Writing Prompts



Teaching Hemingway as a Travel Companion

If you’ve every wanted to teach Hemingway, or plan to in the near future, then this post may give you some ideas for teaching his works set in Africa. The original blog I used for this lesson is here, and still has all the comments from my students. If you’d like the detailed lessons that I used for teaching the essay that came after the readings, just comment here or send me an email.

The best way to use the information in this post is to have your students read it before reading the Hemingway stories mentioned. By reading through my experiences and watching the videos of my pictures, students will build background knowledge about the setting of the stories and be introduced to some of the major themes. I also pose questions throughout this blog post that elicit more critical thinking about the topics I cover, and I have my students write out their answers or respond on the blog as part of the process.

“Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it, the changes of the seasons, the rains with no need to travel, the discomforts that you paid to make it real, the names of the trees, of the small animals, and all the birds, to know the language and have time to be in it and to move slowly.”
Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa

Some Context…

Thanks to a grant I was awarded in 2010 from Fund for Teachers, I traveled to Tanzania, Africa, to retrace a portion of Ernest Hemingway’s 1933 safari that inspired some of his greatest works: two short stories, “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” as well as his nonfiction book The Green Hills of Africa. I set off to try and figure out what the setting of Africa had to offer Hemingway, giving his works common themes such as the perseverance of the human spirit and facing our greatest fears.

But the trip gave me so much more perspective about the stories than simply the theme. As I interacted with the people of Africa and enjoyed the wildlife and landscape the country had to offer, I picked up on the subtle hints of respect Hemingway conveyed in his writing that I would have otherwise overlooked had I not experienced Tanzania myself.

Day 1 – N’Gresi

tanzania-mapMy wife and I both agree that our first day in Africa was the best day of the trip.  Dominique, our driver for the week, drove us out to a small village just outside of Arusha called N’Gresi.  Henry came along for the ride as our village guide.  He lived in the village next to N’Gresi and knew the landscape and the people well.  Henry first took us to the chief of the village who spoke with us about their agricultural production and means of education over a cup of coffee.  The cost of our visit went to the building of schools, and he explained that after lunch we could donate more money to the cause.

After coffee with the chief, we set off for our 3-hour hike through the hills of N’Gresi.  As you walk down the dirt road carved out of the lush green landscape, you can’t help but notice the sense of organization to the rolling green hills.  While much of the beauty felt untouched, a closer look revealed plots of land dedicated to coffee trees, peas, potatoes, bananas, and other produce.  The view was rugged, yet hinted at civilization without taking away from the natural beauty of Africa.  The hints didn’t come in an occasional car, either.  I never saw anything powered by gas, nor did I see much that needed electricity.  Instead, the hints came from parked bicycles, clothes-lines, and unique differences that made up the homes which varied in style and size.tanzania

While some homes seemed more modern than others, there wasn’t a poor area and wealthy area.  Huts made of mud and cow dung sat in plots of land right next to homes made of brick.  The idea of social classes takes on a new perspective in villages such as this.  People don’t unintentionally identify themselves as rich or poor as a way of grouping.  Instead, they lived in a way that showed solidarity.  They showed understanding of each other’s situations through living.  No matter the size of their crops, or the amount of their livestock, the people never revealed a sense of social hierarchy.  They only revealed a sense of survival that made them all equal.  And not the type of survival that comes from fear of death, but the kind that comes from a need to do what’s right for your family or else life isn’t worth living.

This type of survival wasn’t felt in the landscape, but instead felt in the interaction with the people.  The enthusiasm of the children was contagious, and the generosity and sincerity of the men and women was envious.  At times, it was embarrassing to think of our own social hierarchy and our own definition of survival, which seems to include a price tag.  Thinking of this gave me a feeling of inferiority and shame. In N’Gresi, America’s class system is meaningless, and as I learned in the following days, much of this meaninglessness is prevalent throughout Africa.

In N’Gresi, America’s class system is meaningless.  Much of this meaninglessness is prevalent throughout Africa.  What about the video makes this evident? Comment on how the differences in Tanzania are different from where you live.

Day 2 – Lake Maynara 


Yours truly up early

Never have I seen the sun more perfect than during a sunrise at Lake Maynara.  As part of the Rift Valley, which is the setting for Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa, Lake Maynara is set between a valley of mountains on either side.  We had our first game drives here, seeing giraffes, elephants, zebras, gazelles, wildebeests, and buffalo in the wild for the first time in our lives.


Hemingway with Kudo antlers

In Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway hunts kudu, which are mainly found in the forests higher up the valley than where we were; therefore, we didn’t get to see any that day, so I’ll let Hemingway describe them: “In the five days I saw a dozen or more kudu cows and one young bull with a string of cows. The cows were big, gray, striped-flanked antelope with ridiculously small heads, big ears, and a soft, fast-rushing gait that moved them in big-bellied panic through the trees” (Hemingway 101).

Day 3 and 4 – Serengeti

A young Hemingway on his 1933 safari

A young Hemingway on his 1933 safari

We spent 2 days on the Serengeti, and it showed us the most wildlife of all the places we visited.  Here is where we saw our first lion, which is the animal responsible for Macomber’s act of cowardice in “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”  I have to admit, the first time a lion walked up to the car, I got a little worried.  It doesn’t take long before you realize how vulnerable you are on safari, and if any of these animals really wanted to, all they would need to do is jump up on the car and your only option would be prayer.  This gave me only a glimpse of fear that was in Hemingway when he shot his first lion and had to go into the long brush, gun drawn, to make sure it was dead.  And if the lion wasn’t, then a precise, second shot was needed while 500 pounds charges with only the thought of killing you for having put it in such a position.  Because Hemingway felt so strongly about writing what you know, I’m sure he empathizes with Francis Macomber.

But what really impressed me about the Serengeti was the experience of nature as an observer.  There are no cages, no one to feed these animals, no one to help them if they’re injured or sick.  The only governing law is the law of nature, and it is cruel at times.  Here, survival is truly survival.  It’s not measured by happiness, or wealth; it’s measured by staying alive.  Death looms over the plains for some like the umbrella trees scattered across the landscape, while life remains the only reward.  Animals on the lower rung of the chain move with an attentiveness that is restrictive.  Ostriches approach water points with the reluctance of a scared child, and gazelles walk with a delicate timidity that looks ready to run at all times.

This constant fear throughout the country seemed to be something that the animals lived with, but not in a way that seemed helpless, nor did it create compassion, as if we were all so cruel for not wanting to save a gazelle from becoming a lion’s dinner. Of course there’s a tinge of sympathy for the dying animals, but if they didn’t die, then what would become of those animals that rely on their death to live?

What are your thoughts on “the survival of the fittest”? How does this concept apply to America? How does America’s concept of survival of the fittest differ from Tanzania’s? How are they alike?

Day 5 – Masai Village

The visit of the Masai Village was the most unique part of the trip.  The Masai people are found throughout east Africa, and they tend to live on the most infertile of areas. They are semi-nomadic, and tend to herd goats and cattle. As you drive through northern Tanzania, you see young and old Masai tending to their herds, and almost every one of them will wave at you as you pass by.  I was nervous about the visit of the village, but came away feeling ashamed that I didn’t remember what Hemingway had written about the people:

“This was the finest country I had seen but we went on, winding along through the big trees over the softly rolling grass. Then ahead and to the right we saw the high stockage of a Masai village. It was a very large village and out of it came running long-legged, brown, smooth-moving men who all seemed to be of the same age and who wore their hair in a heavy club-like queue that swung against their shoulders as they ran. They came up to the car and surrounded it, all laughing and smiling and talking. They all were tall, their teeth were white and good, and their hair was stained a red brown and arranged in a looped fringe on their foreheads. They carried spears and they were very handsome and extremely jolly, not sullen, nor contemptuous like the northern Masai, and they wanted to know what we were going to do…

…We were moving and they were running again now. The Masai stooped and put the rabbit on the ground and as he ran free they all laughed. M’Cola shook his head. We were all very impressed by these Masai….Seeing them running and so damned handsome and so happy made us all happy. I had never seen such quick disinterested friendliness, nor such fine looking people….They certainly were our friends though. They had that attitude that makes brothers, that unexpressed but instant and complete acceptance that you must be Masai wherever it is you come from. That attitude you only get from the best of the English, the best of the Hungarians, and the very best Spaniards; the thing that used to be the most clear distinctions of nobility when there was nobility. It is an ignorant attitude and the people who have it do not survive, but very few pleasanter things ever happen to you than the encountering of it.” (Hemingway 123)

The idea “that you must be Masai” is exactly how I felt when I met the Masai people. They were charming, friendly, and incredibly hospitable. Never once did I feel like I was intruding, and here I was taking pictures of them as if they were some sort of show. I don’t feel I could describe the Masai people as well as Heminway does above, but I left truly understanding what he meant when he talks about “an ignorant attitude and the people who have it do not survive.”

What is the “attitude” that Hemingway is referring to? Describe it in your own words.

Give them freedom, and watch them flourish

Supporters of the Common Core Standards claim that the new expectations will prepare students for college, touting certain skills that are needed to succeed beyond the high school classroom. However, nothing within the Common Core seems to mimic the amount of choices that are afforded you when you attend college. Universities pride themselves as a place where you can challenge your intellect, experiment with your interests, and develop your own sense of intrinsic motivation. To achieve this, you’re allowed to pick and choose the classes you want to take, within the limitations of the major you selected. But how often do we see this type of freedom in high school curricula? How much can the Common Core really prepare students for college if they don’t offer the same approaches for students to learn and thrive?

Kelli Krieger at Union Endicott High School is trying to change that. In her 11th grade English Language and Composition Advanced Placement class, she implemented the 20% Project. The idea was made famous by Google and has since been implemented in many other contexts outside of business, including educational settings like Mrs. Krieger’s class. Simply put, 20% of the students’ time is devoted to whatever they want to do. Kelli frames this time with a theme of exploring your passions in life and finding what motivates you by posing a simple question, “What have you always wanted to do?” So every Monday during the spring semester of 2015, students in Kelli Kreiger’s classes were given the freedom to work on whatever they’ve always wanted to do.

The projects ranged from learning the piano to breaking the world record for making the largest amount of mashed potatoes. At the close of the semester, students presented their work in a Ted Talk style presentation. I attended their Ted Talk 20%, and my expectations were blown away. Kelli had briefly shared some of the students’ successes with me prior to the Ted Talk, but hearing the students talk about their projects really displayed what they learned, which was so much more than the typical high school curriculum could provide.

Among the many academic skills that were honed as the students learned the details of their projects, there were two qualities that really jumped out at me as I sat in the auditorium and listened to each student describe his or her journey: confidence and humility. The student who wanted to learn how to make sushi discussed with humor her failed attempts, and in the end shared with the audience the feeling of success when the head sushi chef at a popular restaurant where she was training said he’d serve one of her rolls. Another student who wanted to learn how to play the piano was so sure that he’d be easily stroking the keys to a Mozart piece by the end of the semester, but then realized that wasn’t going to happen. In his own words he said, “It was so much harder than I thought, and I didn’t become as good as I thought I would. But that’s okay.” He then sat down at the piano and played three separate pieces, and played them well. I also saw two students who set out to be “Youtube famous” talk candidly about the serious nature of cyberbullying they experienced, even sharing some of the most tasteless comments that ridiculed their shows. More important, though, the girls rose above the immaturity and read the comments with a tone of confidence that took the power away from the cyberbullies, allowing the audience to see the perils of social media without feeling sorry for the girls.

There were many other projects, and none were more or less impressive than the others. Each student who presented (or at least the ones I was able to see) showed that they took the project seriously, and were able to articulate the failures and successes with an ease that showed how much they learned. And what these students learned was so much more than what we could measure or what can be learned in a curriculum that is filled with close reading and writing assignments and stuff that will get them “college ready.”

It’s safe to say that the skills within the Common Core will certainly, if taught correctly, build confidence in students and show them the importance of having humility. But there is something about learning these qualities through outlets that we choose–and were not simply assigned to us–that gives us a better understanding of who we are and how we handle the world around us. This was obvious to me as I watched these students talk about their work.

So to my readers who are working on their curriculum this summer, please consider implementing something like this with your students. I’ve linked the general idea of the 20% project in my description above, but if you’d like more information, just let me know. And for any readers who have connections to Common Core: Any chance we can fit this project in as an Anchor Standard for all grade levels?

Facilitating a More Analytical Connection to Literature

As teachers, we talk an awful lot about “making connections” with what we read. However, how often do we direct our students to make connections that are more universal than simple experiences? For example, if you’re teaching A Farewell to Arms or The Great Gatsby, your students, more than likely, don’t have the experience of World War I or the wastefulness of the elite in the 1920s. Therefore, asking them to “make connections to a personal experience” can make the reader response exercise futile. It’s not that asking students to connect with experiences is wrong, but I do think we need to be more specific sometimes. While students can surely connect to some isolated experiences in the novel, meaningful connections that remind us we are all human beings and facilitate a deeper appreciation of the work need more direction at times.

If you’re looking for a more fruitful approach to getting your students to respond to literature, then I suggest reading my latest article on page 106 of the most current issue of Texas Journal of Literacy Education titled “Connecting Students with the Human Dimensions in Literature: Using Bruner’s Modes of Thought to Deepen Literary Appreciation.” Complete with students samples, this article will describe the steps in a unit that will help your students make connections to internal conflicts in the literature they read, then show you how to facilitate a literary analysis of their chosen conflict development. If you like, you can continue with the lesson by having the students write a personal essay that explores the development of their own internal conflicts, which is also explained in the article with student examples.

If you don’t want to read all the theory (and I don’t blame you), then read the intro on page 106, then skip to page 110 to “Putting this into Practice.”

If you implement the lesson, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you! And if you’re in the Binghamton area and would like me to visit and help plan a unit, just email me or respond to this post.



ALAN: The Best Professional Development

After two days at the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) Conference in DC, I thought I’d write about the highlights from this year’s panels. This is my second year to attend, and after last year’s experience I decided it’s the best professional development for secondary English teachers around. And this year didn’t disappoint, and certainly supported my thoughts on these powerful two days.

Let me first talk about why it’s the best. It’s two days of panel after panel of authors speaking candidly about their work. They talk about their craft and their experiences that influence their works and share their perspective on the power of books. As a college professor of future teachers, these perspectives are the best thing I can bring back to my graduate students so that I can help them with the teaching of YA literature.

Knowing the author’s thoughts can give teachers something to discuss with students in reading conferences and frame how they implement their reading workshops. In my opinion, this holds much more value than a lesson that I may or may not use when I get back to my classroom that so many professional development workshops intend to do. So with that said, here are quotes and ideas that will stay with me as a teacher, and I hope they can bring something new to your teaching. However, I hope they also get you excited for ALAN 2015!

Libba Bray:

  • “Stop assigning gender to books. There are no girl books and boy books; there are only books.”
  • “By telling boys ‘that’s a girl’s book’; you are saying that half of the population is not worth knowing. And the same could be said for girls.”
  • 70-80% of the suggested CCSS works are written by men.
  • Addressing an article that closes with, “You can’t give a boy a book with a female protagonist and expect him to identify.” Libba Bray’s response: “WHY NOT?…And yet we do this with girls!” (Personal note: One of my favorite memoirs is The Glass Castle.)
  • All homophobia has its roots in misogyny. (Not sure if Bray said this, but it makes sense.)

Transgender Panel:

  • “People want to bring sex and religion into it and that is so far from what we’re dealing with. It’s about dealing with who we are.”
  • “It doesn’t matter what the gender is, it matters who the human being is.” (I think the use of “what” versus “who” is noteworthy.)

Common Core: Bridge or Barrier? Nonfiction books in the classroom:

  • How do we get their eyes to light up about researching a topic that interests them? Encourage students to see research as “active”–interviews and observations. What I loved about this panel was that it was nonfiction writers talking about why they love to research, and it has nothing to do with how we generally teach it in schools.
  • Primary documents versus “Textbook veneer.”
  • Experts want to talk about what they do, so encourage kids to talk with them. Internet can make this happen!

Brandon Sanderson – Fantasy Panel:

  • When asked by a parent, “My kids loves these [YA] books, but how do I get him to read Milton?” His answer, “Getting kids to read without forcing them to read will get them there.”


Teaching Kids to Eat Dogs and Love Vampires

Teenagers speak in sarcasm, yet have a very difficult time recognizing and analyzing it in a text. (What’s that called?) And with the holidays coming up, I know teachers are always looking for something a little more engaging since kids are more distracted than usual this time of the year. Therefore, I thought I’d share two pieces that I’ve used to teach satire that I’ve found to be engaging for teens. (If you’d like an electronic copy of these works complete with images and footnotes as a Word document, just email me or leave your email in the comments.)

The essay is by Steve Martin, and the short story is by Woody Allen. I’ve also included questions at the end of each piece to help you with guiding your students’ thinking of the works. These texts and the questions that follow are good for introducing verbal irony, situational irony, and getting your students to utilize the text to support their answers.

Poodles … Great Eating (1979)

By Steve Martin

These days it’s hard to look at a poodle without thinking what a great meal he would make. This newest American delicacy, once considered “taboo1,” is now being enjoyed more and more by the average hamburger-buying housewife, as well as the experienced gourmet.

Steve Martin

Steve Martin

The dog-eating experience began in Arkansas, August, 1959, when Earl Tauntree, looking for      something to do said, “Let’s cook the dog.” It was from these ethnic beginnings that the “smell of the  poodle roasting” captured the upper register of restaurants in New York and Miami. Now, restaurant  chefs once reluctant to allow anyone but themselves to select the meat are permitting patrons to  bring in their own dogs for cooking on the spot. Of course, the big question is, is this just a culinary2     fad, or has America opened her palates3 to a new eating discovery that can perhaps give new meaning  to the old expression “hot-dog?” No one but time can answer the question, but I tell you one thing,    you can save the wishbone for me!

1.  What evidence do you have that this selection might not be entirely serious?

  1. Steve Martin writes this “article” as if it were a serious news item when it is clearly not. How could this be an example of verbal irony?

[1] rule that makes something forbidden from social custom or emotional aversion
[2] related to cooking

Count Dracula (1971)

By Woody Allen

Inverness Cape

Somewhere in Transylvania, Dracula the monster lies sleeping in his coffin, waiting for night to fall. As exposure to the sun’s rays would surely cause him to perish, he stays protected in the satin-lined chamber bearing his family name in silver. Then the moment of darkness comes, and through some miraculous instinct the fiend emerges from the safety of his hiding place and, assuming the hideous forms of the bat or the wolf, he prowls the countryside, drinking the blood of his victims. Finally, before the first rays of his archenemy, the sun, announce a new day, he hurries back to the safety of his hidden coffin and sleeps, as the cycle begins anew.

Now he starts to stir. The fluttering of his eyelids is a response to some age-old, unexplainable instinct that the sun is nearly down and his time is near. Tonight, he is particularly hungry and as he lies there, fully awake now, in red-lined Inverness cape and tails, waiting to feel with uncanny perception the precise moment of darkness be­fore opening the lid and emerging, he decides who this evening’s victims will be. The baker and his wife, he thinks to himself. Succulent3, available, and unsuspecting. The thought of the unwary couple whose trust he has carefully cultivated excites his blood lust to a fever pitch, and he can barely hold back these last seconds before climbing out of the coffin to seek his prey.

Suddenly he knows the sun is down. Like an angel of hell, he rises swiftly, and changing into a bat, flies pell-mell to the cottage of his

Woodytantalizing4 victims.
“Why, Count Dracula, what a nice surprise,” the baker’s wife says, opening the door to admit him.(He has once again assumed human form, as he enters their home, charmingly concealing his rapaciousgoal.)
“What brings you here so early?” the baker asks.
“Our dinner date,” the Count answers. “I hope I haven’t made an error. You did invite me for tonight, didn’t you?”
“Yes, tonight, but that’s not for seven hours.”
“Pardon me?” Dracula queries, looking around the room puzzled.
“Or did you come by to watch the eclipse6 with us?”
“Yes. Today’s the total eclipse.”
“A few moments of darkness from noon until two minutes after. Look out the window.”

Sun Image


“Uh-oh– I’m in big trouble.”
“And now if you’ll excuse me…”
“What, Count Dracula?”
“Must be going– aha– oh, god…” Frantically he fumbles for the door knob.
“Going? You just came.”
“Yes– but– I think I blew it very badly…”
“Count Dracula, you’re pale.”
“Am I? I need a little fresh air. It was nice seeing you…”
“Come. Sit down. We’ll have a drink.”
“Drink? No, I must run. Er– you’re stepping on my cape.”
“Sure. Relax. Some wine.”
“Wine? Oh no, gave it up– liver and all that, you know. And now I really must buzz off. I just remembered, I left the lights on at my castle– bills’ll be enormous…”
“Please,” the baker says, his arm around the Count in firm friendship. “You’re not intruding. Don’t be so polite. So you’re early.”

Transylvania, the legendary home of Count Dracula, lies in present-day Romania

Transylvania, the legendary home of Count Dracula, lies in present-day Romania

“Really, I’d like to stay but there’s a meeting of old Roumanian Counts across town and I’m responsible for the cold cuts.”
“Rush, rush, rush. It’s a wonder you don’t get a heart attack.”
“Yes, right– and now–”
“I’m making Chicken Pilaf tonight,” the baker’s wife chimes in. “I hope you like it.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” the Count says, with a smile, as he pushes her aside into some laundry. Then, opening a closet door by mistake, he walks in. “Christ, where’s the goddamn front door?”
“Ach,” laughs the baker’s wife, “such a funny man, the Count.”
“I knew you’d like that,” Dracula says, forcing a chuckle, “now get out of my way.” At last he opens the front door but time has run out on him.
“Oh, look, mama,” says the baker, “the eclipse must be over. The sun is coming out again.”
“Right,” says Dracula, slamming the front door. “I’ve decided to stay. Pull down the window shades quickly– quickly! Let’s move it!”
“What window shades?” asks the baker.
“There are none, right? Figures. You got a basement in this joint?”
“No,” says the wife affably, “I’m always telling Jarslov to build one but he never listens. That’s some Jarslov, my husband.”
“I’m all choked up. Where’s the closet?”
“You did that one already, Count Dracula. Unt mama and I laughed at it.”
“Ach– such a funny man, the Count.”
“Look, I’ll be in the closet. Knock at seven-thirty.” And with that, the Count steps inside the closet and slams the door.
“Hee-hee– he is so funny, Jarslov.”
“Oh, Count. Come out of the closet. Stop being a big silly.” From inside the closet comes the muffled voice of Dracula.
“Can’t– please– take my word for it. Just let me stay here. I’m fine. Really.”
“Count Dracula, stop the fooling. We’re already helpless with laughter.”
“Can I tell you, I love this closet.”
“Yes, but…”
“I know, I know… it seems strange, and yet here I am, having a ball. I was just saying to Mrs. Hess the other day, give me a good closet and I can stand in it for hours. Sweet woman, Mrs. Hess. Fat but sweet… Now, why don’t you run along and check back with me at sunset. Oh, Ramona, la da da de da da de, Ramona…”
Now the Mayor and his wife, Katia, arrive. They are passing by and have decided to pay a call on their good friends, the baker and his wife.
“Hello, Jarslov. I hope Katia and I are not intruding?”
“Of course not, Mr. Mayor. Come out, Count Dracula! We have company!”
“Is the Count here?” asks the Mayor, surprised.
“Yes, and you’ll never guess where,” says the baker’s wife.
“It’s so rare to see him around this early. In fact I can’t ever remember seeing him around in the daytime.”
“Well, he’s here. Come out, Count Dracula!”
“Where is he?” Katia asks, not knowing whether to laugh or not.
“Come on out now! Let’s go!” The baker’s wife is get­ting impatient.
“He’s in the closet,” says the baker, apologetically.
“Really?” asks the Mayor.
“Let’s go,” says the baker with mock good humor as he knocks on the closet door. “Enough is enough. The Mayor’s here.”
“Come on out, Dracula,” His Honor shouts, “let’s have a drink.”
“No, go ahead. I’ve got some business in here.”
“In the closet?”
“Yes, don’t let me spoil your day. I can hear what you’re saying. I’ll join in if I have anything to add.”
Everyone looks at one another and shrugs. Wine is poured and they all drink.
“Some eclipse today,” the Mayor says, sipping from his glass.
“Yes,” the baker agrees. “Incredible.”
“Yeah. Thrilling,” says a voice from the closet
“What, Dracula?”
“Nothing, nothing. Let it go.”

And so the time passes, until the Mayor can stand it no longer and forcing open the door to the closet, he shouts, “Come on, Dracula. I always thought you were a mature man. Stop this craziness.”

The daylight streams in, causing the evil monster to shriek and slowly dissolve to a skeleton and then to dust before the eyes of the four people present. Leaning down to the pile of white ash on the closet floor, the baker’s wife shouts, “Does this mean dinner’s off tonight?”



1. Tone is the spirit: of something– the general atmosphere and the effect that it has on people. In writing we say the tone is the quality that reveals the attitudes of the author about a subject.

Woody Allen sets up “Count Dracula” as a completely serious vampire story (reread the first three paragraphs if you don’t believe me) but quickly changes to a more comic tone as the action becomes more and more ridiculous. How could the way he relates a silly story in a completely serious way be an example of verbal irony?

2. What is ironic (situational) about the way Count Dracula’s plans are spoiled in the story? Use evidence from the text in support of your answer.

Your answer should include a discussion of what is expected (in context of the story and vampire stories in general) and what really happens over the course of Allen’s version of the vampire legend.


  • Situational irony is when there is a gap between what is expected and what actually occurs (a reversal)
  • Verbal irony is when someone says or writes one thing but means something else (a double meaning)

[3] enjoyable, juicy
[4] arousing desire or expectation
[5] excessively greedy and grasping
[6] a temporary darkening of the sun caused by the passing of the moon between the sun and the earth

Teaching Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

Sorry, teachers, for not posting any lessons the past few weeks. (That’s to all 3 of my followers.) However, I’ve been swamped with researching David Coleman’s impact on reading. In doing so, I’m reminded of his lesson on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and his insistence that we should consider “far longer amounts of classroom time spent on text worth reading and rereading carefully, a kind of diligent close attention” (Coleman, 2011, p.16). To emphasize his point, Coleman (2011) created an exemplar lesson for Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” that “is for three days of instruction on those three paragraphs and that is not by bringing in other resources yet. That’s by focusing on the text itself” (p. 16). Three days? My kids would hate me and Lincoln by day two.

However, I do think that Lincoln’s speeches are worth looking at rhetorically, and having the students question the text in ways that deepen their understanding of argument and persuasion is essential. (You really only need one day, though, and I recommend creating some context for the students, another big no-no by Coleman–a guy, mind you, who has never seen the inside of a k-12 classroom.)

So I give you Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, as it is prompted in the 2002 AP exam. I’ve also included my own analysis below, from which the questions in the lesson came. I recommend analyzing the speech yourself so that you can write your own questions, which will allow you to be better prepared for the class discussion. However, if your reading of the speech matches mine, then all the work is below. Enjoy.

The Lesson:

Content Objective: Today we will analyze the rhetoric within Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address by working through text dependent questions in small groups.


  • Hook/Context: Read aloud “War is Kind” by Stephen Crane (see below) and ask students to respond in their writer’s notebook for 2-3 minutes. Lead a discussion about how Crane feels about war.
  • Introduce students to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address by discussing the context given in the AP prompt–Lincoln “contemplated the effects of the Civil War and offers his vision of the future of the nation.”
  • Read the speech aloud all the way through, asking students to simply read along.
  • Read the speech again, asking students to note parts of the speech that they wish to discuss.
  • Lead a whole class discussion on what students noted.
  • Break class into small groups, and ask them to go through the following questions:
    • How does Lincoln present himself?
    • What intended impact would the use of “great contest” instead of “war” and “interest” in place of “slavery” have on the audience?
    • What does the parallel structure attempt to distinguish?
    • How does the use of personification help in understanding that the war will end?
  • From here, you can facilitate a whole class discussion, and then ask that students respond individually to one of the questions in writing as a ticket out.

The Analysis:

Lincoln begins his second inaugural address by creating himself as a trustworthy and humble speaker. He concedes to his audience repeatedly, sharing that he understands they do not want to listen to a lengthy self righteous speech at this point, he cannot give them any new information, and “with high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.” By showing great understanding and sympathy for his audience, he lets them know he is on their side and will not lead them astray. If he were to predict outcomes the audience would be well aware that the war had not proceeded as any of them had predicted. Making claims such as this could make him easily lose his credibility, which would be detrimental at the beginning of his speech. Lincoln is hoping to end the war and convince his listeners to extend a nonjudgemental and forgiving hand to their Southern brethren to help reunite the country. By calming his audience and making them feel they are in trustworthy hands, he is setting them up to hear his logic and do as he wishes.

Throughout the speech Lincoln carefully chooses his words. He does not want to begin his speech using negative words or to openly and radically condemn the South. He uses the term “great contest” instead of war. The word war has many negative connotations that drum up fear, anger, and apprehension. Lincoln in no way wants to foster these feelings in his audience. His argument is logical, so he wants his audience thinking as logically as possible. A “contest” has relatively neutral connotations, so he is not fueling the already strained emotions of the crowd. While speaking of the past and present Lincoln again uses milder terms to not incite more anger in his audience.

In the 3rd paragraph he admits slavery was indeed a main factor causing the war, “these slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest.” He then continues to repeat the word “interest” instead of slavery. The term slavery, as the term war, has many negative connotations and would easily rehash the highly emotional topic of slavery. Since many in the audience did not consider slavery to be the exact cause of the war, but the economic importance of the cheap work force, Lincoln acknowledges that the true issue was the interest, not human rights exactly. But again he trades the highly negative term for a neutral one in order to keep his audience listening with a discerning ear, instead of an irrationally emotional one. Lincoln also refers to the Southerners as “insurgents.” Not the whole South or all Southerners. Insurgent is a negative term, but it is used for a similar purpose. He does not condemn all of the South, he specifies the insurgents. He must acknowledge that Southerners did attempt to work against the government in order to retain credibility, but the crowd hears that “insurgents” did this, not the South. He does not condemn the whole South because this would again only foster hate and anger. Again, Lincoln is hoping to end the war and convince his listeners to extend a nonjudgemental and forgiving hand to their Southern brethren to help reunite the country. His careful use of diction helps him do just that.

Lincoln conceded that “both parties deprecated war,” but then parallels the statements “but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish.” While this shows the south as the aggressor, the parallel structure gives a sense of responsibility to both sides, since the north “would accept war.” Lincoln also personifies the war and the nation by claiming that one side “let the nation survive,” and then ending the statement with “the war came.” The personification here gives the war and the nation a quality of mortality and ability to heal. The idea that the “war came” suggests that the war had a mind of its own, and that the nation had no choice. Moreover, this sense of mortality allows the audience to believe in its end, or the death of the war. Lincoln concludes the speech by asking the audience to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” referring again to this mortality and the ability to heal.

***You can also get student samples here from College Board.

from War is Kind

By Stephen Crane


Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted1 steed2 ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment3,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom —
A field where a thousand corpses5 lie.

 Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

 Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest6 of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

 Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud7 of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.


  1. frightened
  2. horse
  3. army unit
  4. train in the military
  5. dead bodies
  6. unique insignia or design used by some group (originally crests decorated shields and helmets)
  7. burial garment in which a corpse is wrapped