Read the Word, Read the World | Facing History & Ourselves
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Read the Word, Read the World

Students explore the text's central message and consider how it may or may not help them make sense of their own experiences in the world today.


At a Glance

activity copy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts


  • Culture & Identity


About This Learning Experience

Literary analysis provides exciting opportunities to engage students in learning experiences that can shape their sense of who they are in the world. Through their close reading and conversations about the books they read, students can deepen their understanding of character, conflict, and theme and consider the ways in which the ideas explored in the text apply to their own lives. When teachers model their own meaning-making processes using strategies like Think Aloud and share the invisible moves they are making to deepen their understanding of a text, students can develop the skills and agency for literary analysis. 

The following learning experiences provide a framework for close reading and analysis of key literary elements with the goal of helping students explore the text’s central message and consider the ways in which it may or may not be of use in making sense of their own experiences and happenings in the world today. 

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

  • Value the complexity of identity in themselves and others.
  • 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.
  • Make real-world connections that explore historical and contemporary contexts in literature.
  • Draw evidence from the text to support analysis of what the text says and what can be inferred about conflict, perspective, and theme.
  • Determine the central ideas or message of a text.
  • Prepare for and participate in conversations to practice expressing ideas clearly, building on others’ ideas, and incorporating evidence from the text.
  • Produce a written reflection that develops a central idea and includes specific details and examples of personal experience.
  • Write an argument to support analysis of a literary theme.

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. Distribute the Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors handout and read the quotation together in order to introduce Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s observations about the relationship between reading and identity.
  2. Then have students reflect on texts that have provided windows, mirrors, and sliding-glass-door experiences. For this exercise, we have expanded Dr. Bishop’s idea to include all kinds of texts, not just books. 
  3. Have students debrief in pairs or use the Concentric Circles teaching strategy so they can share their insights with a wide range of peers.

For this learning experience, students consider how an author uses conflict, perspective, and plot to develop a central theme in a work of literature. Then they will consider the key lessons they can take from the text and apply to their own lives. 

  1. Divide the class into small groups and pass out the Read the Word, Read the World handout. Assign all of the groups the same character, different characters, or let students group themselves by the character that most interests them. 
  2. Model the small-group discussion by first reading the instructions with the class and then joining one of the groups to discuss the conflict, recording notes on the handout while the class observes. Have students comment on positive speaking and listening skills and behaviors that they noticed. Circulate during the group discussions, encouraging students to consult the text for evidence that supports their thinking. 
  3. Provide time in class for the personal reflection section of the handout or have students complete it at home and then share their ideas in the next class period. 
  4. Facilitate a whole-class discussion of the “Read the World” questions, focusing on the text’s theme and how the author develops it. 

Have students respond to the following questions in their journals: 

  1. In your opinion, what is the most valuable idea in this text? What makes you say that? 
  2. How does this text help you think about your identity, your relationships with others (family, friends, community), and/or the world itself? You might want to consider whether this text is a window, mirror, sliding glass door, or another metaphor that works for you. 
  1. Have students choose a song or piece of music that develops a similar theme to one that the text explores. In a written paragraph that draws evidence from the song, have students respond to the following questions: What messages or big ideas are you taking away from this song? In other words, what might the songwriter want you to think about as you experience their song? Use evidence from the lyrics, as well as its musicality if you wish, to support your thinking. 
  2. Sharing music can be a community-building experience, so in a celebration of their work, consider creating a class playlist on a music app or have students meet in pairs or small groups to share their songs and read from their paragraphs. Note that you may need to provide guidelines about explicit lyrics.

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