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Lesson Plan

In Literature, Interpretation is the Thing

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Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two to three 50-minute class sessions
Lesson Author

Mary Callahan

Medford, Massachusetts


International Literacy Association



From Theory to Practice



Studying great works of literature is generally considered beneficial because of what is inherent in the writing. Students are told that this literature contains brilliant and timeless insights into human nature. Conflict may arise, however, when the attitudes of a particular time are reflected in a text. Critical analysis encourages students to look beyond this conflict by examining the relationship between the text and a reader's interpretation. The purpose of this lesson is to facilitate such analysis by looking at the text itself as well as critical interpretations of it. Students present this analysis in both oral and written form.

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Mellor, B., & Patterson, A. (2000). Critical practice: Teaching "Shakespeare." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 43(6), 508517.

  • Students should be encouraged to reflect critically on the nature of the activity in which they are engaged rather than merely engaging in it. When studying literature, this means having students not just read, but also think about how they are reading a text and the reasons behind divergent interpretations by different critics and readers of the same character. What are the contexts, social factors, personal biases, etc. involved in the shaping of interpretations?

  • Instead of attempting to ascertain correct interpretation, it may be more productive to discuss with students how each of the interpretations was constructed and for what purposes and what makes them valid within a particular context.

  • There are alternate approaches to reading great works such as Shakespeare's Hamlet beyond the traditional model's implicit view that great literature is a slice or reflection of life. Rather, literature is written and read in particular places and at particular times in ways that endorse particular values and beliefs about the world.

  • Modern social views and values often clash dramatically with those of the time when, for example, Hamlet was written. Negative reactions from modern readers are common and can create hostility towards some classic literature. Asking students to examine cultural context to understand characters who seem antiquated, racist, or bizarre by modern standards analysis is valuable and necessary for deeper understanding of literature.

  • Through these alternative approaches, students can develop greater consciousness of the processes involved in reading and writing. Examining great works of literature and the myriad and varied interpretations of such can lead to a stronger understanding of the influences that affect these disparate and conflicting interpretations.

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