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Activity Overview


Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.


Themes to Look For and Discuss

The Destructive Power of Selfishness

Many of the worst behaviors in Thirteen Reasons Why are motivated by characters’ selfishness. The characters take a number of risks for selfish reasons, but rarely risk being kind. Tyler sneaks around taking voyeuristic photos. Marcus tries to molest Hannah in Rosie’s Diner. Jenny Kurtz drives away from a broken stop sign so she does not have to admit she was driving drunk. In each case, a character is ignoring the well-being of other people to pursue their own pleasure or to avoid facing justice. The novel suggests that a healthy, happy community requires concern for others. People must look outside themselves and consider the feelings of those around them. By the end of the novel, Clay takes this to heart when he reaches out to Skye in the school corridor.


Interconnectedness of People and Events

Hannah talks about the “snowball effect”, arguing that a single action combines with other small actions and reactions to produce many unintended repercussions. Seemingly minor incidents that occur early in Hannah’s time at Crestmont High School end up making Hannah’s life more difficult even years later. When Alex passes around the “hot or not” list, for example, he is building up the school’s image of Hannah as sexually promiscuous, which probably leads to Tyler’s fascination with her, Marcus’s advances upon her, and Bryce’s molestations. Another prime example of the unforeseen consequences of a single act is the car accident. Jenny’s drunk driving leads to a broken stop sign. The missing sign causes a car crash, which results in the death of a senior at Crestmont. The knowledge of this accident contributes to Hannah’s feelings of guilt and worthlessness, which leads to her suicide. As Hannah tells her story, she notices more and more connections between people and events that have brought her to the point of suicide.


The Role of Rumors and Reputation

Hannah’s tapes repeatedly draws attention to the harmful effects of rumors. Rumors about her, though completely unsubstantiated, build a reputation that influences the way others treat her. Many of the most negative incidents in Hannah’s first year at Crestmont stem from rumors about her relationship with Justin. As her reputation grows, people like Bryce take advantage of her by touching her in unwanted and inappropriate ways. Ultimately, a rumor is the first step in the long sequence of events that leads to Hannah’s suicide.



Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Broken Stop Sign

The broken stop sign reflects the characters' inability or unwillingness to stop the negative forces in their lives. A number of tragedies in the book - the car crash, Jessica's rape, Hannah's suicide - could have been stopped if people had made better choices and bystanders had made stronger efforts to intervene.


Hannah’s Scar

Hannah's scar is a physical representation of her emotional pain. Given to her when Jessica slapped her and left a nail embedded in her eyebrow, the scar is a daily reminder to Hannah of the kind of betrayal and lack of dependable friends that she experiences over and over. Each new time she is betrayed, her emotional wound grows deeper.


The Cassette Tapes

The cassette tapes are the central symbol in the book. Since they bring revelations about Hannah’s life and expose a number of hurtful behaviors, they represent both truth and revenge. Although they reveal the reality behind the scenes, they also stand in contrast to reality. The listener’s ability to pause, stop, and rewind them at will is a poignant reminder that real life cannot be paused or rewound; our actions are immutable and their consequences must be faced.


Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 6-12

Difficulty Level 5 (Advanced / Mastery)

Type of Assignment Individual, Partner, or Group

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/8/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/8/4] Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/4] 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 place; how it sets a formal or informal tone)


Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Use This Assignment With My Students", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)



Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in Thirteen Reasons Why. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Thirteen Reasons Why you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.



Rubric

(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)



Themes, Symbols, and Motifs (Grades 9-12)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and/or motifs in the story. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description that explains the example's significance.
Proficient Emerging Beginning Needs Improvement
Identification of Theme(s), Symbol(s), and/or Motif(s)
All themes are correctly identified as important recurring topics or messages in the story. Symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story. Motifs are correctly identified as important recurring features or ideas in the story.
Most themes are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete. Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or incomplete. Some motifs are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete.
Most themes are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most symbols are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most motifs are missing, incomplete, or incorrect.
No themes, symbols, or motifs are correctly identified.
Examples and Descriptions
Quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motifs that are being identified. Descriptions mostly accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s), and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are minimal, incorrect, or unrelated to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions contain inaccuracies in their explanations, or do not highlight their significance to the story.
Examples and descriptions are missing or too minimal to score.
Depiction
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are accurate to the story and reflect time, effort, thought, and care with regard to placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are mostly accurate to the story. They reflect time and effort put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are inaccurate to the story. The depictions may be rushed or show minimal effort, time, and care put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Most depictions are missing too many elements or are too minimal to score. Little time or effort has been put into placement and creation of the scenes.
English Conventions
There are no errors in spelling, grammar, or mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions reflect careful proofreading and accuracy to the story.
There are a few errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions show accuracy to the story and some proofreading.
There are several errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. Most writing portions do not reflect proofreading or accuracy to the story.
Errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics in writing portions of the storyboard seriously interfere with communication.




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