Truth and Storytelling: The Things They Carried

In an attempt to follow Diana Laufenberg’s lead, I’m going to share my first full unit plan here.

At SLA we all plan using Understanding By Design, and in English that means thematic units. So when I first planned around “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, the obvious ideas that came up were around truth and storytelling.

Here are the essential questions for the unit:

•    How are we the stories we tell? What makes a story universal?
•    What is the difference between “truth” and “fiction”?
•    How can war change a person?

The unit also seeks to answer one of the three grade-wide essential questions, around the theme of change:

•    What is the relationship between the self and the changing world?

The book is a great one to start the year–it’s easy to read, but hard to understand, which makes for easy buy-in and killer class discussions. On day one, look at a photo of Tim O’Brien:

We then read the book’s dedication:

This book is lovingly dedicated to the men of Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa.

and front matter quote:

This book is essentially different from any other that has been published concerning the “late war” or any of its incidents. Those who have had any such experience as the author will see its truthfulness at once, and to all other readers it is commended as a statement of actual things by one who experienced them to the fullest.

– John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary

Who are the two groups who will read this book, and what is the difference in how they understand it? That’s the set up that we return to several times throughout the unit. Sometimes with delightful student frustration.

Check out the unit plan here. I will also feature some activities with descriptions on the blog this week.


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