ALEX Lesson Plan

Guilty or Innocent?: A Case for Close Reading

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Amy Hill
System: Decatur City
School: Decatur City Board Of Education
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 33324


Guilty or Innocent?: A Case for Close Reading


Students are drawn in by a classic story of guilt or innocence as they discover the Western town of Moon Dance, Montana, home of Al, a young man who begins to doubt the innocence of his mentor and father figure. Could Mr. Baumer be guilty of murder? Students are introduced to all the elements of a short story and forget that they are learning how to write an argumentative essay in their zeal to defend their opinion with evidence from the text. 

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 8
1 ) Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. [RL.8.1]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.8.1- Answer who, what, when, where, and why questions to analyze stories, using textual evidence and inferences as support.

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 8
3 ) Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision. [RL.8.3]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.8.3- Identify how aspects of a character are revealed through events in a story.

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 8
6 ) Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor. [RL.8.6]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.8.6- Describe the different points of view of different characters in a story; analyze how they create suspense or humor.

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 8
20 ) Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence. [W.8.1]

a. Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically. [W.8.1a]

b. Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text. [W.8.1b]

c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence. [W.8.1c]

d. Establish and maintain a formal style. [W.8.1d]

e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented. [W.8.1e]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.8.20- Compose an argument to support a claim by stating a claim, providing facts or reasons supporting the claim, and providing an appropriate conclusion related to the stated argument.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will:

  • read and analyze literary elements (such as characterization and plot)  in a Western short story.
  • write the opening argument of a lawyer defending or representing the main character in hypothetical trial
  • analyze the text for evidence for their court case

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

91 to 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

Students will need basic paper and writing instrument. If internet access is a problem for students, paper copies of "Bargain" by A. B. Gutherie, Jr., will be needed.

Technology Resources Needed:

Ideally students could access the story "Bargain" by A. B. Gutherie, Jr. via the internet.


Often students are not familiar with the Western genre of short stories. 

Prior instruction might include plot elements, characterization techniques, and the argumentative essay. However, this lesson is a great way to introduce the argumentative essay. 

The importance of the close read will be enhanced if the first reading of the story is oral, but the teacher does NOT draw out the inferences as they read.

The teacher should be thoroughly familiar with the text, knowing which parts to call on students to read and which portions to be read aloud by the teacher. 


1. Introduce the concept of the Western genre through pictures of old western towns. Activate prior knowledge by showing the PowerPoint "Bargain" Images. Discuss informally the images and what they represent.

2. Introduce the short story "Bargain" by A. B. Gutherie, Jr., 

3. Review point of view, dialect,  characterization techniques, simile, and metaphor.

4. The text is a difficult read for some 8th graders. Chunk the text calling on better readers to read some portions and having the teacher read other parts particularly those with dialect. The reading might be best split over two days - the end of the first day and the beginning of the second day. 

5. It is best if the teacher doesn't "over teach" the inferences within the text to the guilt or innocence of the main character. 

6. Allow the students to read silently the last 2 pages but warn them to be aware of the details. 

7. Ask students to do a quick write (no more than 2 minutes) of what actually happened to Freighter Slade. Allow students to share briefly. 

8. Say to the students, "I believe that Freighter Slade died of poisoning. "Ask them to go back into the last two pages of the story and find the details that prove that inference.  

9. Students can point out specific phrases by having a class secretary write them on a board or chart paper.

10. Give students the Bargain Significant Quote chart. Students should close read the story and find a quote for each term. The second page is the reverse. Quotes are given and their significance should be explained in terms of literary definitions and the story content. 

11. Begin a class period with the "Bargain Letter: Dear Students." Allow students to read the letter silently prior to answering their questions about the assignment. Review the terms: argument, claim, and counterargument. Allow students to use a t-chart and the story to list quotes from the story to use as evidence to support their finding. 

12. Students could present their writings on the following day and evaluate the evidence their peer use, particularly those students who are on opposite sides of the case.

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Assessment Strategies

Student close reading will be summatively assessed via the Bargain Significant Quote pages and the final student writing. 

Formative assessment will take place via the discussion of the last two pages and the student quote pull outs to support the reason for the demise of Freighter Slade. 


Students can use their writing as the basis for a class debate on the guilt or innocence of the main character. Students can be assigned the roles of the characters and research all the details that characters would and would not know. 

Students can video their own presentation of their opening argument via their smart phones.

Advanced students could create a recording of the story enabling special education students to fully access the story.


Special education students will need support in the reading of the story. Reading aloud and explicit vocabulary instruction are necessary, particularly for dialogue containing dialect. 

Special education students writing the opening argument may need a graphic organizer with the opening sentence at  the top and the closing sentence at the bottom. Space in the middle could be bulleted with students supplying quotes from the story to prove their belief.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.