Read and Annotate
In this lesson, students will begin reading, writing about, and discussing the short story “The Things They Carried.”
- Read the lesson and student content.
- Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
- “The Things They Carried” depicts a realisitic portrayal of the circumstances, incidents, and language of the Vietnam War. Read the story before beginning the lesson, decide how you will approach the material, and determine if there are any segments you will exclude.
The Things They Carried Intro
- You could begin the class by asking students to share their thoughts about the title of the story. Ask them to consider what the title suggests, knowing that the story takes place during the Vietnam War.
- Give students a few minutes to work together.
The story you will start today—“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien—is set in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
- Share with your partner what you imagine American soldiers in Vietnam carried.
Reading and Reflection
- Direct students to make notes, define terms, and answer the questions in the text itself for easier reference later.
- The beginning of the story “The Things They Carried” not only introduces students to the characters, but also gives students a kind of list of what the soldiers carried. However, students also get glimpses into the horror of war (Ted Lavender getting shot in the head) and glimpses of what the men left behind at home (Jimmy Cross's crush on Martha).
- If you have the technology available, display the questions.
- As students discuss their answers, circulate and listen in. You may want to work with a small group of students whom you identify as needing help.
- SWD: Consider modeling different ways to annotate the text (e.g., highlighting, underlining, making margin notes, or color coding different types of information) to allow students multiple ways to demonstrate their understanding and find answers to questions.
- ELL: Consider explaining and showing pictures of the things they carried that are listed in the text. Allow these students to use dictionaries if needed to further explain the meaning of those items.
Read and annotate the first eleven paragraphs of “The Things They Carried,” up to and including the paragraph that begins, “As PFCs or Spec 4s, most of them were common grunts…”
Pay attention to how Tim O’Brien explains the story, and look up any unfamiliar terms.
Answer the following questions.
- What kinds of things are the soldiers carrying in the first few paragraphs of the story?
- How does O’Brien distinguish among the several characters he names?
- Which terms did you look up?
- Did the information you found help you with your comprehension? How so?
Discuss your answers with a partner. Add to your annotations to aid your comprehension of the text so far.
Author and Narrator
- Remind students that in fiction, the author is not the narrator.
- If time allows a deeper discussion, you can add that Tim O'Brien uses his own name to identify the narrator later in the book, though he characterizes the writing as fiction. Though he speaks from his own personal experience, he distances himself from the narrator and does not claim each story is factually true.
- Depending on your class, you might wish to explain key distinctions between fiction and nonfiction as well as types of narrator–first person, third person, and omniscient.
- SWD: Some students may benefit from examples in addition to explanations of the author/narrator distinctions. You can refer back to “The Tell-Tale Heart” and point out that while Edgar Allen Poe wrote the short story, we can be fairly certain that he was not the narrator.
Complete a Quick Write in response to the following question.
- In fiction, what is the difference between the narrator of the story and the author?
Discuss your answer with the class.
Paragraph Two Reflection
- Make sure students annotate and answer questions in the text itself for reference later.
- A fully annotated version of this paragraph is available (“The Things They Carried” Paragraph Annotated).
- Encourage students to focus on both the items the soldiers carry and the descriptions of weight.
- Clear up any misconceptions students may have.
- Encourage students to not only ask their own questions and attempt to answer those of their classmates, but also craft new questions from ideas that arise during discussion.
- As always, remind students to use direct evidence from the text to reinforce their ideas.
- Facilitate the sharing. If students are stuck on organizational patterns, probe with some of the following ideas:
- ✓ The narrator begins the paragraph listing what is necessary.
- ✓ The narrator begins to mention the items by name, identifying them briefly and describing their individual necessities.
- ✓ He goes back to the uniform (helmet, boots, and the like).
- ✓ He intersperses information about weight.
- ✓ He comments on other protective gear (flak jacket, bandages, poncho).
- ✓ He comes back to Ted Lavender three separate times, emphasizing his death.
- If needed, use the following probing questions:
- ✓ What kinds of things do soldiers carry in common?
- ✓ What kinds of things are specific to the individual?
Reread and annotate the paragraph that begins, “The things they carried were largely determined by necessity” (paragraph two). Then answer the following questions.
- What is the narrator saying in the second paragraph about the things men carried of necessity?
- Why do you suppose the narrator mentions the weight of some of the objects?
- What patterns of organization do you notice in the second paragraph?
- What is the effect of the story’s patterns?
When you’re finished, share your answers with the rest of the class. Write down any new ideas you hear from others.
- First, give students time to write.
- You might want to chart, or make public in some way, the students' ideas as the discussion progresses.
- ELL: Encourage all students to participate in the discussion and monitor that students are actively engaged. When students contribute, focus on content, and don't allow grammar difficulties to distract you from understanding what they are trying to say (as much as possible). Help students who make grammar mistakes by rephrasing, but only do it when your rephrasing will not become an interruption or interfere with their thinking.
- If students are stuck about why the narrator approaches Ted Lavender the way he does, ask them about the effect of reading those three references to that one character.
- ✓ What do they learn about him in each mention?
- ✓ What do they think of him?
- ✓ Does O'Brien care about him? How do you know?
During the Quick Write, you could display the paragraph for the students, and point out the three sentences that are about Ted Lavender. You could also have students locate and highlight the sentences that are about Ted Lavender on their own.
Ted Lavender is mentioned three times in the section you just read, more than any other character.
Answer these questions in a Quick Write.
- What does the narrator tell us about Ted Lavender?
- Why do you think the narrator approaches Ted Lavender the way he does in this paragraph?
When you’ve finished, talk through your thoughts with the rest of the class.
Presentation of Details
- If enough time remains in class, you could begin reading this section with the class orally or call on an able reader to do so.
- Remind students to make notes and annotations in the text itself.
Read and take notes on the story, beginning with paragraph twelve and through the paragraph that begins, “They carried USO stationary and pencils and pens.”
Answer the following questions.
- What is happening in each chunk of text?
- What is the effect of the narrator presenting the details of Lavender’s death to the reader the way he does?
- Record any new vocabulary or terms you do not know.