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A Separate Peace: Fact & Fiction

Fiction writers often like to incorporate bits of reality and truth into their writing in order to communicate with the reader. John Knowles incorporated several themes and details about World War II (WWII) into his fiction novel, A Separate Peace, to show his readers how people of all ages were affected by the war. In the following lesson, students compare Knowles' real-life experiences to those of the main characters in the novel.

Grade Level(s)

Curriculum Area

Time Required
5-10 class periods

Standards Connections
Materials/Resources Needed
Teacher Preparation
Introducing the Lesson
Student Activities
Wrap-Up and Evaluation
Extension Activity

Standards Connections
  • National Standards:
    • Standards for the English Language Arts (NCTE/IRA)/Standard 7: Conducting Research and Standard 8: Using Technological and Informational Resources
  • State Standards:
    • Maryland School Performance Program
      1. Students interpret and analyze the meaning of literary works from diverse cultures and authors by applying different critical lenses and analytic techniques.
    • See www.explorasource.com for more state standards connections.
  • District Standards (fill in your own)
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Students will:
  • Research John Knowles' life during WWII and see his school.
  • Discuss major connections made between Knowles' life and the novel.
  • Use the writing process to write an essay about similarities noted between Knowles' life and the novel.
  • Create a scrapbook that represents a fictional character's experiences during his time at school during WWII.
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Materials/Resources Needed
  • Electronic Handouts:
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    Teacher Preparation
    1. The class should read the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles before beginning this lesson.
    2. Revise and edit the electronic handouts as needed. You will need to add a due date to both the essay and the project guidelines as well as revise the point value to match your grading scale.
    3. Download the Discourse content and import it into Discourse Teacher.
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    Introducing the Lesson
    1. Hold a brief discussion with your class using the "Think, Pair, Share" method. When you ask a question, give students a moment to think about their answers and write them down, then share them with a partner, and finally ask for volunteers to share their ideas with the entire class.
    2. Use the following questions as a guide for the class discussion:
      1. Identify details in the novel that relate to WWII.
      2. How does the war affect the characters in the novel?
      3. Describe the setting and location of the Devon School.
      4. How did the characters in the novel entertain themselves?
    3. Explain to students that this lesson will allow them to analyze similarities between Knowles' life and events in the novel. They will observe the school the author attended and analyze articles about his experiences there and during the war. Next, students will use their written observations to write an essay. Finally, the students will create a scrapbook which portrays Knowles' WWII experiences, through the eyes of his main character, Gene Forrester.
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    Student Activities
    Activity 1: Observation and Analysis

    Grouping: Whole class, individual
    Materials: Discourse content

    1. Open Discourse Teacher and ask your students to open Discourse and connect to your computer. Open the A Separate Peace Discourse content to Frame 1. Click the WebTravel button and the Travel button so that students can see Exeter, which John Knowles attended.
    2. Travel around the Exeter website with students, visiting areas such as course schedules, campus maps, sports programs, and student activities.
    3. Ask the class if they see any similarities between Exeter and Devon, even though it is now the 21st century. Next ask students what the major differences are between Exeter and public schools today are.
    4. Move to Frame 2 in Discourse and visit the website about John Knowles' experiences at Exeter using WebTravel. Read and discuss the article with the class, making sure to ask students to observe similarities between Knowles' experiences at his school and his characters' experiences at Devon.
    5. After the class has discussed the article, give students time to take notes on the article independently.

    Activity 2: Thesis Statements
    Grouping: Whole class, individual
    Materials: Discourse, Essay Criteria Sheet

    1. When students have completed taking notes in Activity 1, beam or email them the essay criteria sheet. Ask students to open the file and review the instructions for the project with the class.
    2. Next, students should draft a thesis statement for their essay. You can use Discourse to share the students' examples with the entire class.
      1. Open Discourse Teacher and create a new lesson. Make sure that the students have opened Discourse and connected to your computer.
      2. Click the Content button to make sure you are in Content view. Select Open Ended from the pulldown menu, then publish the blank frame.
      3. Now click the Response button so you are in the Response view, then click the Frame Responses button to see everyone's answers at once.
      4. Skim the statements and share the best with the class by right-clicking the answer and choosing Response to Class Display with name or Response to Class Display.

    Activity 3: Writing and Editing an Essay
    Grouping: Individual, partners
    Materials: Essay Criteria Sheet.

    1. Provide students time in class to work on writing and editing their papers.
    2. Be sure to give students time to edit each other's papers. If students are writing their papers on computers, they can beam or email their papers to their partners to edit. Students using computers that have color displays can use a different colored font so that their edits stand out.
    3. Students should consider their partners' edits as they write the final draft of their essay.
    4. Have students beam or email their final copies to you as they finish incorporating their partners' edits.

    Activity 4: Creating a Scrapbook
    Grouping: Small Groups
    Materials: Scrapbook Criteria Sheet

    1. Beam or email the Scrapbook Criteria Sheet to students. Ask students to open the file and look over the criteria. Discuss expectations and display a model (if available).
    2. Place students into groups of three or four, and assign each student a role (one or two recorders and two Web surfers). The recorders will record all information found by the Web surfers in Excel.
    3. Provide students with enough time to compile their information and create a scrapbook. Pictures may be downloaded and printed from a desktop computer.
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    Wrap-Up Activity and Evaluation
    Grouping: Individual, small groups
    Materials: Essay and Scrapbook Project Criteria

    1. Students will submit their group projects.
    2. Use the rubric to evaluate the essay and the scrapbook project.
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    Extension Activity
    Grouping: Individual or small groups
    Materials: Student computers, Discourse, Printer, or Email

    1. Return to the Exeter Home Page (Frame 1 in Discourse content) and visit the "Scheduling" page. Ask students to note some of the courses that current Exeter students are enrolled in and think about what Gene or Finny would take if they were there today. Create a schedule for one of these characters using Excel.
    2. Open a new Word document on the handheld computer and write an obituary for Gene. The article should begin with 1942 and include events up until the year he died. Note: Students may need to revisit the Web to locate events beyond WWII.

    Lesson plan provided by Kristin Schonemann, 9th grade English teacher, River Hill High School in Howard County, MD.
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