Blog Post No. 3,001: A Trove of Documents for Teaching Stephen King’s Novella “The Body”

In keeping with something resembling a tradition at Mark’s Text Terminal, I am posting this mass of unfinished material as I round the corner to the next thousand posts here.

My first exposure to Stephen King was the film adaptation of his novella “The Body,” which director Rob Reiner rendered as “Stand By Me.” I thought it was a brilliant rite-of-passage story. So when the credits rolled and I noticed that he was the source, I needed to revise upward my opinion of Mr. King: I’d tended to think of him as a pulp novelist working in the horror genre, something he himself would probably own. I’m no stranger to pulp novels; a glance at my Goodreads shelves discloses that I read far too many mystery and thriller novels. Horror really isn’t my thing–I find everyday life plenty scary–so I never read any of Stephen King’s novels. Of course I was aware of his presence in American culture–how could one miss him?

After I began teaching high school students in 2003, I began to think about a unit on “The Body.” There was something about the universality of experience in the story that I thought would appeal to the New York City kids I was teaching–even though the story is set in rural Maine in the late 1950s.. Moreover, I saw a chance to write a comparative unit that incorporated both text and film, with an analysis of each for its strengths and weaknesses. I also wanted to use the story to build vocabulary, procedural knowledge, and a love of reading in the minds of my academic charges.

So, around 2011, I read the story, watched the movie again, and sat down to plan. What follows is the fruit of my labor. As you will quickly perceive, this unit simply got away from me. I tried to do too many things, across too long a span of time, to sustain the dramatic tension of of the story, let alone kids’ attention and interest, let alone following the narrative itself.

After I post all this material, I plan to remove it from my hard drive. Therefore, the only extant copies of it will be here in cyberspace, or perhaps on your own hard drive, should you choose to take this material.

Let’s start with the supporting material. First of all, here is the (incomplete) unit plan. I imagine I planned to use this body of text emendations to fill in lesson plans, but quite possibly the unit plan as well; it looks like something I typed up during a time-wasting faculty meeting, then emailed to myself. Next, here is a list of big exegetical questions I conceived to drive discussions; this too, alas, is incomplete. Finally, for this paragraph, here is the lesson plan template for this unit’s lessons.

Regular readers and users of this blog know that I use a lot of context clues worksheets as a means of building procedural knowledge in reading. Unsurprisingly, then, I had big plans for using them here. At this time, although I didn’t realize it, I was on my way to changing from teaching ten new vocabulary words at a time to one, which is much more appropriate for the struggling learners in whose service I have tended to work. This is the list of vocabulary words, by chapters of the novella, that I planned to teach. Here are the worksheet templates for teaching multiple words in one class session as well as only one word per class session.

Before getting to the lessons themselves, here are a learning support on basic literary terms and a worksheet template for independent practice (i.e. homework).

Now, onto the lessons. The first several are complete, but the majority are not (as I said, this really did get away from me). In the interest of preventing this post from becoming more turgid than it already is, I’ll present this in list form. All the material, lesson plans, do-nows, worksheets, and anything else related to each lesson (in Word, so you may do with them as you wish) will be consolidated into one document for easy downloading and cataloguing. These will be in two sections: finished materials and unfinished materials. Keep in mind that the unfinished materials are really only templates awaiting full development; in fact, as I review the materials, I notice that the only undeveloped part of each lesson is the multiple-word context clues worksheets. As above, I doubt very much those worksheets are even appropriate for this unit, particularly if you are teaching it to struggling learners.

I. Finished Materials

Lesson 1: This lesson deals with the the concept of a rite of passage.

Lesson 2: This lesson introduces students to, or reinforces their understanding of, the concept of metaphor.

Lesson 3: This lesson introduces students to, or reinforces their understanding of, the concept of simile.

Lesson 4: This lesson begins the reading of the novel and is a critical exegesis of chapters 1 and 2.

Lesson 5: This lesson takes students through an analysis of chapters 3 and 4.

Lesson 6: This lesson guides students through an exegesis of lessons 5 and 6.

Lesson 7: Nota bene, please, that although I prepared materials for this lesson, an exegesis of chapter 7, I didn’t actually teach it. It is a story within the story and is of questionable propriety, even for high schoolers. It really does not bear on the narrative, so it can be skipped. If you’ve read this novella, or are planning to teach it, you will definitely understand what I’m circumlocuting here.

Lesson 8: This lesson guides students through a lengthy context clues worksheet and a relatively short exegesis of chapter 9.

Lesson 9: This lesson deals with chapter 10.

Lesson 10: This lesson guides students through an analysis of chapter 11.

Lesson 11: Students will perform an an exegesis of chapter 12 in this lesson.

Lesson 12: This lesson takes students through a close reading of chapter 13.

II. Unfinished Materials

Here is all the rest of the material I wrote for this unit. Most of it is incomplete and arguably superfluous. But it is work, and someone may have use for it. I assembled as simply–and this the greatest possible brevity–as I could.

Lesson 13 (Chapter 14); Lesson 14 (Chapter 15); Lesson 15 (Chapter 16); Lesson 16 (Chapter 17); Lesson 17 (Chapter 18); Lesson 18 (Chapter 19); Lesson 19 (Chapter 20); Lesson 20 (Chapter 21); Lesson 21 (Chapters 22, 23, 24); Lesson 22 (Chapter 25); Lesson 23 (Chapter 26); Lesson 24 (Chapter 27); Lesson 25 (Chapter 28); Lesson 26 (Chapters 29,30, 31); Lesson 27 (Chapter 32); Lesson 28 (Chapter 33); Lesson 29 (Chapter 34).

That’s it! I avoided looking at this unit for several years out of fear of its quality. As I scrolled through and collated each lesson while preparing this post, I definitely felt that my anxiety was well-founded: most of it is overdeveloped, and yet somehow underdeveloped at the same time, if that is possible. As a unit, it is uneven at best. But I think it has potential as the start of something, or I would not have posted it. If nothing else, it is a pile of text that might be used for a variety of purposes beyond the unit itself.

Finally, I should mention that “The Body” is part of an omnibus called Different Seasons. Three of its four stories have been produced as films: “The Body, “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “Apt Pupil.” The fourth story, “The Breathing Method,” I learned while researching this post, will appear as a film this (2020) year. In the course of preparing the foregoing unit on “The Body” I ended up reading all four stories in this collection, and they are all first rate. Pulp novelist or no, I think there is a very good chance Stephen King’s place in American literary history will be as a worthy inheritor of Edgar Allan Poe’s mantle.

If you find typos in these documents, fix them for your own use. The chances that I will have a chance to use this material again, let alone develop it further, are slim to none. I hope you find this material useful. If you use it or develop it further, and are so inclined, please advise. I seek your peer review.

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