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Lesson Plan

Worth Its Weight: Letter Writing with "The Things They Carried"

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Worth Its Weight: Letter Writing with "The Things They Carried"

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Susanne Rubenstein

Susanne Rubenstein

Princeton, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



This lesson pairs reading and discussion of Tim O'Brien's story "The Things They Carried" with a letter-writing activity intended to help students develop the empathy needed to be insightful readers and to give students the opportunity to examine the symbolic weights they carry and, in turn, create meaningful, dynamic, and publishable prose. Students begin by listing all the things they carry, both literal and symbolic, and then think about the symbolic weight of these items. Next, after discussing O'Brien's story and how some of the things listed in the story reveal character, they return to their own lists to add anything they may have forgotten. They next write about three of the most significant weights they carry from their lists, describing the items and their importance to them. Finally, students write a letter to someone with whom they can share the weight of one of these things they carry.

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Letter Generator: This online tool allows students to read about the parts of a letter. They can then write and print their own friendly or business letter.

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In "The Things They Carried", O'Brien uses the simple device of the list to organize his story and to make the reader begin to understand the terrible weight young soldiers carried in the jungles of Vietnam (6).

The losses and the lessons of that war are part of my own adolescent experience, but, for my students, the war seems a piece of ancient history. Reading Tim O'Brien brings them to the edge of the jungle and makes them care about the lives of those who fought there. It is there that the soldiers' lives intersect with those of my students; it is there that empathy begins. The reading, writing and discussion we do around "The Things They Carried" is intended to help my students see that all of life demands courage and that none of us marches without a burden.

Further Reading

Rubenstein, Susanne. 1999. "Shared Weight: Tim O'Brien's ‘The Things They Carried.'" Short Stories in the Classroom. Eds. Carole L. Hamilton and Peter Kratzke. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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