Analyzing “Aha” Moments | Facing History & Ourselves
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Analyzing “Aha” Moments

Students identify pivotal moments when a central character learns something important about themselves, others, and their real or fictional world. 


At a Glance

activity copy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts


  • Culture & Identity


About This Learning Experience

The works of literature that stay with us long after we have read them provide us with insight into the human experience and what it means to be human. They may affirm our identity in some way or broaden our thinking about other people and places in the world. As we read, we follow the characters’ cognitive, emotional, and moral developments as they navigate their relationships with others and their worlds. In literature, as in life, the choices characters face and the processes they use to make decisions are complex, often involving risk and opportunity, loss and freedom, regrets and affirmations, conflict and joy. 

The following learning experiences help students to identify pivotal moments where a central character learns something important about themselves, others, and their real or fictional world. Engaging in reflection and discussion about these “aha” moments can deepen students’ understanding of the text and invite them to draw connections between literature and life in imaginative rehearsals of their own past and future experiences.

In order to deepen their understanding of the text, themselves, each other, and the world, students will . . .

  • Read critically and ethically to understand thematic development, characterization, conflict, and craft in order to make personal and real-world connections between the text and their lives.
  • Engage with real and imagined stories that help them understand their own coming-of-age experiences and how others experience the world.
  • Describe the factors that influence their moral development, such as their personal experiences, their interactions with others, and their surroundings, and reflect on how these factors influence their sense of right and wrong.
  • Draw evidence from the text to support analysis of what the text says and what can be inferred about characterization, setting, conflict, and/or theme.
  • Prepare for and participate in conversations to practice expressing ideas clearly, building on others’ ideas, and incorporating evidence from the text.
  • Produce a written response that integrates evidence from the text with written analysis, personal reflection, and visual elements.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before using this learning experience, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Facing History learning experiences are classroom-ready activities that you can incorporate into your lesson plans. They are designed to be modular and adaptable, so you can use them over and over again with a wide range of texts to help students explore characterization, point of view, perspective taking, setting, and thematic development through a Facing History lens.

This learning experience is divided into three sections—Introduce, Explore, and Extend—which increase in complexity and depth of analysis, but they don’t need to be used in sequence. The entry point depends on students’ familiarity with the concept and the level of complexity they are ready to tackle. Educators might choose to incorporate just one section into a lesson plan, teach all three over the course of one or two class periods, mix and match, or repeat one multiple times during a unit to help students track character or thematic development.

  1. Introduce: The first activity introduces a concept and helps students develop the schema they will need for deeper exploration. It may involve vocabulary work, schema building, and opportunities for personal reflection and pair–shares.
  2. Explore: The second activity engages students in a deeper exploration of the concept and helps them apply it to the core text of the unit. It includes opportunities for close reading, literary analysis, collaboration with peers, and rich questions for small-group and whole-class discussion about the text and how it connects to the real world.
  3. Extend: The third activity invites students to produce a reflective, expository, analytical, or creative piece of writing (or other form of expression) in order to explore connections between the text, key concepts from the learning experience, and/or their own lives.

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  1. Explain to students that they will be thinking about “aha” moments in their lives: moments where they learned something or had a realization about themselves, family, friends, the human experience, or the world at large. Let them know that “aha” moments can be small, like a conversation or something that they read, or large, like a challenging or exhilarating experience or a difficult choice. Because it can be hard for students to think of such moments, it’s important that you model the brainstorming process by listing some of your own “aha” moments on the board. Try to choose a few from when you were an adolescent, as well as ones that might seem small but led you to view things in new ways. 
  2. Then, in their journals, have students respond to the following prompts. Let them know that they will be sharing one of their ideas with a partner. 
    • List three to five “aha” moments in your life where you learned something or had a realization about yourself, other people, the human experience, or the world at large. 
    • Choose one “aha” moment to reflect on in a journal response: What happened? What lesson(s) did it teach you about yourself, other people, humankind in general, and/or the world around you?
  1. Divide the class into small groups and explain that they will be identifying five “aha” moments for a character in the text. These are large or small moments where the character learns something about themself or their world and the people who inhabit it. These new insights might be positive or negative, depending on how they impact the character—their sense of who they are, belonging in groups, and place in the world. 
  2. Pass out the Analyzing “Aha” Moments handout and review the instructions as a class. (If you want to break up the steps, you could have the class engage in a quick gallery walk after everyone has finished their line graphs from Step 2 so they can scan for similarities and differences in their characters’ experiences.) Model Step 1 for a character that students are not discussing. Use the Think Aloud strategy to help make visible the way you are making your decisions and what you are choosing to record on the graphic organizer.
  3. After groups have completed their graphic organizers, line graphs, and discussions, debrief the activity as a whole class. Groups can present their line graphs, as well as share their responses to the first two questions. Then discuss questions 3 and 4 as a class. Alternatively, students could move into new groups so they can see each other’s graphs and discuss any similarities and differences they notice in their characters’ experiences.
  1. Start by having students review their journal entries and identity charts for ideas about “aha” moments in their lives. If they didn’t do the Introduce learning experience (above), lead them through the steps of the journal reflection to generate some ideas.
  2. Explain to students that they will be creating a visual representation of their own “aha” moments using words, images, symbols, color, and multimedia (if they have access). They can use the positive-negative line graph on the Analyzing “Aha” Moments handout, or they might choose to create their own visual representation (for example, a spiral or a circle). 
  3. After they have created their graphic representations, have students craft a short written reflection that explores the following questions. Encourage them to use specific details in their response to the second question. 
    • What new, different, or deeper understanding do you have about the “aha” moments in your life after creating a visual representation of them? 
    • What moment stands out as most significant, challenging, or confusing? What happened, and what did you learn about yourself, others, or the world around you?

Analyze a Significant “Aha” Moment in a Paragraph Response

Using the positive-negative line graphs that they created during the Explore learning experience, as well as notes from their discussions, have students write a short persuasive piece of writing that responds to the following question: Which “aha” moment is most significant to your character? What did they learn about themself, others, or their world? What makes you say that? Students should support their argument with two or three relevant pieces of evidence from the text. 

Materials and Downloads

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Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

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