Teaching McCarthy’s, The Road

I have been teaching Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for several years. Every time I read this novel, I learn something new–I contemplate something new. McCarthy’s spare writing is haunting and beautiful. It reads like poetry to me.

As with any work of fiction, I usually write at least 5 essential questions for students to ponder. These questions serve as a framework as we read the novel. I ask students to answer the questions before we even start reading. They write their responses in a group Google Doc which is posted to Google Classroom. We continue to touch upon these questions as we read, and again after we’re done reading the work.

Another activity we complete during the reading allows the students to think about characterization. They think about how the characters of the father and son complement each other. The father and son are foil characters for each other. The son often has to remind the father that it’s possible for there to be “good guys” on the road as well as “bad guys.” The father sees the son as his “warrant.” He must get the son to safety in the south, and in so doing, he is not willing to trust other humans they meet on the road. And that brings up an important concept in this novel–hopefulness. Hopefulness is just as important as food, safety, and shelter. This concept is symbolized by the phrase, “carrying the fire.”

After we’re done reading the novel, I like to have my students discuss the essential questions, and other questions relating to plot, characterization, symbolism, and other literary concepts. I have used the Socratic Seminar model, but this year, I created a totally unique discussion model. I call it , Talk, Jot, Rotate! It’s a combination of the fast-paced aspect of speed “dating” debating and Socratic Seminar. The students loved it! They especially loved being able to rotate and get a new partner with each new question.

If you’d like to find out more about the activities discussed in this post, click on the following links:

Talk, Jot, Rotate!

Character Development Graphic Organizer

Essential Questions Graphic Organizer


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