English Language Arts
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Film
  • Grade 12 ELA
  • Stereotypes
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Referencing Events

    Referencing Events


    Students plot the six most important events in “Once Upon a Time” and discuss what they think the author is saying about life in South Africa. Then they look at how the story made them feel and where it seemed particularly Juvenalian.

    Lesson Preparation

    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.


    • Try having students begin with just the title in an informal discussion. What does it connote? Ask students what the title would suggest on its own, if they knew nothing about the story?
    • ELL: If using the word connote, be sure that your ELLs understand its meaning. If they don’t, allow them to look up the word. Alternatively, allow them to work with a student who can explain.
    • Responses will vary, but students may bring up the relationship between inequality and poverty.


    Referring to the annotations you made for homework, discuss the following with your classmates.

    • What connections did you make between current events and the short story “Once Upon a Time”? Explain.

    Once Upon a Time

    • You can use the annotation provided for “Once Upon a Time” to check for students’ understanding of the text.
    • As students work together, you can circulate to see who’s having trouble summarizing the events of the story.
      • SWD: Offer suggestions for students with disabilities to scaffold this activity. For example, they could create a graphic organizer to plot important events in the story.
    • It’s always a good idea to make sure all students are grounded in the text. In this story, particularly, some students may have missed that the little boy dies.
    • You might ask students to share Gordimer’s point or write it on a board, so students can compare their ideas.
    • You might give students who struggle several plot points to begin with. For instance, you could give them the point where the husband and wife go on walks and look at various fences.
    • More able students might attempt to define specific feelings for each plot point. They might also try to tease out different feelings they feel at the story's end.
    • Students who find this difficult might receive a prompt to begin, such as “I feel most angry in the story when __.”
      • ELL: If you find that students have a hard time expressing themselves, ask probing questions. Many times a feeling can be conveyed by using many words to explain it even when there is one word that encapsulates its meaning fully. If they have trouble finding that word, allow them to explain with full sentences and then provide the word that you think encapsulates the feelings as they describe them. Check that they agree with the word you found. Write it on the board to be sure they know how to spell it.

    Work Time

    With a partner, complete the following tasks.

    • Plot the six most important events in “Once Upon a Time.”
    • Next, discuss together what you think the author, Nadine Gordimer, is saying about life in South Africa. Take notes on important ideas raised during your discussion and how they might connect with life in other countries, like the United States.
    • Write a response to the question, “At what plot points did you personally feel most intensely sad, angry, or disturbed?”
    • Return to your annotations and try to trace back what in the writing led to your feelings.

    Open Notebook

    Juvenalian Lines

    • Students who are more able might actually rank the lines from most to least bitter and begin to analyze the reasons for the tone shift.
    • Struggling students might try to find the single harshest line in the story and then justify their choice.

    Work Time

    Consider the following prompts.

    • Which lines in “Once Upon a Time” make it especially Juvenalian, or harsh or bitter? Find at least three with your partner.
    • Annotate and explain your thinking.

    Share one of the lines you chose with the whole class. Explain why you chose it.


    • With this unit, particularly, since satire can be such an elusive term, you’ll come back often to the questions:
      • ✓ What makes this satire?
      • ✓ What is satire?
        • SWD: The Quick Write is an important skill, but one that might overwhelm students with disabilities who are weak writers. If you think students with disabilities need additional support, consider side-by-side coaching and limit the number of sentences.
        • ELL: Be aware of the language load in defining terms, especially abstract ones such as satire. Consider allowing ELLs to work in pairs as a form of support.


    Complete a Quick Write.

    • Why is this satire? What is Gordimer satirizing?

    Open Notebook

    Can Literature Make a Difference?

    • Struggling students might be given an abbreviated version of the quote:
      • ✓ “Propaganda has its place. It seeks to persuade people. But literature, poetry, novels, stories—these are an exploration of life.” Is Gordimer’s story propaganda or literature? Why do you think this?
      • ELL: Consider providing sentence frames such as the following:

    ✓ One piece of Gordimer’s quote that interests me is …

    ✓ Gordimer’s quote connects to the story in that …

    ✓ Gordimer’s story is propaganda because …

    ✓ Gordimer’s story is literature because …


    An interviewer once asked Gordimer if literature can make a difference. She responded:

    “Has it not always done this? Most people don’t make the distinction between literature and propaganda. Propaganda has its place. It seeks to persuade people. But literature, poetry, novels, stories—these are an exploration of life."

    “Albert Camus said: ‘The moment when I am no more than a writer, I shall cease to write.’ He was saying that if you are a writer, you are also a human being, a citizen, and therefore you have social responsibility as well. This doesn’t mean you’ve got to write propaganda, but that you should explore life. That is what he, and other great writers, did so magnificently. We couldn’t really live without the result of their exploration.”

    1. Find one piece of Gordimer’s quote that interests you and explain your choice in one to two paragraphs. Make a connection to the story if possible.
    2. Share your work. Read and comment on a couple of your classmates’ paragraphs.

    Open Notebook