This lesson introduces my students to a close reading of the first sentences narrated by the protagonist in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. They will use this technique known as marking and discussing the passage to establish their first impressions of the protagonist and narrator, Amir. It is my intention to raise my students' awareness of how an author introduces readers to his protagonist, and through this first impression, he hopes to pique the readers interest and curiosity. For this close reading exercise which is the central tool for my unit, I have laid out the six-step template near the end of my Rationale, the second section of my unit.
The first few sentences that my students will explore from The Kite Runner are:
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the
winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling
wall, peeking into the alley . . .That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they
say about the past, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out
First students will copy the passage in the center of a piece of unlined paper laid out landscape-style, leaving a wide margin around the edges, perhaps even double spacing the lines for easy access. Copying the passage gives students a tactile association with the words, phrases, and sentences.
Next they will underline unfamiliar words and look up their definitions. In this case there may be no words they do not know.
Then, they will circle words or phrases that seem meaningful to our study of character; in this case we will not have studied Amir, so they will simply circle words and phrases that seem important to the passage, such as: "I became what I am today at the age of twelve." I will add to the passage in class the next sentence in which Amir admits that he has been "peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years," making him presently thirty-eight years old when he is narrating his story. Some may circle words that seem to set a somber, almost confessional tone for the passage: frigid, overcast, winter, crouching, crumbling, peeking, wrong, bury, claws, and with the extra sentence, twenty-six years.
Whether they circle phrases or words, it seems inevitable that they will arrive somewhere near the same place. In step four they will draw lines out to the margins of their paper and brainstorm ideas, associations, and questions they have for the circled words or phrases. For example, at the end of a line drawn out from the words crouching and peeking students might associate these with being secretive. At the end of the line from the phrase, it's wrong they might infer that Amir did something he should not have done when he was twelve. In the margin from they say you can bury it, and claws its way out, they might infer that you cannot bury things you have done in the past no matter how long ago it was. Some students no doubt will circle the words it and its, and at the end of those lines out in the margins, question what it is and why Amir doesn't tell the reader what it is. This raises a good question, "Why do you think Hosseini does not tell the reader in the first paragraph what it is that Amir has seen in the alley, and done as a result?" The number of lines and notes in the margins will expand as students sharpen their close reading skills.
Because this is a first impression of a character, they will not be able to do step number five, making connections to characteristics we have identified so far in our study.
In the final step number six, students are expected to write three or four sentences that discuss the meaning of the passage, exploring the character. For example, what does the character say and think or do that is motivated from an inside emotion, attitude, or conviction? In the case of Amir, students may discern from what he says about being who he is today as a result of something that happened when he was twelve when he crouched in an alley and peeked at something, that his efforts to bury its memory have not worked, and twenty-six years later, it has clawed its way back to a prominent place in his consciousness and awakened feelings of guilt, because of the nature of what he saw when he crouched and peeked. Some will observe that this semi-confession must be very significant to the narrator's story because it is prominently crafted into the first paragraph. They will share their sentences with their peers. This sixth step will allow me to assess how effective students have been in close reading the passage.
Another step that is not on the Template but that has come up every time I have taught The Kite Runner is to invite students to make connections to their own lives and things they have tried to bury that may have permanently influenced who they are, just as Amir's life has been shaped by something that happened when he was twelve. Students do not necessarily want to share these personal connections, but there usually is a shared aura of understanding.