The Shape of Stories

In the next two weeks  we will be reading and examining a series of short stories, and discussing the ‘shape’ of short stories – their plots.

Many of you are probably familiar with a simplified version of Freytag’s Pyramid :middle-school-plot-diagram (1)

plot-shape-conflict-2-638However, while this is an easy way to remember the typical form of plot progression in Western storytelling, it is not completely accurate. Not all, not most, stories follow this plot progress. Stories have their own ‘shape’ – and the more interesting the plot of the story, the more interesting the shape.

Listen to amazing short story writer Kurt Vonnegut explain the ‘shape of stories’ by clicking the link below.

Click here to listen to Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘The Shape of Stories’.

Vonnegut explains that stories are much more complex that the typical Freytag’s Pyramid.


Think of movies you’ve watched – what type of ‘shape’ did the plot create? Think about tv shows – each episode has its own plot, and then all the episodes in a season create a larger plot as well.


As we read through the short stories in this unit I want you to consider the ‘shape’ of these stories. You will need to keep track of them – and decide which ‘shape’ make for the most interesting story.

Also remember that we’re looking at the shape of Western stories (stories from American or Europe) – stories from other cultures in Asian and the Middle East follow a much different plot structure. Stories in Asian culture are often told in a cyclical or spiral manner:




If you’ve ever watched an Asian movie or tv show (Dragon Ball Z) and felt like so much information was being repeated, or that the story took a really long time to ‘get going’, it was probably because their storytelling structure is so different from ours.

Some modern storytellers and movie-makers like Christopher Nolan are trying to use new and interesting plot structures – if you’ve seen these movies and have been confused about what’s happen, that’s probably why!

inception-explained_50290a7919c5a_w1500 619f8731a1c552dc05fbc6fdf5b23dbd


10th Grade Literature Spring 2019

Elements of Storytelling

As we transition from our unit on poetry to our unit on short stories and works of fiction, it is important to realize that you won’t just ‘chunk’ all of that poetry knowledge and analysis skills – hold on to them, as you’ll still need them for this unit.

Prose is generally made up for four elements:

Of these four, prose and poetry both use many of the same elements of figurative language, as we covered in class:

  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Puns
  • Metaphor
  • Similes
  • Allusion
  • Repetition
  • Symbolism
  • Personification
  • Tone
  • Mood
  • Diction
  • Theme


The plot of a story will generally follow the five step model of Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Resolution, with characters, setting, context, conflict developing over the course of the story.

Other elements that prose can use to develop the plot and reinforce the theme are in medias res, foreshadowing, flashbacks, and the use of dialogue. 

Look at the short pieces of flash fiction from class below. Each of these stories is able to establish characters, setting, mood/tone, and theme through the use of carefully selected elements.

Contagious Bottles

Remy wants to take a walk on the reservation but everything is contagious. He knows once he sees the dirty bottles scattered across the road he will pick them up to see if a drop is left. His father begs him to go collect them, but he stuffs his hair inside his ears and pretends everything is quiet. One day he’ll walk on the reservation and there will be no more bottles; there will only be drunken bodies to carry off the road.

In this piece of flash fiction, we learn that the characters of Remy and his father are both Native Americans, as the setting is on a ‘reservation’. The context of the setting is important to the conflict of this short story – alcoholism is often a problem for Native Americans on reservations, and we can see that here with Remy’s father. The use of the word ‘contagious’ (diction) makes us believe immediately that something is wrong, or someone is sick. We see that the relationship between Remy and is father isn’t what it should be when we see the dad ‘beg’, and Remy ‘pretend’ that everything is ok. These few choices of words characters both of them. By the end, we understand that the bottles Remy’s father asks for are because he is an alcoholic, as “there will only be drunken bodies to carry off the road”. The characters are the most important elements of this story, and the tone is depressing. Remy thinks the ‘illness’ his father has is contagious, and is afraid he and others will get it.

Look at the other examples from class, and see if you can analyze how they use elements of storytelling to establish a theme.

The Bird

It came of nowhere: A giant crow, its plumage like a black silken coat. It is hard to tell where it wanted to go, for certainly it cannot have planned to be stuck in the spokes of my brand-new bicycle. In horror I watch the bird flapping its wings until finally it breaks its neck. I would have only further distressed it by trying to help. It would have only pecked my hand and scratched me with its claws. Carefully, I disentangle the animal from my precious bike. It would have died anyway.


Man on the Bus Eating Fruit
He ate the banana roughly. Chomping down so that it disappeared in huge chunks. He watched them, watching him. They were uneasy, and their chatter had died away. They were relieved to press the bell and get off the bus when their stop came, but as they alighted and the bus slowly started to pull away they couldn’t help looking up. He was still watching them. His forehead pressed against the window pane, biting into an apple.


What Roman Says

Roman says that I shouldn’t refer to him as my boyfriend. Labels like that, he says, create unrealistic expectations. When I assure him that I don’t have any expectations, unrealistic or otherwise, he smirks and says that women always say that. I ask for a ballpark estimate of the number of women he’s surveyed. He smirks again. I’m not sure which annoys me more, his patronizing facial expressions or his authoritarian need to control the terminology with which I’m permitted to describe our relationship. “No problem,” I say. “From now on I’ll just call you my ex-boyfriend.”


Outside The Chase

It starts with a heavy pinpoint, sharp, deep in the middle of Aaron’s heart. As he reads Megan’s letter, it swells and blooms, licks like fire through his veins.

This feeling should be love. It is love underneath, but it’s wrapped in something hard and cold and perpetual.


Death’s followed Aaron for twenty years.

Death came for Aaron’s father first, a cruel illness that halved his body (no more walks in the woods), laid him flat (no more car journeys to nowhere), muted him utterly (no more wise words), and finally sputtered him out like a spent candle.

Aaron was seven, and he didn’t understand.

10th Grade Literature Spring 2019

Conducting Research – Determining the Reliability of Sources

As we finish up our unit on poetry, you will be examining and researching a poem or work of art of your choice. The goal of this activity is for you to learn how to find reliable sources for research, as well as demonstrate you ability to analyze poetry and connect themes in a poem to multiple works.

You will be able to choose from the options below for this activity:

Option One: Find a poem of your choice, determine the theme, and analyze five poetic devices that support or reinforce that theme. Then, research a work of art that you believe has the same theme. Be able to explain the connection between the two pieces. You may also create a work of art that illustrates the same theme.

Option Two: Find a work of art of your choice, determine the theme, and analyze five artistic devices that support or reinforce that theme. Then, research a poem that you believe has the same theme. Be able to explain the connection between the two pieces. You may also write a poem that illustrates the same theme.

Option Three: Research a poet or artist that not only created written works, but visual works of art to accompany them. Find a poem and piece of art by this person that you believe compliment each other. Identify the theme, and analyze five poetic or artistic devices used.

Option Four: Complete option one or two, but with the pre-selected poem and WWI paintings provided below.

For each option you will have to include a works cited page with at least five sources. See the sample below, or click here for a full sample.

Once you  have determined which poem or painting you will be analyzing, , you will need to make sure you use only RELIABLE SOURCES!

Remember, reliable sources are those that can be trusted to provide unbiased, factual information. Reliable sources include .org, .gov or .edu websites, books, news organizations, educational journals or publications.

Unreliable sources cannot be trusted for accuracy or for an unbiased perspective. Unreliable sources include Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, any .net or .com website, blogs, editorials from newspapers, or forums.

Click here to view the worksheet from class on reliable vs unreliable sources.

Remember, if you have a hard time determine if a source is reliable or not, you can always ask us to check it with you!

You will need to gather information from reliable sources to answer the questions you’ve selected from above, and be sure to paste the information in your GoogleDocs. You will need to use this information throughout the week to write an extended essay response, so please save your research!

How you present this project is up to you. You may create a powerpoint, a prezi, write an essay, make a poster board, or come up with another creative option. You will be assessed on the following elements: Did you accurately and adequately analyze the poem or painting that you selected (including identifying the theme and five devices)? Did you explain how the poem/painting you picked to pair with it is related? Did you use reliable sources to back up your research into these poems or works of art? Did you share your reliable sources on a properly formatted works cited page? As long as you accomplish these elements, how you choose to present the project is your choice completely.

Click here for the grading rubric for this project.

Click here for a powerpoint sample project.

Click here for a PDF sample of this project. 



Option Four Sources:

For those of you that would like to work with a pre-selected poem and work of art, a WWI poem and painting are available for you to use. The poem is Dulce Es Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, and the painting is one of the following:

“GAS! GAS!” by Otto Dix

10th Grade Literature Spring 2019

Writing an Informational, or Expository, Essay

For our unit’s writing assessment, you will have to either write an informational essays over a series of selected passages that you are provided. Many of you have written informational essay before in 9th grade, and even in middle school, but a little bit of review can always help! 🙂

According to Owl Purdue:

“The expository essay is a genre of essay that requires the student to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on the idea, and set forth an argument concerning that idea in a clear and concise manner. This can be accomplished through comparison and contrast, definition, example, the analysis of cause and effect, etc.

Please note: This genre is commonly assigned as a tool for classroom evaluation and is often found in various exam formats.

The structure of the expository essay is held together by the following.

  • A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.

It is essential that this thesis statement be narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment.  Does your thesis answer the prompt? If not, fix it!

  • Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.

Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse.

  • Body paragraphs that include support.

Each paragraph should be limited to one general idea. Each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph.

  • Support! Support! (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).

You should have two pieces of quality evidence from the sources that support your thesis statement in general, and the topic of that particular paragraph specifically. Use a mix of direct quotes and paraphrases.

  • A bit of creativity!

Though creativity and artfulness are not always associated with essay writing, it is an art form nonetheless. Try not to get stuck on the formulaic nature of  writing at the expense of writing something interesting. Remember, though you may not be crafting the next great novel, you are attempting to leave a lasting impression on the people evaluating your essay.

  • A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.

It is at this point of the essay that students will inevitably begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize and come to a conclusion concerning the information presented in the body of the essay.”

You will be graded with a rubric based on the EOC test rubric – please click here to review the grading tool.

Your essay will explain  how visuals can aid learning by using information from BOTH passages provided to you. Please click here to access the essay prompt and the sources.


• Use information from the two texts so that your essay includes important details.
• Introduce the topic clearly, provide a focus, and organize information in a way that makes
• Develop the topic with facts, definitions, details, quotations, or other information and
examples related to the topic.
• Use appropriate and varied transitions to create cohesion.
• Clarify the relationship among ideas and concepts.
• Use clear language and vocabulary to inform about the topic.
• Provide a conclusion that follows the information presented.
• Check your work for correct grammar, usage, capitalization, spelling, and punctuation.

For a sample of a student’s first page with correct MLA headings, an interesting title, a creative hook and clear thesis in the introduction, clear topic sentences and skillful use of evidence in the first body paragraph, click here.

10th Grade Literature Fall 2017 Spring 2019

Parts of Speech: Adverbs

Now that we’ve reviewed pronouns and how to identify and use them correctly, we’ll move on to the second part of speech that your assessment indicated you needed to review: adverbs.


Adverbs describe or modify verbs, adjective or other nouns. Simple adverbs indicate one of five elements – time, manner, place, degree and frequency. 

Click here to view the powerpoint over adverbs from class. 

10th Grade Literature Spring 2019

The How and Why of Language – Poetry and Art: Cezzane and Duchamp, Ginsberg and Kennedy

Now that we’ve practiced analyzing poetry as a class with Van Gogh and Anne Sexton’s “Starry Night”, you’ll practice working in small groups with your peers to analyze the next set of poems and paintings.

For this assignment you will choose to either read the American poet Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Cezzane’s Ports” while examining the French painter Paul Cezzane’s painting “The Gulf of Marseilles Seen From L’Estaque”, or read American poet X.J. Kennedy’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” while analyzing the painting by French artist Duchamp with the same title.

Paul Cezzane’s painting “The Gulf of Marseilles Seen From L’Estaque”. L’Estaque is a town in southern France.

Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”, a famous cubist painting.

Remember, refer to the chart you made in class if you have a hard time remembering which artistic elements you should be looking for, and how they relate to poetry:

Artistic Element Poetic/Literary Element
Color Imagery, or Symbolism
Texture Imagery
Images Imagery
Lines/Movement Line breaks, stanzas, enjambment
Lighting Imagery
Level of detail Imagery
Emotion Mood/Tone
Contrast Juxtaposition
Symbols Symbolism


Click here to access the poems if you misplaced them.

You will be responsible in Part One of this analysis project for teaching your other group members about the poem or painting you’ve selected.

In Part Two, you will work together with those students to teach the rest of the class how your poem and painting pair together.

Please click here to view the assignment sheet and rubric for this project.


10th Grade Literature Spring 2019

The How and Why of Language – Poetry and Art: Starry Night

In class today we began discussing the ways that you can view language and poetry in much the same way you view art – paintings, and photographs.  First, we discussed that we’ll be trying to answer the questions:

  • Why would you use certain poetic devices?
  • How does using these devices change the meaning/theme of a poem?

Throughout this unit we’ll be working on answering these questions together for each of the poetic devices we encounter, and recording them on our “How and Why of Language” chart, which you can access by clicking here.

Next, we discussed the different elements that catch our eye or that we notice when we look at a picture or work of art. We discussed how bright colors catch our eye, and that sometimes we even associated certain meanings or feelings with these colors (i.e. red = danger, yellow=warm, blue=sad, depressed, cold). You guys did a great job of making connections between some of the artistic elements and similar literary elements:

Artistic Element Poetic/Literary Element
Color Imagery, or Symbolism
Texture Imagery
Images Imagery
Lines/Movement Line breaks, stanzas, enjambment
Lighting Imagery
Level of detail Imagery
Emotion Mood/Tone
Contrast Juxtaposition




Next, we looked at a series of images, and you guys analyzed the artistic elements that caught your eye – you did a great job of noticing the use of contrast and line, as well as texture, to draw our attention to certain parts of the image. You also did a good job of discussion the possible connotative meaning of these images – focusing on the symbolism behind the shapes and colors.
















After all this, we zoomed out and looked at the painting as a whole, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. We discussed how, just like a poem, you can analyze small parts of a work of art and still find details and insight – but without looking at everything as a whole, you cannot determine the theme or meaning.

Now, you will read the poem about this painting by Anne Sexton, titled “The Starry Night”. As you read this poem, look back and the painting and make connections. Look at Sexton’s use of imagery, personification and metaphor – how are they similar to the techniques Van Gogh used to create his painting?

Click here to read Anne Sexton’s “The Starry Night”

Finally, be sure to answer the writing prompt below over the poem by Anne Sexton – you must cite your evidence in MLA format. Remember, you will include the author’s last name and line numbers, and use a bracket to indicate when there should be a line break.

“…This is how/I want to die” (Sexton 5-6).

The prompt: 

  • What is the main idea of the poem that is reinforced through the refrain?
  • How is this main idea also reinforced through other poetic devices throughout the poem? 
10th Grade Literature Spring 2019