English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Grammar
  • Short Stories
  • Vietnam War
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Interpretation of Symbols

    Interpretation of Symbols


    In this lesson, students will continue to read, annotate, write about, and discuss “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.

    The Weight of What They Carry

    • Direct students to make notes and answer questions in the text for easier reference.
    • Students should notice that there is a distinct difference among the things the men carry.
      • ✓ They carry military supplies and weapons, they carry personal belongings that have significance to them, and they carry emotional weight.
      • ✓ The narrator gives the exact, physical weight of what the men carried, reasons the men carried a certain object, or reasons the men were carrying a particular emotional weight.
    • Direct students to this theme if, as they skim what they have read so far, they do not recognize it.
      • ELL: Be sure students understand the meaning of theme. Consider providing examples by discussing possible themes in previously read texts.
    • Students do not have to write down every single item that the men are carrying. Instead, the goal is to help students see that there are three main categories of things the men are carrying and to begin the discussion of what O'Brien is trying to do by how he reveals these details to the reader.
    • After students have had some time to share, use the following probing questions if they haven't been addressed:
      • ✓ What are the different types or categories of things to carry?
      • SWD: For students who need help organizing information, you can create a table with three columns: gear, personal items, and emotions. Have students list things that the men carry in the appropriate column.
      • ✓ Why does weight matter, particularly emotional weight?
      • ✓ In what way do the story's details build sympathy in you or provide an understanding of the men?


    Review what you have read of “The Things They Carried” so far. Note places where the narrator gives specific weight to the things the men are carrying. Then respond to the following questions.

    • What kinds of things are the men carrying?
    • What kinds of things does the narrator assign specific weight to?
      • Why do you think he does this?
    • What effect does this assigning of weight have on you as you read the story?

    When you have finished, talk through your thoughts and ideas with the rest of the class.

    The Men in The Things They Carried

    • Use the reading time to work with individuals or small groups of students who may be having difficulty or frustration with the text.
    • Circulate and listen in, taking note of interesting ideas that emerge in their conversations.
      • ELL: This is a good opportunity to check for understanding with these students. Consider allowing them to work and discuss with a partner who shares their primary language of origin, as possible.

    Work Time

    Begin reading where you left off last lesson, and read through the paragraph that begins, “They carried the emotional baggage of men who might die.”

    • Annotate and highlight as you read, focusing on what O’Brien does to make the reader feel an emotional attachment to the men.

    Share your notes and your ideas with your partner. Add to your own notes as you discuss.

    Big Ideas

    • Direct students to respond to questions in the text.
    • Have students write for several minutes. Let them know they will have a chance to share their ideas in the next lesson.
    • Ask students to discuss the importance of close reading.
    • If students have trouble identifying thematic ideas, consider pointing them to words to get started.
      • SWD: Students who struggle with inferential thinking and generalization can benefit from support through modeling interpretation from very clear examples. If your students need this support, you can provide references from other works that the class has read as models for identifying theme (e.g., What was the theme of “The Tell-Tale Heart”? What are themes that are common in writing about war? Are those themes present in this short story?).


    Reread the last paragraph from the section you just finished. Annotate and take notes on how the narrator characterizes the men.

    Then answer the following questions.

    • How does the narrator feel about the men in the story? How do you know?
    • What specific pieces from the text support your thinking?
    • What big ideas or thematic ideas are expressed in this paragraph?

    The End of The Things They Carried

    • Reinforce the importance of writing down questions they have about the text.


    Finish reading “The Things They Carried.”

    • Note what you do not understand.
    • Note what you think is important.