Students analyze Jerry’s character in the short story Through the Tunnel by Doris Lessing, and determine whether he acts in a childish or adult manner. Using the Showing Evidence Tool, they make a claim about Jerry’s behavior and collect evidence from the text to support that claim. Students use their project work from the tool to participate in an informal debate and then individually reflect on challenges in their own lives.
The unit begins by having students discuss the Essential Question, which is a yearlong classroom theme. Students write their thoughts in journals and then share their responses with the class. Next, students define, in their own words, the terms risk taking and decision making. In a class discussion, students are invited to describe challenging times in their own lives and explain how risk taking and decision making were involved.
Students read the short story, Through the Tunnel by Doris Lessing, and write a reader response in their journals, making personal connections to the text. They discuss some of the decisions the main character, Jerry, makes in the story. Next, students work in small groups to find textual evidence that reveals Jerry’s character. They begin to examine how risk-taking behaviors and decision-making skills helped shaped the identity of Jerry. Students highlight sections of text that relate to the question: Did Jerry act more like a child or a grownup? Student teams discuss their markings of the text, then use the Showing Evidence Tool to create a claim about Jerry’s behavior and support it with evidence from the text.
Teams use the tool to rate the quality of evidence before they link the evidence to their claim. Prior to this, the teacher holds a discussion about what the quality of evidence means in this context. The class discusses the concepts of point of view and inference within texts. They brainstorm some questions to ask themselves as they rate the evidence: How much does the narrator really know? What prejudices may affect the information we are given? Is the narrator reliable? Is the evidence explicitly stated in the story, or do we infer from the context that something happened? They use these questions to guide the rating of their evidence and begin building their argument about Jerry’s behavior.
Once students build their case, they participate in a discussion technique called philosophical chairs. Chairs are placed facing each other, and the claim—Jerry acted more like an adult—is written on the board. Student teams choose which side to sit on, based on whether they agree or disagree with the claim. Teams take turns expressing their views about the claim, citing evidence used in the Showing Evidence Tool. Individual students move to the opposing row and give a reason if their opinion changes during the course of discussion.
In a culminating activity, students answer such questions as: What have been some tough decisions I have made in my own life? In what ways am I a risk-taker? They use insights drawn from studying Jerry’s actions and feelings to reflect on how their own identity has been shaped. Students share their thoughts by creating a piece of poetry, expository writing, or multimedia presentation. Their work becomes part of a portfolio focused on the concept of identity which will be shared with parents at the end of the school year.
The Showing Evidence Tool space below represents one team's investigation in this project. You can double-click on the evidence to read the team's descriptions.
Grade Level: 6-8
Subjects: Language Arts, Literature
Key Learnings: Character Analysis, Elements of Literature.
Time Needed: Four weeks, one-hour lessons, three times per week