K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • define the word symbol, and identify and explain several symbols in the play A Doll’s House.
  • define the word setting and explain how the setting of a work of literature influences the characters.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

3 days


  • A copy of the play A Doll’s House for reference
  • A clock and a map
  • Poster board, glue, approx. 25-35 magazines and scissors

Technology resources

  • Computer Lab access
  • Internet Connection
  • Encyclopedias (optional)


  • Teacher and students should have already read the play A Doll’s House by Henrick Ibsen and students’ comprehension should have already been assessed before beginning this lesson.
  • Teacher should review the definitions of the literary terms “symbol” and “setting” preferably by using illustrations (ex: Symbol- draw a stoplight and discuss what each color represents. Setting- use a clock to represent when and use a map to represent where).
  • In an additional reinforcement of the definition of symbol, students can be placed in even numbered groups. Give students 2 or 3 magazines and a few pairs of scissors, and instruct them to find and cut out symbols. With poster board and glue, have the students create a collage using the pictures they cut out. Instruct the students to write what the pictures symbolize on the back of the poster board in the corresponding location of the image on the front. When all groups have finished their collages, have one group at a time come to the front of the classroom and present their collage to the class. These students then assume a teacher’s role as they elicit suggestions from the rest of the class as to what the pictures on their collage might represent. After all suggestions have been mentioned, the students in the group then reveal their own interpretations to the rest of the class. Teachers may assign roles to each student in the group (Ex. paster, cutter, recorder, collage holder, symbol indicator).


  1. Require a written response for the following suggested questions:
    • Name three symbols in this play. Explain what they symbolize.
    • Explain the setting and analyze how the characters are limited by their surroundings (time and place).

    Common symbols and what they symbolize are as follows:

    • Nora’s macaroons - secrecy and lies
    • Torvald’s childlike pet names for Nora (lark etc.) -
    • Torvald’s perception of Nora
    • the mailbox keys - control in the relationship
    • Krogstad’s 1st letter to Torvald - the truth
    • Nora taking off her costume - Nora revealing her true self and taking off her costume of lies
    • Nora slamming the door - Nora closing this chapter of her life.
  2. Teachers should facilitate a discussion about symbols and the setting of A Doll’s House. The teacher should write down 5 of the students’ suggested symbols on the board.
  3. In order to reinforce the definition of setting and to give students a broader understanding of how the setting affects a work of literature, have students research other countries, during the same time period. The setting of A Doll’s House is Norway, in the late 1800’s (play published in 1879). The teacher should research answers to the following questions in order to model for the students:
    • What rights do women have now that they did not have in Norway in 1879 concerning voting, property ownership, and employment?
    • What was the accepted opinion about women’s responsibilities in Norway in 1879? What were women expected to do? How are these beliefs similar or different to current beliefs?

    Assign students to groups of three or four and have them research the answers to these questions for other countries. Make sure the students know they are answering these questions in the context of the year 1879. Some suggested countries are the U.S., England, Mexico, Nigeria, Germany, France, Russia, and Canada. Have the students answer the following questions:

    • Can women vote? If not, what year did they obtain this right? If so, what year did they obtain this right?
    • Are women allowed to have a paying job? Are there any specific circumstances that govern if or what kind of job women can hold? What kinds of jobs are open or closed to women?
    • Can women own property? If not, are there any extenuating circumstances that allow women to own property?

    Instruct the students to present the answers to those questions in the form of an oral presentation. The teacher has the option of requiring a visual aid (perhaps a chart) to show this information.

  4. Facilitate a discussion of the findings of this research. Have the students discuss similarities and differences between the countries.


  • While students are engaged in Activity #2, a discussion of setting and/or symbols, the teacher should make a note of students participating in the discussion to assess student understanding of concepts.
  • Students will evaluate each other’s collage presentation for effective use of symbols. Students will grade each group using a rubric. Teacher will consider student evaluations when assigning a grade for the collage. The teacher may use the same rubric for his/her own evaluation of each group’s collage.
  • The teacher will evaluate each student group’s presentation by using the rubrics provided (one for the oral presentation and one for the chart). The teacher may also use the group’s chart (if assigned) when discussing the setting of other works of literature.
  • The teacher will assess activity #4 by giving students credit for participating in the class discussion.

Supplemental information


  • Extended time to complete assignments where necessary.
  • Pre-activity #2 was designed with English Language Learners at differing ability levels in mind. Give students a role according to their strengths.
  • Give these students the option of not having a speaking part when assigning group roles.
  • Pair students with a native English speaking buddy as much as possible to aid in comprehension of these two major concepts and how they relate to the work of literature.
  • Pair students with a native English speaker for the research assignment.
  • Use of English/Native Language Dictionaries.

Alternative assessments

  • English language learners can be assessed using a modified rubric which emphasizes their strengths and not their English-language weaknesses.
  • Instead of assessing for comprehension and giving credit for student participation in whole class discussions, consider pairing students for more individual opportunities to speak. Use the strategy Think-Pair-Share: students consider a given topic, think about it, and then pair with a native English speaking partner to verbally share their thoughts. The teacher can walk around the room and make a note in the grade book of students’ participation/ comprehension.
  • English language learners may be assessed on the visual aid / chart of their research findings without having to present orally to the class.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.RL.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
          • 9-10.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and...
          • 9-10.RL.6 Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.
        • Speaking & Listening

          • 9-10.SL.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and...
        • Writing

          • 9-10.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. 9-10.W.9.1 Apply grades 9–10 Reading standards to literature (e.g., “Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 10

  • Goal 1: The learner will react to and reflect upon print and non-print text and personal experiences by examining situations from both subjective and objective perspectives.
    • Objective 1.02: Respond reflectively (through small group discussion, class discussion, journal entry, essay, letter, dialogue) to written and visual texts by:
      • relating personal knowledge to textual information or class discussion.
      • showing an awareness of one's own culture as well as the cultures of others.
      • exhibiting an awareness of culture in which text is set or in which text was written.
      • explaining how culture affects personal responses.
      • demonstrating an understanding of media's impact on personal responses and cultural analyses.
  • Goal 2: The learner will evaluate problems, examine cause/effect relationships, and answer research questions to inform an audience.
    • Objective 2.03: Pose questions prompted by texts (such as the impact of imperialism on Things Fall Apart) and research answers by:
      • accessing cultural information or explanations from print and non-print media sources.
      • prioritizing and organizing information to construct a complete and reasonable explanation.
  • Goal 3: The learner will defend argumentative positions on literary or nonliterary issues.
    • Objective 3.03: Respond to issues in literature in such a way that:
      • requires gathering of information to prove a particular point.
      • effectively uses reason and evidence to prove a given point.
      • emphasizes culturally significant events.
  • Goal 5: The learner will demonstrate understanding of selected world literature through interpretation and analysis.
    • Objective 5.01: Read and analyze selected works of world literature by:
      • using effective strategies for preparation, engagement, and reflection.
      • building on prior knowledge of the characteristics of literary genres, including fiction, non-fiction, drama, and poetry, and exploring how those characteristics apply to literature of world cultures.
      • analyzing literary devices such as allusion, symbolism, figurative language, flashback, dramatic irony, situational irony, and imagery and explaining their effect on the work of world literature.
      • analyzing the importance of tone and mood.
      • analyzing archetypal characters, themes, and settings in world literature.
      • making comparisons and connections between historical and contemporary issues.
      • understanding the importance of cultural and historical impact on literary texts.

English Language Development (2005)

Grade 9–12

  • Goal 0:
    • Objective 0.03: Understand and follow multiple-step directions on academic topics when spoken at a normal speed with occasional difficulty.
    • Objective 0.03: Use various reading strategies to extend comprehension.
    • Objective 0.04: Demonstrate an increased knowledge of academic content vocabulary.
    • Objective 0.04: Produce written expressions of opinion and reactions to information from a variety of media.
    • Objective 0.06: Interact with text before, during, and after reading.
    • Objective 0.06: Respond appropriately when participating in group discourse by adapting language and communication behaviors to the situation to accomplish a specific purpose.
    • Objective 0.12: Identify literary elements (e.g., plot, setting, theme, mood).
    • Objective 0.14: Use reference materials (e.g., dictionaries).