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The Cay by Theodore Taylor

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our Middle School ELA Category!

The Cay Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Cay Include:

The Cay by Theodore Taylor is a thrilling survival tale with a dash of historical fiction. Taylor tells the story of eleven-year-old Phillip Enright, an American living on the Caribbean island of Curaçao during World War II. While attempting to return to safety in the U.S., Phillip’s ship is torpedoed and he finds himself blinded and stranded on a raft with an elderly black man named Timothy. As the two attempt to survive on a deserted island, Phillip learns lessons in friendship, perseverance, and inner strength. The story’s message of racial equality provides material for meaningful class discussions. Its linear structure and dynamic protagonist also make The Cay a wonderful resource for teaching plot structure and character development.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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The historical context of The Cay can present difficulties for young readers. It may be helpful to begin the reading unit with background on the geography and history of the novel. Curaçao is an island located off the coast of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean Sea, not far from Aruba. In the 1940s, Curaçao was a territory of the Netherlands, known for its oil refineries. When World War II began in 1939, the oil produced on Curaçao became essential to Allied operations. The U.S. and Britain, in particular, relied on these refineries. To weaken their Allied enemies, therefore, Germany began to target the refineries, torpedoing oil tankers and even attacking the refineries themselves. Curaçao itself was attacked in February of 1942. Although Phillip Enright’s story is fictional, his predicament is based on real historical events.


Click here for more information on WWII on Curaçao and its neighboring islands. For further details on the Allied and Axis powers, view the maps available here and here.


Essential Questions for The Cay

  1. How can setting affect the plot and characters of a novel?
  2. How can an external conflict lead to an internal conflict and vice versa?
  3. What types of experiences and reflections are necessary for a person to change?
  4. What is the symbolic meaning of Phillip’s blindness?
  5. In what ways does Phillip grow and change over the course of the novel?

The Cay Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Cay Summary


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



The Cay Plot Diagram Example

Exposition

Phillip and his parents are Americans living on the Dutch island of Curaçao in the Caribbean Sea. Life in Curaçao has become more dangerous now that the second world war has started and the Germans have begun attacking the oil refineries on the island.


Conflict

When Phillip and his mother attempt to return to the U.S. for safety reasons, their ship is torpedoed by Germans. When Phillip wakes up after being hit on the head by debris, he finds himself on a raft in the middle of the ocean with an old, black man and a cat. A few days later, Phillip loses his sight as a result of his head injury.


Rising Action

After landing on a deserted cay, Phillip and Timothy struggle to get along due to Phillip's anger and racism. Gradually, however, Phillip learns to appreciate Timothy and the two work together to survive on the island. Timothy teaches Phillip how to get food, water, and fire in spite of his blindness.


Climax

In July, a hurricane hits the cay. Timothy is prepared for it and secures their knives and fish hooks, then ties Phillip and himself to a tree. They survive the hurricane, but the storm weakens Timothy and he dies just a few hours later.


Falling Action

Phillip buries Timothy and continues to live on the cay, using the survival skills that Timothy taught him. After the hurricane, he rebuilds a brush pile for a signal fire and lights it when he hears a plane flying overhead.


Resolution

After a pilot spots Phillip's signal fire, a ship is sent to rescue him and he is reunited with his parents. Three operations later, he regains his sight. Phillip returns to life as normal, but he never forgets his friend and protector, Timothy.



(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of The Cay.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  3. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  4. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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The Cay Characters

As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!


The Cay Characters

  • Phillip Enright
  • Timothy
  • Stew Cat
  • Mrs. Enright
  • Mr. Enright
  • Henrik van Boven

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Literary Conflict in The Cay


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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflicts.

Having students create storyboards that show different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. Have your students choose examples of internal and external conflicts and depict them using the storyboard creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene and how the conflict is resolved.


The Cay Internal and External Conflicts

Internal ConflictExternal Conflict
Due to their racial differences, Phillip struggles to accept Timothy as an equal. He views Timothy negatively, but needs him to survive. Eventually, this conflict is resolved when Phillip asks Timothy to be his friend. Phillip comes into conflict with Timothy many times. During their last major conflict, Phillip insults Timothy and Timothy responds by slapping him. Their conflicts are resolved when Phillip realizes Timothy is trying to help him, and the two become friends.
Phillip struggles to accept his blindness. When he first loses his sight, he is angry and afraid. He lashes out at Timothy and cries when he is alone. He refuses to do much of anything, even though his attitude may hurt his chance of survival. This problem is resolved when Phillip decides to work to overcome his limitations and accepts Timothy's survival training. When Phillip is bitten by an eel, he experiences an external conflict. He resolves the conflict by deciding never again to dive for langosta in that hole.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows literary conflict in The Cay.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify conflicts in The Cay.
  3. Categorize each conflict as Internal or External.
  4. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  5. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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The Cay Cause and Effect


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A very important part of any story is the cause and effect relationships that come out of events in the plot. Get students predicting and problem-solving, by demonstrating their understanding of chain reactions in The Cay. Have them create a T-Chart storyboard depicting causes on the left and their effects on the right. To alter or shorten the activity, consider providing students with some cells already filled in and ask them to infer the logical contents of the empty cells.


Example The Cay Cause and Effect

CauseEffect
The Germans start bombing the oil refineries in Curaçao. Phillip and his mother board the S.S. Hato to return to the United States where it is safer.
A piece of debris hits Phillip on the head after the S.S. Hato is torpedoed. Phillip goes blind.
Timothy cares for Phillip and teaches him how to survive. Phillip becomes friends with Timothy and cares for him when he is sick.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows cause and effect relationships in The Cay. Each cause and effect pair will be shown in the same row.


  1. On the left side of the T-Chart, illustrate events that show cause (why).
  2. On the right side of the T-Chart, illustrate events that are the direct effect of that cause.
  3. Write a description below each cause.
  4. In the description under each effect, show how the cause and effect are related.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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The Cay Setting Exploration

The setting of The Cay plays an essential part in the novel. Students studying this book may benefit from the use of storyboards in identifying the different aspects of setting and their effect on the plot and characters. Remind students that setting includes the location, the time period, and the weather of a story. Then, ask them to create a three-cell storyboard depicting these three components of setting in the novel. Beneath each depiction, students should describe the image and explain the way that aspect of the setting contributes to the plot or character development in the novel.

Example The Cay Setting Exploration

Time Period

The time period of the novel is important since it occurs during World War II. Once the Dutch were attacked by Germany in 1940, their territories (including Curaçao) were in danger of attack. It is because of German attacks on the oil refineries and tankers that Phillip ends up stranded on the cay.


Geographical Location

The Cay is set in the Caribbean. This area of the world is full of many little islands. Because of this, Phillip and Timothy are able to find an island to survive on after the S.S. Hato sinks.


Weather and Time of Year

The weather in the Caribbean is tropical. At first, this makes it easier for Phillip and Timothy to survive. They do not need much warm clothing and find plenty of seafood and coconuts to eat. But the climate of the Caribbean also brings a danger of hurricanes. A massive hurricane kills Timothy and puts Phillip in grave danger.


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Check out other teacher guides on history and literature during World War II and Holocaust


The History of the Holocaust

Introduction to World War II

World War II: 1939-1941

World War II: 1942-1945

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Night by Elie Wiesel

The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal


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