Chris Adcock
English Language Arts, Composition and Rhetoric
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Grammar
  • Short Stories
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Elements of Grammar

    Elements of Grammar


    In this lesson, students will explore some elements of grammar in a paragraph from “The Things They Carried.”


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Decide whether you want students to work individually, in pairs, or in small groups.
    • If you do not have time for all the tasks, choose the ones that will be most useful to your class.
    • Decide if you want students to answer the questions in annotations, in their Notebook, or in discussion with the class.

    Short Story Collection Title

    • If time allows, you can open this discussion up to the whole class.


    Individually, or with a partner or small group, work on the following.

    • Consider the title of the collection of Vietnam War stories by Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried , and discuss with a partner why this title may have been chosen.

    The Things They Carried Image or Idea

    • Facilitate a short conversation about the Quick Write.
      • SWD: Consider allowing students who are more visually inclined to respond to the image in the story with their own visual interpretation.

    Work Time

    Read the excerpt aloud with a partner or small group.

    • In a Quick Write, describe what image or idea stood out for you and why you think it is important.

    Open Notebook

    When you have finished, share your writing and talk about the differences you noticed among your responses.


    • Encourage students to annotate in the text of the paragraph for easier reference later.

    Work Time

    Review the exerpt and do the following.

    • Highlight any vocabulary you are unfamiliar with or uncertain about.
    • Jot down some possible ideas about the meaning of the words you highlighted based on what the paragraph tells you.
    • Share your ideas with a partner or small group.
    • When you have finished sharing, look up the meanings of these words and compare the definitions with your group’s thoughts.

    Sentence Analysis 1

    • This opening paragraph of O'Brien's story appears to be a straightforward description of a young soldier's connection to his home through his correspondence with a college girl. The challenge for readers, however, is found in what is not said about the Lieutenant, his relationship, and the war.
    • This requires the student reader to be able to extend the Lieutenant's need for a connection home, no matter how imaginary, to an understanding of how this war affected the individual soldiers fighting it.
    • The reader will need to question the author's word choices about the specific pieces of information given, as well as the syntax and verb choices to grasp a deeper understanding of what is not said about the Lieutenant and the war.
    • This lesson provides guidance for close reading of each sentence in this paragraph. Make use of any or all that best serve your class.
    • Any of these tasks can be done individually, in pairs, or in small groups.
    • ELL: Close analysis of small portions of text can be a great way for these students in particular to focus on grammar. Check in with them throughout to answer any questions they have and provide clarification.

    Work Time

    “First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey.”

    This is the first sentence of the story.

    • Discuss possible reactions to this sentence as the beginning of a collection of Vietnam War stories.

    Sentence Analysis 2

    • If needed, explain the terms coordinating conjunction andlinking adverbial to your class.
      • ELL: Provide multiple examples for each term, and invite students to come up with their own examples as well, until students show a strong understanding.

    Work Time

    “They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack.”

    In this and the following tasks, answer the questions about the passage as directed by your teacher.

    • If the Lieutenant knew these letters from Martha were not love letters, what was he hoping? Note the use of the coordinating conjunction “but.”
    • How does the clause that follows the linking adverbial “so” connect to each of the preceding clauses?

    Open Notebook

    Sentence Analysis 3

    • If necessary, explain the term predicate verb to your class.
    • Acting out this list of actions and focusing on the small details might help students get a clearer sense of the characterization.

    Work Time

    “In the late afternoon, after a day's march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending.”

    • Note how many predicate verbs follow “he would . . . .” Discuss what this sentence structure (syntax ) might suggest about the Lieutenant?
    • Respond to how the Lieutenant spends “the last hour of light.” Consider where he is and what he might be pretending.

    Open Notebook

    Sentence Analysis 4

    • If time permits, have students share their ideas aloud.

    Work Time

    “He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there.”

    • Since there have been only suggestions of a war setting to this point, what kind of reality do these two sentences, which show the Lieutenant’s imagination at work, create?

    Open Notebook

    Sentence Analysis 5

    • If time permits, have students share their ideas aloud.
    • Discuss how hyperbole fits into this setting and the perceptions of the characters.

    Work Time

    “More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elusive on the matter of love.”

    • Do you believe the Lieutenant when he thinks he wants Martha’s love “more than anything”? Think about where he is while he is imagining this girl loves him.
    • Is this an exaggeration on the Lieutenant’s part or does it say something else about him or about the war?
      • What is this kind of exaggeration called?

    Open Notebook

    Sentence Analysis 6

    • If time permits, have students share their ideas with the class.
    • This topic may be sensitive for some students, so decide how best to approach it.

    Work Time

    “She was a virgin, he was almost sure.”

    • Although he doesn’t know, for sure, that Martha is a virgin, why is it important to him to want her to be one? Consider the setting the Lieutenant is in.

    Open Notebook

    Sentence Analysis 7

    • If time permits, have students share their ideas with the class.
    • Explain who Chaucer and Virginia Woolf are, if necessary.

    Work Time

    “She was an English major at Mount Sebastian, and she wrote beautifully about her professors and roommates and midterm exams, about her respect for Chaucer and her great affection for Virginia Woolf. She often quoted lines of poetry; she never mentioned the war, except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself.”

    • Considering the setting, in Vietnam during the war, what kind of contrast is provided by Martha’s letters?
    • How might the Lieutenant’s view of Martha and her world be altered by the Lieutenant’s own reality?
    • What reasons might Martha have for not mentioning the war?

    Open Notebook

    Sentence Analysis 8

    • If time permits, have students share their ideas with the class.
    • Reflect back to student exploration of the weight of different items.

    Work Time

    “The letters weighed 4 ounces.”

    • Why is this mentioned?

    Open Notebook

    Sentence Analysis 9

    • If time permits, have students share their ideas with the class.

    Work Time

    “They were signed Love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant.”

    • Throughout this paragraph, note where and how Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is named. How does the choice of using “Lieutenant Cross” in this sentence affect how the reader sees their relationship?
    • Why would Cross sometimes pretend that “Love, Martha” was more than just “a way of signing”?
    • Consider what the following verbs andphrases suggest about their relationship and how that contrasts with the Lieutenant’s reality: “pretending,” “imagine,” “sometimes taste the envelope flaps,” “more than anything,” “he was almost sure,” and “he sometimes pretended.”

    Open Notebook

    Sentence Analysis 10

    • If time permits, have students share their ideas with the class.
    • Try out different prepositional phrases to study their effect and provide contrast.

    Work Time

    “At dusk, he would carefully return the letters to his rucksack.”

    • How does the opening prepositional phrase , “At dusk,” add to the overall effect of this sentence and the entire paragraph?

    Open Notebook

    Sentence Analysis 11

    • If time permits, have students share their ideas with the class.


    “Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter, then at full dark he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin.”

    • Discuss why he is “a bit distracted.” From what is he distracted? Does this tell the reader any more about the Lieutenant?
    • Consider the effect on the entire paragraph of returning to “his hole. . . at full dark. . . [to] watch the night.” Why is he watching the night?
    • Thinking about where the Lieutenant and his men are right now, what do his last thoughts in this paragraph suggest about him and about the war?

    Open Notebook

    Your Letter to Martha

    • This task may be assigned as class work or homework depending on individual student or class needs.
    • If the task is given as homework, the second option may not be feasible.
    • Direct students to follow the example of the actual text and imagine what the characters would say (and not say) to each other.
    • Let students know how you want them to share their work.

    SWD: For students who have a difficult time with creative writing, consider providing a nonfiction alternative. For example, students could describe what the Lieutenant thinks, what Martha might think, and what might be true.


    Choose one of the following two options.

    • Reviewing this first paragraph for an understanding of the Lieutenant’s actions and feelings, write his next letter to Martha. Keep in mind what you already know about Martha and the kind of relationship they have. Also, provide information, suggestions, or hints that reflect the contrasting feelings and settings for these two people.

    OR * With a partner, review this first paragraph for an understanding of the Lieutenant’s actions and feelings and of Martha’s letters and her apparent feelings. As the Lieutenant and Martha, write a couple of their next letters to each other. Keep in mind what you already know about the Lieutenant and Martha and the kind of relationship they have. Also, provide information, suggestions, or hints that reflect the contrasting feelings and settings for these two people.

    Open Notebook

    When you have finished, write a few notes about how and where the contents of this paragraph guided your word, phrase, and meaning choices.

    Share your work with your teacher.