English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Cheever
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Motif
  • Short Stories
  • Symbol
  • Vietnam War
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Cheever's Use of Symbol and Motif

    Cheever's Use of Symbol and Motif


    In this lesson, students will examine Cheever's use of symbol and motif in his story. They will also expand their ideas through writing and share their understanding of the story.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Decide how you will pair students for the partner annotation in Task 2 and how you will group them for Task 4.
    • Plan how you will have students share ideas in Task 5.
    • Determine how you will have students search for images for homework.

    The Swimmer Organizer

    • Encourage students to write down as many ideas as they can.
    • Allow students to choose how they will approach the organizer—with a partner, in a group, or individually.
      • ELL: This can be a good time to check in with these students to make sure that they’re following the task. Encourage them to confer with you at some point during the Opening.


    Take a few minutes to complete the organizer for “The Swimmer.”

    You Have a Choice
    First, determine how you will approach the work. You can choose to work independently, work with a partner, work with a group, or confer with your teacher.

    Repetition in The Swimmer

    • Direct students to mark passages in their text and use the annotation features to develop a list of examples of repetition. They can add on to these ideas when they listen to others.
    • Encourage students to discuss their observations and analyses, and also use the examples of others to supplement their own ideas.
      • SWD: If you have students who began to make a map or visual representation of Neddy’s path in the last lesson, referring to it here can help students see the visual repetition of the suburban landscape. Encourage your more visual students to share their interpretations of repetition.

    Work Time

    Share your written responses with a partner.

    • Then, with your partner, revisit the story and your annotations.
    • Mark repetition of words or images.
    • Make a list of examples of repetition.

    Share your responses and notes with the whole class. Be sure to take notes on the ideas and examples from your classmates.

    The Swimmer and Narcissus

    • Give students ample time to address both these questions.
    • Encourage them to find direct textual evidence for each.
    • Remind them to write their responses in the text so they can refer to their ideas later.
      • ELL: Some of these students may find it easier to express their answers to these questions while working with a partner. Allow them to speak in their primary language if possible.

    Work Time

    Working independently, write a response to the following questions.

    • How does Cheever represent the passage of time in “The Swimmer”?
    • How does the myth of Narcissus relate to the story of Neddy Merrill?

    Open Notebook

    Reflection on Mood

    • Have students work in small groups.
    • Be sure students understand mood as a literary term and how a writer is able to establish mood through description and choice of language. A mini-lesson may be appropriate here.
      • SWD: Students who struggle with inferential thinking will need extra instruction and support with this concept. Mood is created through the interplay of voice, tone, setting, and theme, and is a complex idea. Start with an example that is very clear, and work towards more sophisticated examples before letting students work independently.

    Work Time

    In small groups, share your writing from the previous task. Then discuss the following questions with your group.

    • Reread the third to last paragraph in "The Swimmer," which begins, “It was probably the first time in his adult life that he had ever cried…” How does the mood of the story shift here?
    • How would Neddy define his American Dream? Would that dream be the same at the start of the story as it would be at the end? Explain.

    Myth of Narcissus

    • If possible, project the painting for the class.
    • Have students share ideas in the way that works best for your class.
    • Let students know how you want them to submit their work to you.


    Revisit the myth of Narcissus and connect it to “The Swimmer” by responding to the following prompts.

    • How can you connect the story back to the discussion of the pursuit of success in Lesson 14, Task 1? Use the questions you discussed in that task:
      • In our American society, what does it mean to be successful?
      • Is the pursuit of success selfish, or can success come with benefits for the common good?

    Open Notebook

    When you finish your writing, follow your teacher’s instructions to share your ideas.

    Submit your work to your teacher.

    Neddy Merrill Image Search

    • If students have Internet access, they can find images online. You could also have them visit the school library or choose from a selection of images that you provide.
    • Let students know how you want them to share their image and writing with you.


    • Find an image—such as a photo, painting, or drawing—that you feel relates to the story of Neddy Merrill.
    • In writing, explain why you chose the image and how it relates to Neddy.

    Open Notebook

    Share your image and writing with your teacher.