t influence their own interpretation.  Every supplement we give students represents an undercurrent or an idea.  It influences their interpretation.  I find it so difficult to present every perspective or view of the particular war in a manner that truly allows them to form their own opinion not as a product of my own.  Even though I don’t think I have very definitive and domineering views of war it is such a challenge to not embed my views.

Aubrey: I agree.  Although it’s interesting.  Often I find that students are incredibly sensitive to these types of discussions and we all ultimately feel the same empathy regardless of viewpoint.  I think this happens rarely when I teach other texts.


2.  What types of supplemental texts have been helpful?

Emily:  I think images are the best.  Even though images, like text, can convey a clear argument, I think it is easier to find a variety of images that can be interpreted from a variety of lenses to alleviate some of the inherent biases present in our lessons.

Aubrey: Images do make a difference.  I have had some of the best classroom discussions by using Matthew Brady images from the library of congress.  The students are always struck by how young the soldiers look and how Brady chooses to “photograph.”

3.  What are some of the most rewarding aspects of teaching a war text?

Emily:  Depending on the year, I think it speaks to something they can all understand.  They most likely know someone who served, or could have served, or they can relate to their own fears of having to serve.  When Obama was first elected and was speaking frequently about mandatory service (whether it is through battle or volunteering for organizations like the Peace Corp), I think a lot of students were able to respond readily to The Things They Carried.  My fear about this is that it moves away from an analytical study about a text and moves too much into feelings and reactions/reader response, but I do think there is still a place for those.

Aubrey: It’s always interesting the first person “narratives” they bring to texts like Catch 22 or The Things They Carried. Students who rarely speak feel moved by these texts because they are so personal.  While they can be difficult to teachbecause of content, some of my best teaching experiences are a result of these texts.

War Literature: Final Projects

Constructing assignments that don’t diminish the importance of war-focused texts is key in engaging students and creating meaningful learning.   Today’s posts will include two different types of activities to use as you cap off the end of a unit about war in the English classroom.

Every Day Carry
A classroom activity, posted about earlier in the fall, could include using the photoblog  Every Day Carry as a discussion about how we determine necessity in The Things They Carried.

Single Sentence Animation
Electric Literature has a series of what they call “single sentence” animations on their website.  The catch?  They are constructed to represent one sentence in a text.  The following exercise is meant to play off of the same idea but exemplify the big picture argument of war.  Consider using this final assignment with All Quiet on the Western Front, The Things They Carried, Catch 22, or Slaughterhouse Five.

Have students view one or two examples to give themselves an idea of what can be done.  Some favorites:

“Three” by Marc Basch animation by Jason Mitcham



“Hibachi”  by J. Robert Lennon animation by Benk

Ask that students follow these directions:

  1. Choose the best sentence from the text.   It must be something that is both moving and exemplifies a big picture argument about the effect of war.
  2. Using iMovie or Moviemaker, create your own animation highlight the meaning of the sentence itself.
  3. You must include appropriate instrumental music.
  4. Consider using Stop Motion or Automatoon as a way to create your own animations.
  5. Your job is to convey the meaning of the sentence.  Consider the emotional impact as well as the rhetoric/language.
  6. Your video can not be longer than one minute in length.
  7. Innovation and creativity will be rewarded.  Violence for the sake of violence will not.

War Literature: Argument Analysis & Rhetorical Analysis


As with any unit of study, war units lend themselves to multiple skill building exercises that help stretch student understanding of more than just the story. Today’s texts not only help to supplement war literature, they also teach two different types of skills: argument analysis and rhetorical analysis.

Argument Analysis

Room for Debate
I can’t get enough of this NYT opinion page.  I profiled them several weekends ago as a necessary resource for any classroom teacher.  While they have many war related topics the two below are the best for supplementing The Things They Carried.  Have students read, SOAPSTone Questions & Chart.  Consider having them write their own persuasive and “expert” responses in the same short format using the original pieces as research/evidence.


Rhetorical Analysis via Speeches

Perfect for using with The Red Badge of Courage, consider having student use our Gettysburg Address Rhetorical Exercises for a close reading on style and annotation.

Have students read Bush’s speech and annotate for rhetoric and style.  They should be paying attention to war references throughout.  The Weekly Standard’s response to the speech professionally parses Bush’s rhetoric.  Have them read the response afterwards.  Then, have them create their own rhetorical exercise.  They should use previous rhetorical exercise like the one linked above for “The Gettysburg Address“ as an example.

War Literature: Images and Videos


Some of the most invaluable technology resources available to teachers today come in the form of online image and video collections.  Teach students that these “texts” are simply one way in which we read war “stories.”

The Cagle Post
We’ve discussed in the past how invaluable a resource this website is.   From memorials to commentary there are a selection of cartons you may consider using.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is a fantastic resource and expansive.  Their Matthew Brady Civil War Photography is a good bet if you’re teaching The Red Badge of Courage.  Have students use our image analysis assignment.  The Gettysburg & Antietam Collections are especially moving.  Below are the links to those pages.  Each page holds at least twenty images.  Some of the most moving are titled:  Gettysburg-Dead Confederate Soldier in Devil’s Den and Antietam-Confederate Dead by a Fence near Hagerstown.  Click on the images when you arrive at the page to make them larger.

TED Talks
TED Talks are a wonderful supplement for any unit of study.   Below are some useful TED Talks about war, technology, and the individual as well as some areas of focus.  Have students treat each video as if it were a text.  Have them SOAPSTone the videos as well as respond to the questions.

PW Singer on Military Robots and the Future of War
Singer discusses the changing role of technology/robotics within the realm of war.  This pairs perfectly with All Quiet on the Western Front in respect to the technological advancements of WWI.  Have students consider the questions below as they view the video.


Deborah Scranton The War Tapes
Scranton, a war documentarian, put hand held video cameras in the hands of soldiers in Iraq.  This is a perfect supplement for The Things They Carried.  You will want to pay attention to language and content.  Some elements are graphic.  Check the transcript (available in the right hand column on the webpage) to determine how much you will show.

  1. Scranton argues that, “a lot of us are very uncomfortable with having conversations about war because we’re worried that we disagree. “  What is she implying about the effect of war on the American public?
  2. Why would Scranton use handheld footage from active military?
  3. Identify two of Scranton’s implicit arguments about war.

Emanuel Jal; The Music of a War Child
If you teach Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, you can’t find a better TED Talk to use.  Trained as a child soldier, Jal now uses music as a means towards peace for himself and the world.  Have students consider the questions below as they view the video.

  1. Why is music both an apt and odd choice?
  2. Emmanuel Jal argues that he performs music because of the “voices” of the dead. What does he implicit argue about his music and performance?
  3. What is necessary to overcome the effects of being a “War Child?”

War Literature: Overview


It’s hard to teach the literature of war, but it’s not due to a scarcity of resources.  There are so many.  So, very, very many.  Ultimately that’s part of the problem.  Teaching about war means making choices, and often I worry that those choices diminish the purpose of these texts.  It can be difficult to engage students in war texts without turning them into caricatures or a series of “cute” activities.

And while teaching The Things They Carried is never difficult in terms of getting students to read, I worry that they don’t always fully engage in the more difficult aspects of truth, memory, and storytelling.

The act of discussing war can be difficult, too.  Do we teach background and time period?  Writing style? Character development?  The vocabulary of war?  How do we handle the violence of war juxtaposed with your audience of teens?

One of the ways to assuage these doubts is to offer students a range of “texts” that engage their interest in both the story and reality of war.  Images, political cartoons, videos, and editorials are a great place to start.  This week whether you teach Catch 22, The Red Badge of Courage, or All Quiet on the Western Front we’ll offer you resources that allow you to enrich the classroom teaching you already do.

Week in Review: Radiolab

      Friday Dialogue from Your Two                                                        Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to assess their innermost feelings about Radiolab, podcasts and Heathers. 

1.  Do you think that Aubrey has an NPR problem?

Emily: Yes, but it is a healthy problem to have.  It’s a lot better than being addicted to TMZ and Arby’s.  NPR is great, don’t get me wrong.  I do enjoy some programs (This American Life?  Hello..fantastic.  Wait, Wait…I wait all week for it).  But, let’s be honest, NPR is kind of like Heathers, minus the murder and Christian Slater.  It has a cult folllowing.  No one just likes NPR.  If they like it, they LOVE it.

Aubrey: First,  Christian Slater is all over NPR.  Second, so is murder.  Third, with a weekly audience to NPR stations at 34 million I’m not sure “cult” is the right word.  You mean a large group of enthusiastic and incredibly loyal followers.  Yes, I’m sure that’s what you mean. Read more