Teaching Theme with “The Interlopers” by Saki
I read “The Interlopers” every year. Every year I’m enriched. Every year, some kid says, “I don’t get it. That was stupid!” Every year I’m called into the principal’s office for swearing at a student. This year will be different because I’ve got a great lesson plan for teaching theme.
I now share it with you.
Feel like you’re being overwhelmed by a giant beech tree when it comes to teaching short stories. Well I have the secret potion to rid yourself of that tree, which is metaphorically crushing your windpipe and causing your chest to constrict with worry: It’s called The Teaching Guide for “The Interlopers.” It contains the following (here’s a free sample: Interlopers Conflict).
- A brief summary and analysis of the story
- Lesson plans and graphic organizers relating to theme, conflict, suspense, irony, and Naturalism
- Answer keys for the above with discussion points for the teacher
- Lessons on writing a literary analysis with a literary analysis essay rubric
- A quiz that allows students to demonstrate mastery of numerous common core reading standards
- A copy of the story
You can choose to get revenge on the beech tree that crushed Georg and Ulrich by printing this pdf file or you can simply download it. Either way, these student-friendly handouts and teacher friendly (translation: your administrator will think you’re a genius) lesson plans provide numerous lessons that involves very little preparation on your part. It’s only $5.95 (about 1/10 what the major publishing companies would charge). Go ahead. Buy it.
Notes on Theme
Students should be familiar with the following information in order for your theme lesson plan to be effective:
- Theme is the central idea or message in a literary work. It is an observation about human life.
- Themes are rarely stated directly. They must be inferred.
- The theme is revealed by the way characters change in a story, conflicts in the story, and statements made by the narrator or characters.
- Understanding theme involves understanding plot, characters, and setting.
Strategies for Teaching Theme
I will use examples from “The Interlopers” by Saki to illustrate strategies for teaching theme.
Strategies for Teaching Theme
- Discuss Plot by analyzing cause and effect and identifying major and minor conflicts.
- Example: The main conflict, Ulrich’s and Georg’s hatred for one another, puts them in a bind. Their misfortune causes them to realize their foolishness. The approaching wolves don’t care.
- Analyze character motivation by noting which characters are dynamic and which ones are static. Look for evidence regarding character motives. Evaluate the character’s personality.
- Example: Ulrich and Georg are motivated by hatred initially. Their hatred softens and they become motivated by love. Their misfortune matures them quickly.
- Visualize setting by evaluating what effect the setting has on the characters and on the mood of the story.
- Example: The harsh setting reflects the harsh feelings of the two men. It forces each man’s character change and each man’s impending doom.
Teaching Theme Lesson Plan Procedures
Once you have the notes ready, the lesson is easy.
- Copy down and/or discuss the above notes on theme.
- Read “The Interlopers” by Saki or any other short story.
- In small groups, fill out a chart, listing specific evidence to support specific themes.
- Write a paragraph discussing and analyzing theme in “The Interlopers.” The topic sentence should be an explicit statement of theme. The paragraph must include specific details from the story.
Assessment should take into account not just the student’s ability to write, but his or her ability to cite evidence from the short story, organize it, and draw conclusions based on it.
By the way, Themes in “The Interlopers” include the harshness and indifference of nature, the inner struggle between civilization and savagery, the silliness of vendettas and the revenge mindset, empathy and understanding are the keys to conflict resolution, and life is too short to carry on silly feuds.
Other Learning Activities for Theme in”The Interlopers” and other Short Stories
Write a found poem. This forces students to collect evidence that supports a specific theme without them realizing it. A found poem is a poem written using exact words from a literary work. I wrote this one myself.
In a forest of mixed growth,
a man stood one winter night.
the narrow strip of precipitous woodland,
amid the wild tangle of undergrowth,
a deed of Nature’s own violence overwhelmed them both.
Both had now given up the useless struggle,
and each prayed a private prayer,
the idiotic chattering of a man unstrung with hideous fear.
ELA Common Core Standards Covered
The following assignments cover the following ELA common core standards for reading and writing. This is for your administrator, not your kids. Kids need student-friendly worded objectives.
- RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
- RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
- RL.9-10.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
- W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
Short Story Guides
Teaching the Reading Literature Common Core Standards are easy with short stories.
- The Black Cat
- The Cask of Amontillado
- The Masque of the Red Death
- The Necklace
- The Most Dangerous Game
- The Interlopers
- The Gift of the Magi