10th Grade English : Unit #12 - Literacy: Naturalism and Understanding Conflict in the American Short Story : Lesson #4

The Small Group of an Hour: Collaborative Character Analysis of "The Story of an Hour"

Objective: SWBAT explore the ways in which the complex character of Mrs. Louise Mallard develops, rises, and falls, over a relatively short story, through a collaborative discussion on characterization.
Standards: RL.9-10.1 RL.9-10.3 SL.9-10.1 SL.9-10.1c SL.9-10.1d
Subject(s): English / Language Arts
60 minutes
1 Welcome & Introduction: It's "Inconvenience Yourself Day!" - 3 minutes

I welcome students to class today, and address that it is "Inconvenience Yourself Day," asking students to take the time to be good citizens, to go out of the way to help someone in need, do a random act of kindness.

As always, the Daily Holidays--even those that challenge the students to do something--serve to draw students in, building student ownership and a sense of community in the class.

2 Small-Group Study Guide: Collaborative Comprehension - 35 minutes

Students are given "The Story of an Hour" Response Guide, and asked to complete it in class.

The assignment focus is twofold. The front of the response guide focuses on characterization, as students recall and explore Mrs. Mallard's development, from apparent grieving widow, to "goddess of victory," to her untimely, if thematically appropriate, fate. Students explore how Mrs. Mallard reacts to the news of her husband's death and her brief interactions with the other characters (RL 9-10.3). (Example conversation of students sharing thoughts on Mrs. Mallard's behavior: Part 1Part 2).

The back of the guide looks at the language Kate Chopin uses to express the irony of the situation and Mrs. Mallard's development, and how this figurative language impacts the readers' sympathy for her, in her grief, joy, and death (RL 9-10.4). (Example and explanation of student work and responses, addressing diction: "Small Group Wording")

Guide are copied on different color paper, with of each color, depending on class size. Once I introduce the assignment, I ask students to hold up each color ("All the light green papers, okay, now all the royal blue papers," etc.); these students will be their study group for the day. With that group, randomly determined in order to ensure students are exposed to a variety of perspectives and ensure students are not always working with the same peers.

In their small groups, students are asked to divide into thee roles:

1. A timekeeper, whose job it is to keep track of the thirty minutes they will have to work, and directly ask me if there are any questions,

2. A fact-checker, whose job it is to look up the information in "The Story of an Hour" if they do not know the answer off of the top of their heads, and 

3. A recorder, whose job it is to write the groups answers on one of the response guides. I ask that this is the student with the neatest, most legible handwriting. I also note that each member of the group is expected to have a completed study guide for their own notes, although I will only collect one from the group. 

Students in each group are expected to have come to class prepared, and participate in the conversation (SL 9-10.1a); and to propel their group discussions forward by connecting the character analysis to the historical context of the story and Kate Chopin's own life, as well as the look at irony we have completed (SL 9-10.1c).

Groups are asked to get together, and while they may sit how they choose, I ask that they remain "on the same level"--if they're on the floor, they're all on the floor, if they're in desks, they're all in desks, in order to ensure equality. Collecting one guide from the group speeds up the grading process. By assigning roles within the groups, students remain a bit more focused, as they have a particular task to accomplish; it also prevents one student from doing all of the work. 

As students discuss, I circulate the groups participating in some of the discussions, offering clarification or my own thoughts as needed. 

Mixing It Up: Thoughts on Student Grouping
Student Grouping

As students have peers with whom they will typically work, there are a wide variety of abilities in any class, and there are always existing conflicts between teens as well, I try to create collaborative groups in a variety of ways. When we looked at Realism in the unit "Literacy: The Reality of It All--Realism in the American Story," I grouped students by having them draw a playing card while they walked into the room. Since we've been looking at color figurative language with "The Open Boat" and "The Story of an Hour," I handed students different color paper as they walked in. I've found this works well, I can keep certain colors separate, so if a student in a known conflict ends up with purple, I can make sure his opposition does not also end up with purple. It also means I can keep the two students who will spend the period chatting apart. This usually works best if I've stacked the deck or paper ahead of time, keeping same colors separate, as students tend to walk into the room with their closer friends. I can also be sure that a student who needs a guiding hand ends up in the same group as someone who will work with them. As I hand them the paper walking into the classroom, students don't typically notice if I draw from the bottom or middle of a stack. 

3 Marriage Misunderstanding: A Look at Brentley Mallard - 10 minutes

Through the years of reading "The Story of an Hour," I have found that many students "cheer on" Mrs. Mallard for escaping a loveless marriage; find her "escape" at the end empowering; and judge Brently Mallard harshly, even accusing him of abuse. 

This is not the case. 

In order to head off this frequent misconception, I ask the students, "Is Brently Mallard 'abusive'?" I solicit a few answers, and ask each student to explain why they feel that way. If no student addresses it directly, I draw their attention to the line, "She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save but love upon her, fixed and gray and dead." I ask for a volunteer to explain what this sentence means, and we break it down together: Brently was "kind, tender" and he never looked at her with any other emotion but love. I have found that students are unfamiliar with the construction "save but," so we determine the meaning and discuss how this line impacts the message of the story (RL 9-10.4); that expecting your partner to change for you, or that you have the right or ability to control them is wrong. Students were exposed to the changing roles of women in the background reading on women's suffrage they have done, but often do not make the connection until it is illustrated for them. 

I ask students to share their thoughts and reactions to Kate Chopin's message in the story, giving students a chance to respond to her perspective, as well as each others',making new connections to their own reaction to the story (SL 9-10.1d).

Blowing Students' Minds: When What They Are Sure Of Isn't True
Backwards Planning

Addressing the line, "She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead," has been added to my lesson plans from years of seeing students miss this very revealing, but subtle, bit of characterization of Brently Mallard. This adds to the complexity of the story, Mrs. Mallard is not escaping an abusive husband, but rather the control of another. As my students are typically in health class at the same time we read the story, they have studied abusive and dangerous relationships, and often make the connection between they case studies read in that class and "The Story of an Hour." By addressing this, we had a rich conversation about what Chopin exactly intended with the story, and how much sympathy they had for Louise Mallard. I stress that the message about not controlling holds true, and makes the feelings Louise had even more significant, as she did not know how to escape. 

4 Two-Minute Warning: Wrap-Up & Reminders - 2 minutes

To wrap up class today, I remind students that they need to begin studying for the "big unit" test coming up next week. They will be provided with a study guide/outline later this week, but the reading check/response guides they have done should be where they start as they study Realism, Regionalism, and Naturalism.