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Lesson Plan

Writing Alternative Plots for Robert C. O'Brien's Z for Zachariah

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Writing Alternative Plots for Robert C. O'Brien's Z for Zachariah

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 40-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Lara Hebert, EdM

Lara Hebert, EdM

Urbana, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



Throughout Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien, the narrator, Ann Burden, is faced with a number of tough decisions as she strives to survive in a post-nuclear holocaust world. As a culminating activity, students apply their knowledge of cause and effect to these tough decisions to create alternative plots. Students pick a part of the story where Ann makes a critical decision and then rewrite the remaining portion of the plot based around the predicted effect of Ann making the opposite choice. Students write in the style of the author, peer-review and revise their writing, then post their work on the branches of a classroom Cause and Effect Tree.

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Plot Alternatives Designer: Students can use this online tool to create a cause and effect chain based on changing a decision from a book.

Developing Alternative Plots for Z for Zachariah Culminating Project Rubric: Use this rubric to assess students' alternative plots.

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Strategies used by experienced readers must be modeled and practiced. Using read alouds with discussion and activities provides a means for students to connect personally to the text and to practice such strategies. By asking students to reevaluate decisions made by a protagonist in a story and to follow the effects of those decisions through to their natural consequences, this lesson invites students to think critically about moral issues and decision-making. In describing how they created a "socially conscious language arts curriculum" (1), Busching and Slesinger describe the teacher's role as to "...push the students to probe more deeply into an issue, not to teach them the ideas we were committed to." (10) This lesson supports that goal by letting students openly explore the causes and effects of moral decisions in a work of literature.

Further Reading

Atwell, Nancie. 1998. In the Middle: New Understandings about Reading, Writing, and Learning. Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton/Cook.


Busching, Beverly, and Betty Ann Slesinger. 2002. "The Curricular Stance: Active Learning into Active Citizenship," Pp.1-23 in It's Our World Too": Socially Responsive Learners in Middle School Language Arts. Urbana, IL: NCTE.


Calkins, Lucy McCormick. 1987. The Art of Teaching Writing. 2nd Ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Hansen, J. 1987. When Writers Read. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Robb, Laura. 2000. Teaching Reading in the Middle School: A Strategic Approach to Teaching Reading That Improves Comprehension and Thinking. New York, N.Y.: Scholastic, Inc.

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