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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 story, and support their choices with details from the text.


Themes and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

The Importance of Bearing Witness

Mitsuye’s letter to Mariko originally makes her feel uncomfortable and unable to do what is being asked of her. Yet, when Mitsuye mentions that they can “speak for the dead”, this hits home for Mariko. She thinks about all of the people she had to watch die, and wonders if by bearing witness about the dangers of nuclear weapons, maybe she can find a purpose for herself. In fact, “bearing witness” is what the Jewish people have done who survived the Holocaust and concentration camps. It’s an important theme for students to remember, because if no one bears witness about the consequences of things like nuclear weapons and prejudice, these are mistakes the world might be doomed to repeat in the future.


Survivor’s Guilt

The narrator remarks that for Mariko, “She often felt as if she were neither dead nor alive, only an organism living out her allotted timespan because fate had chosen not to take her life that day.” For Mariko, the scars on her face from the glass made her an outcast in her uncle’s town of Tomo Village, where the people thought the infected cuts meant that Mariko was bad luck. Rather than disagree with them, or try to stand up for herself, as soon as the cuts heal, she flees Japan. Mariko does not understand why she lived while so many others died that day, which is a common feeling for people who survive mass-tragedies. This guilt keeps Mariko trapped emotionally, but bearing witness might finally give her the opportunity to move on.


Motifs & Symbols

Mariko’s Scars

Mariko’s scars from the glass embedded in her skin which caused nerve damage have given her a permanently cynical twist to her mouth. She feels as if the scars are punishment for the people she had to leave behind when she was triaging the victims of the bombing. They are a constant reminder not only of the horrors of that day, but also of the awful choices she had to make that she is still haunted by to this day.


The Gardening

The yard work, raking leaves, that Mariko does throughout the majority of the story represents her mulling over Mitsuye’s request. While she initially decides she’ll write back the next day and tell her no, as Mariko continues to think back to her experiences on the day of the bombing, she comes to the decision that bearing witness is something she needs to do. After she decides to do it after all, she begins weeding her flowerbeds, preparing them for spring. Spring, typically representing new life and new opportunities, mirrors Mariko’s resolve to give her life new purpose with this opportunity.


Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 9-10

Difficulty Level 3 (Developing to Mastery)

Type of Assignment Individual or Partner

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs



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 “Autumn Gardening”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “Autumn Gardening” 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.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



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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