All posts by Liv Thompson

Lesson: Annotation



by Mortimer J. Adler (1902-2001)

It is ironic that Mortimer Adler, the father of the Great Books Program and promoter of Aristotle and the classics, was a high school dropout. He did attend Columbia University, but he did not receive his BA because he refused to take a required swimming test. Adler did, however, eventually receive a PhD, become an editor for the Encyclopedia Britannica, and write dozens of books on philosophy and education, including How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education (1940), and The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World (1952).


Seasons of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North. Trans. Laila Lalami. New York: New York Review, 2009. Print.

The themes that surround the conflict in Season of Migration to the North are loss of identity, loss of home, and loss of reality. I believe the main conflict is that the protagonist is unaware of the connection between his between two worlds. Physically, in the sense he leaves his village, enters western civilization, and then comes back. He in between the old traditions he was raised with and contemporary life in the west. His mental state of mind is also in the middle of two psyches, two personalities. Hence, he is searching for an identity he can call his own. Furthermore, because he is stuck in the middle of these two mental and physical worlds he is unable to live in the moment. He is stuck inside his own mind and perception, which prevents him from moving forward and embracing others with compassion. He is obsessed with learning about the village killer Mufasa. The protagonist is infatuated by Mufasa’s intelligence and legacy. The closer the narrator, and or protagonist, gets inside of a psychotic mind, the more it is believed Mufasa is actually the narrator’s alter ego.  He does love Mufasa’s wife, Husna, but he does not pursue her. The reader is left with an ambiguous ending and wonders if the protagonist was Mufasa the entire time.

A blog from The Guardian, “Reading literary fiction improves empathy, study finds”  parallels to the reading of Seasons of Migration to the North on two levels. One, the narrator’s alter ego, or other self is a narcissistic murderer. The conversation of gaining empathy and psychological illness is relevant to his lack of empathy and unstable psychological characteristics. Two, a modern conversation about the positive influence literary fiction has on humanity, and in this blog a young man speaks about his experience reading literary fiction.

The young man, Kidd states,

“Transferring the experience of reading fiction into real-world situations was a natural leap, Kidd argued, because “the same psychological processes are used to navigate fiction and real relationships. Fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience.”

I think teaching Seasons of Migrations to the North to a classroom full of adolescent readers may be challenging. But, a way to avoid a student’s resistance or interest in this novella is to pair it with something the student can relate to. With that said, the current topic “Reading literary fiction improves empathy, study finds” and the young man, Kidd’s perspective on literary fiction may open their minds.

Similar to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I would expect the students to use selective highlighting while they read. Especially, because Seasons of Migration to the North is not structured in linear time. Each chapter jumps in time drastically with the narrator’s psyche. I would specifically ask the students to highlight moments where the protagonist’s mood or perspective has changed.

Sullivan’s Travels

Sullivan’s Travels. Dir. Preston Sturges. Paramount Pictures, 1941. DVD.

The film, Sullivan’s Travels is an American parody born in 1942. It is also a satire for humorizing self-centered Hollywood. The beginning scene opens with a frame-film, a film within a film. The protagonist, Sullivan is a film director and he one day decides he wants to make a movie with meaning.  He is inspired by “O, Brother Where Art Thou,” a socially-conscious novel. Sullivan deeply desires to understand the emotions of sorrow and the suffering of humanity. His executives believe he is not capable of directing such a film because of his wealthy upbringing. Sullivan challenges their opinion and takes off on a quest to understand poverty. He tries to survive on the streets without any money and while doing so he meets a homeless young woman. Sullivan and the homeless woman begin to hitchhike for a ride home and he realizes she is a failed Hollywood actress. Immediately, he feels sympathy for her and offers her a ride home. But, before they get to Sullivan’s car they are both arrested. Finally after he succeeds living as a homeless man, he experiences a moment of epiphany: the laughter provoked by comedy can lift the spirits of people living in poverty. Comedy does not turn out to be so dreary as he thought. Sullivan’s ending is filled with smiles and laughter.

Sullivan’s Travels can be classified as picaresque because Sullivan is a hero with a tidy ending. He experiences a sequences of obstacles in his quest, while all he desires is to understand the suffering of poverty. His quest as a poor man is not easy, but his new perspective on comedy and tragedy rewards him.

For students to analyze Sullivan’s Travels as a picaresque film, they must understand the language of film. There are three main types of films: narrative, documentary, and experimental.  Film can also be analyzed for it’s aesthetic elements, such as the perspective of shots. For example there is the medium shot, close-up, and long shot. It is also important to take note of how the film is edited. Scenes can be weaved together by a cut, dissolve, fade out, fade in, irises, masking, or split screen. Each of these editing techniques are used for transition. Students should analyze Sullivan’s Travels based on the language of film and prove that either Sullivan is a hero or that Sullivan’s quest is picaresque. The students should use concrete evidence from Sullivan’s Travels based on the language of film.





“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown. Rockville, MD: Wildside, 2005. Print.

In the opening scene, Goodman Brown says goodbye to his wife Faith before he leaves for his journey into the forest. After he leaves faith, he is overwhelmed, yet intrigued, by the wood’s darkness. He starts to believe that everyone he knows is evil, except Faith. The darkness that takes place in the wilderness is compelled with evil and Goodman Brown, finds himself surrounded by it. The question is what drives Goodman through the wilderness? Goodman Brown starts off his journey realizing his intentions because the narrator tells the reader, “With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose”(Hawthorne 420). The women in this story are seen as outsiders because they represent everything Goodman brown and the church are against. Furthermore, the women characters are portrayed as witches.  The women with power in this story use it for evil, instead of good. The male role in “Young Goodman Brown” is dominating and reliant on the women characters. In Beauvoir’s book, “The Second Sex,” she defines otherness, “… because the male perceiving consciousness must view itself as good, the other must become its opposite; the other must represent evil.” The main female influence in “Young Goodman Brown,” Faith, embodies evil through her witchcraft and associations with the Devil.

There are many critical lenses that can be used to read “Young Goodman Brown.” There is a moral, or religious, and a feminist perspective evident throughout the short story. For the purpose of teaching this short story along with “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” I will describe a mini lesson with the theme a spiritual journey & an awakening. Throughout “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne illustrates evil, often. There is a fine line between what is morally right and wrong in this narrative and “Young Goodman Brown,” is exposed to all of the darkness the wilderness has to offer. His spiritual awakening occurs as he realizes evil does exist. Then, he begins to question if what is god-like is the same as being morally right.

I would give out a Reading Guide for the improvement of the student’s reading comprehension.

1. Why is the title, “Young Goodman Brown,” significant?

2. How did the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, perceive Salem, Massachusetts in 1804 according to the story?

3. How is the main character, Goodman Brown, portrayed as he enters the woods?

4. Why do you think Goodman Brown is paranoid that the wilderness is filled with evil?

5. Give three examples of specific descriptions that include the word “evil.”

6. Give three examples of specific descriptions that include the word “pure.”

7. Where has Goodman Brown landed at the end of his journey? What has changed since his departure?


“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories. Orlando: Harcourt, 1977. 1-23. Print.

The grandmother, in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” desires to take a vacation to Tennessee and protests the family’s current vacation plans in Florida. Tennessee seems like an interesting place to visit with her family, because she found an article that announced the Misfit, a runaway convict, was last seen in Tennessee. On the road to Florida, the
e2048602480452f900280a4fbcee8595grandmother uses her “wise instincts” and comments on all the men that are not good. She is a hypocrite for judging others before she analyzes herself. Her pessimistic outlook towards the moral good in humanity shows as the family stops at a restaurant. At the restaurant, the owner starts complaining about people and the grandmother realizes she and the owner see life in the same way. Of course, the grandmother tells the owner he is a good man. Back on the road, the grandmother and her family continue driving until the grandmother realizes they are in Tennessee, not Georgia. She is terrified and startles her cat. The cat, and the grandmother, create chaos in the car and the family swerves off the road. The car is wrecked. The moment the Misfit and his gunmen approach the grandmother and her family, the grandmother immediately recognizes him from the article. She tries to charm him and persuade him that he doesn’t really want to kill a lady. Once the grandmother realizes the Misfit is serious about killing her, she asks him if he ever prays. The Misfit talks about his past without Jesus. As gunshots go off, the Misfit continues and tells the grandmother that Jesus’s resurrection from the dead confuses him. The grandmother’s epiphany is revealed when she says, “You are one of my children,” to the Misfit.

images“A Good Man is Hard to Find” teaching strategy:

Before reading O’Connor, the First Lines reading assignment gives young adult readers the appropriate anticipation for the text. Adolescent readers must identify the mood of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The First Lines assignment will give the students a chance to predict the mood of the entire piece. O’Connor, a Southern Catholic author, is known for her regional writing.

Guidelines for First Lines:

1. Read the first three lines of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

2. Predict the mood and setting of the short story.

3. Prepare and expect to share your predictions with the class.

4. There is NO such thing as a right or wrong prediction, however you MUST support your predictions with information given in the first three sentences.

5. Write down and KEEP your predictions in your reading journals.

The First Lines strategy is beneficial to the students and the teacher. While reading the first lines, students anticipate the narrative before they read it and use prior knowledge to make connections. The teacher is able to observe the students’ responses and determine how much the students’ already know about the text.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Hermann. Siddhartha. Trans. Rosner, Hilda. Toronto: Bantam, 1971. Print.

Hermann Hesse, a German author, was raised by his father, a Pietist Lutheran. Hesse dismissed his father’s radical beliefs in western religion and  decided to study eastern spirituality. As he studied religion in Asia and the Middle East, he wrote Siddhartha and published it in 1922.  The relationship between the protagonist, Siddhartha, and his father resemble Hesse’s personal experience. Siddhartha is compared to his father and expected to be a successful leader in his home village. This spiritual journey takes place in ancient India and Siddhartha moves through the motions of his traditional religion. He is committed to his spiritual journey: a religious quest for enlightenment.  A major internal conflict arises between his desire for reason and his desire for spiritual enlightenment. His goal is to land in a place of religious peace. He is an outcast among the other spiritual seekers, because he does not hesitate to question religious explanations.  Siddartha is not prideful, but he is a logical man. His passionate drive to religious clarity, is challenged as he consistently disagrees with his spiritual mentors, including Buddha. Further down the road of Siddhartha’s spiritual journey, he learns patients. His spiritual lessons near the river guide him to an awakening. At the end of his quest, he achieves enlightenment and evolves into a spiritual leader and teacher.

Hesse creates a meditative, and prayerful, tone with heightened language close to Siddhartha’s prayerful, yet logical state of mind.

Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

“Even when not reading it, I can hear the music. The choice and arrangements of the words, the cadence, I can’t pick any one thing that makes it so beautiful and long-lived in my memory. I realize that even written words can carry the music I loved in stories; it is a descriptive statement. It does not carry an illustration. It is a picture in itself and yet more than a picture and a description. It is music. Written words can also sing”(Thiong’o 65).

Thinong’o, Ngugi Wa. Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir. New York: Anchor, 2011. Print.

In this scene, Ngugi is describing “a drawing of a man, an ax on the ground, his face grimacing with pain as he holds his left knee in both hands, drops of blood trickling down”(64). Ngugi is also describing the words in the caption below the drawing is describing what he sees based on his senses: what he hears and sees. “One day, I start hearing music in the words,” he is metaphorically hearing the music and describing the music and the words together. In my own writing, I would like to try and take something concrete, like a descriptive statement, and show its beauty through my senses. For example, what does this cup of coffee smell like, taste like, and sound like in the context of my overall piece?

What is a poetic device and can it be used in prose?
Key terms to define:
1. Metaphor
2. Simile
3. Personification
4. Alliteration

Ngugi also transitions nicely throughout Dreams in a Time of War. At times, my writing can seem “dream-like” because it is fragmented in terms of structure. Ngugi is using his memory and imagination in this memoir but the structure is not fragmented (like memories and imagination can be). For example page 96-97 he transitions from one chapter to the next nicely. Ngugi is told by his father to leave and to stop playing with the other children. His father wanted him and his brother to follow his mother. “We did not have a chance to say farewell to the other children and tell them that we had been banished from their company and from the place that up to then had defined our lives. But before leaving home, I was able to dash into my mother’s hut to retrieve my school material, among which was my beloved torn copy of stories from the Old Testament”(96). The next chapter begins with, “The expulsion was, if not from paradise, from the only place I had known”(97). Here, he is using a concrete object, the Old Testament, to transition with a metaphoric image of “paradise.” He is comparing the idea of his expulsion of home to the expulsion of paradise and because he previously gave a concrete image of the Old Testament the transition reads clearly.

Questions for an In-class Discussion:
Where does Ngugi Thinong’o use poetic devices in his memoir? How does his use of poetic devices serve the image in the text?
How does the author use concrete descriptions and metaphors as a transition between scenes?

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Other Stories. Unabridged ed. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1997. Print.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a feminist author from the early 1900s, struggled with a severe depression which inspired her short-story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The protagonist, and narrator, of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a woman escaping the reality of her exterior life and diving deeper into her internal life and psyche. Her husband, a psychiatrist, tries to reassure her if she stays in her room and rests she will feel better. She is isolated from most human contact and activity. Although she is passionate about writing, she is advised that writing will only make her illness worse. The illness refereed to is never actually diagnosed. In her external reality, she interacts with her husband and housekeeper. She also experiences relationships with the objects surrounding her in her room, i.e. the yellow wallpaper she becomes obsessed with. As the story progresses, her interactions become more absurd. She desires independence as she writes after her husband and house keeper lock her in. Her dreams of traveling fade away as she enters further into her internal world. This is a story about an isolated woman fighting for independence and discovering the role of her identity in both her internal and external realities.

Prior to reading “The Yellow Wallpaper,” it is essential for students to understand the stereotypes towards a woman’s role. As an introduction to the story, I recommend giving the students a virtual anticipation guide, on GoogleForms, as a do-now to engage them in the topics of feminism and female stereotypes. The anticipation guide for these topics should include yes or no/true or false questions that clearly state stereotypes about women. After the students complete the anticipation guide, a class discussion is necessary for them to share their reactions. The following terms must be defined in the lesson; gender, stereotype, and feminism.

While reading the text, selective highlighting benefits reading comprehension for students struggling and comfortable with the text. Selective highlighting improves reading comprehension because students practice close-reading and note significant moments. In regards to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the selective highlighting should be focused on moments of oppression for the protagonist.

There is often an ambiguity between what is actually happening in the narrator’s external reality and the events taking place in her internal. After students read the text, the Question-Answer Relationship assignment will benefit their overall understanding of Gilman’s purpose of ambiguity. I would demonstrate this assignment as an example to the students. First, the students are shown the question. For example, “Explain the reason for the events during the last scene in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and determine how the narrator escapes isolation.” I would chose the last scene, as an example, because Gilman alludes to two different tragic endings. One, the narrator murders her husband or two, the narrator commits suicide. After the questions are presented, I would the read the scene out loud to the students. Then, I would demonstrate how to collect information throughout the story in order to answer the question.

One purpose of this assignment is for students to practice critical thinking. Instead of focusing on the correct answer, students must focus on the process or steps leading them to an answer. If students practice this often, they will be capable of applying these skills towards other texts and their own writing.  Eventually, they will also be able to craft questions for this assignment independently.




The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. New York: Riverhead, 2003. Print.

Khaled Hosseini grew up in Afghanistan and moved to the United States  in 1984. He started writing The Kite Runner in 2001 during the U.S. war in Afghanistan.  Amir, the protagonist, is a young man from a wealthy family growing up in Afghanistan. Amir’s mother passed away while giving birth to Amir. Amir is convinced that his father, Baba, believes he is responsible for his mother’s death. He cannot let go of his mother’s death or the past because he feels guilty. He deeply desires his father’s approval and compassion. As a young boy, Amir grows accustom to getting his way except for his father’s approval. His selfish attitude leads him to betray his servant friend, Hassan, and he makes a decision he will forever regret. While playing a game called kite running, he runs after Hassan and finds Hassan in an alley getting raped. Instead of defending his friend, he runs away, to protect himself, and pretends he didn’t see. Although he was not attacked personally, he lives in pain unable to escape the guilt for not defending Hassan. Eventually, Amir and Baba are forced to leave home and escape the Soviet invasion. After Amir departs his home, he faces more traumatic events. At the end of the novel, he experiences adulthood and has a family of his own. He reveals his loyalty through being an honorable lover and builds a family full of strong relationships.

It is important for students to understand the context of The Kite Runner in comparison to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Based on the political events present place in each novel, students should create a venn diagram. This will benefit their comprehension of each narrative and the protagonists. For example, compare and contrast the political influence on each protagonist’s personal life. Also, compare and contrast each protagonist’s way of coping with trauma and loss. Hopefully, comparing the two novels based on political influence and the traumatic consequences, students will realize the perspectives of a young man living in America and a young man raised in Afghanistan. After creating the venn diagram, students are responsible for writing a compare and contrast essay answering the following questions.

1. Both, Oskar and Amir struggle coping with guilt. Compare and contrast three different moments that show each protagonist overwhelmed by guilt and explain how they move on from it.

2. Compare and contrast the relationship between Oskar and his father and Amir and Baba. Although Oskar’s father has passed away, how does he influence Oskar in the present and how does Baba continue to influence Amir?

3. Oskar and Amir live in two different countries with conflicting political views. Compare and contrast the setting for both Oskar and Amir. Explain how setting plays a part in the decisions both protagonists make.

Age Range: 14- Young Adult (+19)