A Mini-unit Outline for The King of Mazy May and The Ransom of Red Chief

Here is the beginning of a unit I worked on a few years ago for a small group of middle school students.  I titled the unit “Human Nature” because I feel these two stories have some great characters, and students enjoy these stories.

Essential Questions:      

What can I learn about myself through reading?

What can I learn about human nature through reading?

Why do writers use literary elements?

Key outcomes:   

students will gain insight about themselves and human nature

students will understand that literary elements are used to help enhance author’s message and meaning


Readings:  “The Ransom of Red Chief” and “The King of Mazy May”

Writing pieces:  Character analysis:  Red Chief, Sam, Bill, Walt; Dialogue from a given scenario;

Daily or post-reading fact-checks or retells (to build comprehension)

Character study sheets

Literary elements to focus on:  Irony, Idiom, Protagonist, Antagonist

Vocabulary study:  peer, liable, summit, antic, flounder, collaborate, commend, comply, palatable, proposition, surreptitiously (some words might change depending on the version of the story that we read)


  1. “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry
    1. Pre-reading questions: What is a ransom (discuss) and If you had to baby-sit a “terror-child” how would you handle it (discuss and connect).
    2. Build background knowledge about O. Henry (ironic stories)—define and write IRONY
    3. Build background knowledge about IDIOMs (define and give examples—find in story as we read); also do the vocab words
    4. Set up an active reading chart (predicting events/outcomes)
      1. My prediction/actual event/surprise (y or n)—I am looking to stop the group as we read at least 4 major events and have them write the event and then their prediction; after they read what happens have them write yes or no in the surprise column.
      2. Do character study sheets.
  1. “The King of Mazy May” by Jack London
    1. Pre-reading questions/activities: Look at the photos and quotes of the story.  Then ask them “What was the Gold Rush?” have them predict what the story might be about.  Then ask them “What are some get-rich-quick schemes that you know of in today’s society?”
    2. Background knowledge: protagonist and antagonist (sometimes not human); also do the vocab words
    3. Set up an active reading chart to study Walt’s character
      1. Walt (actions/thoughts/description) Meaning/conclusions
      2. Have them number the chart 1-5 to find at least 5 things and make 5 conclusions
    4. While reading the story stop periodically for fact checks, comprehension and predicting
    5. After the story do a fact check or a re-tell
    6. Do character study sheets.

Brit. Lit: The First Unit

The first unit of study in this class is all about personality and life events. The stories included in this unit all feature characters with major personality issues who make poor choices over what they can and cant control: “The Monkey’s Paw,” “The Open Window,” “The Pardoner’s Tale,” and “The Rocking Horse Winner”.

We will look at themes such as greed and desperation, control, and fate. We will discuss what people control in their lives and how their personality affects the choices they make. We will also discuss the outcomes for people when they try to change things they can’t control.

Students will use the text to help them interpret character traits. They will use the character traits to determine themes and support further interpretations in the text.

Culminating projects will be to create a Prezi journal using digital photography to document visual representations of things a person can control and things a person can’t control. A second culminating project will be to create a Glog on the student’s own personality traits, or to create a Glog comparing 4 characters’ personalities.

CORE skills that students will focus on through the course of this unit: citing text evidence to support analysis and interpretation, analyze how characters develop and interact throughh the course of the text to develop the plot and theme, interpreting themes from a text and using the text to support inferences. Students will also be required to make judgements about the text and connect ideas to the larger world.


Basic Lit: The Idea for the Year

Students in this class are preparing to read more difficult literature from around the world by practicing basic literacy skills.  The first skill students are working on is learning to cite text evidence to support analysis of what the text says.   As students show they can do this independently, they will move on to making inferences about a text and they will continue to need to highlight where they get their information in the text.

Students will also work on learning to find key ideas and details in order to determine a theme or central idea.  As they progress with this skill they will also have to analyze the development of the theme through the course of the text.  Students will use highlighting as a strategy to help them keep their information organized.

The other main area this class will focus on is vocabulary development.  This is so important for the students in this class because they haven’t been exposed to a lot of words and they lack the understanding of words necessary for better reading comprehension.  Another part of this will be to understand figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings.

American Lit: First Unit

The first unit of study in this course is “Exploration and Survival.”  We will read excerpts from “Undaunted Courage,” “War Party,” “Love of Life,” and “Pecos Bill.”  We will focus on what it takes to explore a new place and survive.  We will also talk about how exploring changed America and what Americans gained (and lost) through Westward Expansion.  Students will analyze characters and look at historical fiction, and non-fiction pieces to judge survival traits.

Culminating projects include creating a commercial with a Flip camera or designing a website to advertise the west and convince people to move there.  Students will need to tailor these advertisements to the type of people who will be able to handle the journey and survive.  They will also create a story about humans adventuring to populate another planet; ideally they will perform a play and capture it with Flip video or they will use digital cameras to take pictures and create a glog to tell the story.

CORE skills that students will focus on in this unit include analyzing who characters develop and interact, analyze a theme’s development through the text and cite textual evidence to support text analysis.