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Lessons on Sacred Place, Short Story Unit, 9th Grade
by Melanie Webb, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Jacksonville, FL, 2009

old postcard image of Jacksonville, Florida - Old postcard image of Jacksonville, Florida

Background: For Pre-Advanced Placement Level. All short stories taken from Steinbeck’s The Long Valley. Assignments intended for 1-½ hour blocks.

Day 1

Objective: Students will discuss their personal relationship with place, and express understanding of sacred place through artistic expression and creative but structured writing. Students will compare and contrast personal ideas of space with literary examples.

  • Discuss sacred spaces through open-ended discussion: “How important is the environment that surrounds you? In what way is your sacred space distinct? What feelings/emotions are elicited when you think about your special place? In what way do events that occur shape your memories about a particular place? How might the history of your sacred place, as perceived by outsiders, affect your relationship to your place?
  • Draw a map (simple sketch) of a personal, sacred place – share out
  • Read excerpt from “Mapping the Sacred Places” (MS Word) by Jan DeBlieu, discuss and relate back to the sketch
  • Read Rick Bragg excerpt from All Over But the Shoutin’ (MS Word), discuss Bragg’s feelings about his place, focusing on setting, diction and mood
  • Write “It was a place where…. “ using Template on personal sacred place (MS Word) – share out

Homework: Revise map, in color, and revise “It was a place where”, type. (If map is being assessed, remind students to hold onto it once it is returned to them. It will be used for the final assessment of this unit).

Day 2

Objective: Students will practice critical reading skills, noting literary techniques and their effect on text. Students will practice connecting the effect of literary devices to theme.

  • Introduce Steinbeck’s perspective on “place” - share California images with quotes about place
  • Begin reading “The Chrysanthemums”-teacher will model how to annotate for theme (noting diction, setting, tone, mood and characterization).

Homework: Finish annotating “The Chrysanthemums”.

Day 3

Objective: Students will collaboratively organize literary devices and evaluate devices in terms of theme.

  • Discuss space within the story, “The Chrysanthemums”. What might the farm represent? The town? What might Steinbeck be suggesting about gender through his use of character, tone, diction and setting? What might Steinbeck be suggesting about gender, in general (this question will hopefully lead to THEME).
  • In groups, students will be assigned several pages of “The Chrysanthemums”. Groups will look for at least one example of each device within their assigned section (such as mood, tone, theme, and so on). Then the whole class will share out, either composing their examples on the board or handing them in to the teacher who will project them. Students will note that certain themes are beginning to emerge, as conveyed through literary devices, when the same themes show up over and over again within different collaborative groups.

Homework: Read and annotate “Johnny Bear”- specifically highlighting examples of TONE

Day 4

Objective: Students will decipher tone and its relation to theme, then begin to craft a personal text on sacred space in which students will practice utilizing literary devices Steinbeck employs.

  • Discuss “Johnny Bear”. How does Steinbeck use the setting of the town to illustrate characterization? How does the author seem to feel about his subject (tone)? How might this differ from how the characters feel about the subject of the story?
  • Begin the prewriting for students’ personal story of a sacred place: Have students brainstorm a list of adjectives that describe their sacred place (of course they can look at their map from Day 1), or how they feel in their sacred place. Next, have students brainstorm a list of events that occurred in their sacred place. These events can be specific or general, perhaps even imaginary. The purpose for this brainstorming activity is for students to generate ideas for topics for their stories. Next, instruct them to choose one event that occurred in their space; the event they feel they can most comfortably convey in a story. Again, it could even be an imagined event. Next, tell them to choose one or two tonal words from their list, and through setting, character and diction, they will be writing a creative story about their sacred place, while trying to emulate a particular tone they want to convey. Their goal is not to write a perfect story, but rather put into practice what they learned about setting, tone, mood and the value of place, and to model how to use these literary devices as Steinbeck did.

Homework: Begin working on draft for story, read and annotate “The Snake” and “The Harness” (This would be assigned over a weekend or several days).

Day 5

Objective: Students will compare and contrast how Steinbeck uses similar techniques to elicit different literary outcomes, thus furthering our discussion of sacred place.

  • Discuss “The Snake” and “The Harness”. Gender roles in each story, use of outdoors vs. indoors for setting, characterization, tone, mood….
  • In groups, assign some students “The Harness” and some “The Snake”. Students will compare tonal words. Create a chart on the board to compare the different tones of each story. How does the setting affect/shape the different tones/moods? How might these relate to themes?
  • Discuss with students how they can use diction to shape their own stories.
  • Share Rubric For Sacred Place Creative Story (MS Word).

Homework: Finish first draft of story; bring it to class to revise in editing groups.

Day 6

Objective: Students will engage in peer revision and will reflect on their own writing to improve their creative stories on place. Teacher will introduce Mood and Theme essay.

  • Put students into groups of 3 or 4. Have students highlight examples of literary devices in their OWN paper. Then have the groups do “read arounds” to edit for spelling, syntactical and grammatical errors. Group members should also examine the effectiveness of literary devices and add comments. How do the editors FEEL while reading the story? If most students in a group come up with the same MOOD, then that particular story is likely to be successful.
  • Explain Rubric for MOOD essay (MS Word). Students should be prepared to complete an on demand writing next class. They will have the whole class period to complete it. They will choose one story, either “The Chrysanthemums,” “Johnny Bear,” “The Snake” or “The Harness” and during class in essay format will explore the mood of their chosen story and how it relates to or reveals theme (The reason it will be assigned as an in class essay is to simulate pre-AP writing conditions).
  • *** If necessary, model a MOOD/THEME essay by taking an additional instruction day to show them an example from another text you’ve read together.

Homework: Be prepared with chosen short story to write in class. Finalized creative story with draft work due in two classes.

Day 7

Objective: Students will practice analytical skills and model an AP testing environment by writing their Mood/Theme essays. Students will rely on research skills to wrest examples from the text and link them to mood and theme. Students will illustrate good writing practices by being attentive to grammar, spelling, etc.

  • Hand out rubric and give students the entire class period to finish their essay. They may, of course, use their chosen story as reference as they write, because they need to use direct quotes.

Homework: Students should bring their completed creative stories to next class.

Day 8

Objective: Teacher will model or explain expectations for final assignment of the short story unit, the Multimedia Sacred Place project. Students will understand how to synthesize personal writing with images and graphics, utilizing point of view. Students will create a visual tour of their personal sacred place. Students will use a narrative structure, maintaining the voice of one or more characters from their creative story, to take the viewer on a technological journey. This will, ideally, reinforce what we’ve learned about mood, because students should try to continue to maintain the same mood in their visual multimedia project (see Multimedia Project Expectations and Rubric [MS Word]) that they used in their short story.

Today, explore how students are going to conclude this unit by creating a multimedia map of their sacred place. They will base this visual map on their creative story.

Collect their creative stories, and tell them you will return the stories after the stories are assessed. Tell them to use this time (before the stories are graded and returned) for reflection and to begin their research. If possible or necessary, model their sacred place map by creating a map for one of Steinbeck’s stories.

  • Their map should be due two to three weeks after the graded stories are returned.
  • **** You could also create a presentation grade for students to present their visual journey.


Steinbeck, John. “The Harness”, “The Snake”, “The Chrysanthemums”, “Johnny Bear” from The Long Valley. Penguin Books: New York, New York, 1995.
Bragg, Rick. All Over But the Shoutin’. Vintage: New York, 1997.
DeBlieu, Jan. “Mapping the Sacred Places.” Orion Magazine Spring, 1994. 18-23.





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