9th Grade ELA : Unit #12 - Fiction Novel: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian : Lesson #4

Analyzing the Author's Use of Symbolism in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

Objective: SWBAT identify and analyze patterns of symbolism by completing a chart of examples of symbols in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.
Standards: RL.9-10.1 RI.9-10.2
Subject(s): English / Language Arts
60 minutes
1 Activator - 10 minutes

I want my students to begin to think about what a symbol is and how it communicates a message. I begin this lesson with an activator that is meaningful to their daily lives by asking them to brainstorm a list of logos for sports teams, clothing/products in advertising or other popular movements.  To check for understanding, after about five minutes I ask students to share their answers while I make a master list on the board.


Checks for Understanding

Students identified many common and not so common symbols they come across everyday in their classes but many of my students do not realize that the ability to identify symbols is important beyond the confines of their classes in school. I explained to them that the knowledge to identify symbols in literature improves speech and writing and aids not only in interpretation of what they are now reading, Part-time Indian, but with interpretation of the world at large.

I explained how this is also an important aspect of developing and understanding theme, big mesage. This activator opened their minds to learning how to understand when the author, Sherman Alexie, is using a symbol, and how that symbol exemplifies the theme of the novel.  

2 Building Background Knowledge - 20 minutes

I use the Symbolism Power Point as an introduction and lead-in to filling out the Symbolism chart they will use during the student activity.  Modeling how a symbol such as the death of "Oscar" can exemplify a theme of the novel addresses the standard RI.9-10.2  which requires students to determine the central ideas of the text and analyze their development.

I first ask each student to take out their Theme Chart while encouraging them to choose the theme that they think Oscar exemplifies. I then model in slides #7 and 8 how the symbol of Oscar's death exemplifies the theme of Poverty. We then discuss the event on pages 10-13 and how the shooting of Oscar has deeper meaning for Junior and his life on the reservation.

3 Student Learning Activity - 35 minutes

Next I ask my students to complete the Symbolism Chart stating what the following symbolize: Oscar, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Geometry book, Basketball, and Turtle Lake. While they work on this task I  circulate among students checking for understanding and keeping them focused on the task.

I ask them to find the chapter in which the symbol is used and read the event addressing the standard RL.9-10.1. They need to analyze the event and paraphrase the evidence which supports their answers.  This lesson can occur anytime within the reading of the novel.  I choose to address symbolism after they've understood the main events and how the characters advance the theme.

Finding a Symbol
Diverse Entry Points
4 Wrap Up - 10 minutes


To help students summarize what they've learned about the author's use of symbolism,  I compile a few student's answers by writing a master chart filling in a blank symbolism chart with the meanings students share. I  facilitate a class discussion on symbol's meanings and how they connect to the chosen themes.