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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, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

Intelligence and Social Relationships

The novel challenges our ideas about how social relationships are formed and maintained. When Charlie had an I.Q. of 68, he had lots of “friends” at the bakery who teased him and used him as their verbal punching bag. However, Alice notes that there was a kindness and warmth to Charlie when he had a lower I.Q. that made him pleasant to be around. As Charlie’s intelligence increases, his sense of intellectual superiority alienates him from those around him. Because his emotional intelligence doesn't progress along with his intellect, he lacks the ability to deal properly with his anger and frustration.


Ethics of Human Advancement through Experiments

This novel highlights the ethical questions that come along with experimenting on humans and animals in the name of science. The first ethical question is: Is there something wrong with Charlie that needs to be fixed? Why does low I.Q. need to be changed when the person is perfectly happy in his life as it is? Why is being highly intelligent the goal? What possibilities might this lead to in terms of genetic engineering in humans later on? With so many of these questions in mind, students may also begin to question more recent high-profile scientific experiments, like cloning. Fanny Birden tells Charlie, “‘If you’d read your Bible, Charlie, you’d know that it’s not meant for man to know more than was given to him to know by the Lord in the first place. The fruit of that tree was forbidden to man.’” Religion aside, this does pose the question: How much is science able to change a person before it has crossed a cosmic or moral line?


Prejudice and Discrimination of the Developmentally Disabled

The novel delves into the mistreatment of Charlie in his childhood by his family, the neighborhood kids, and at the bakery. Charlie can sense when something is wrong, like if he is in trouble, but he doesn’t understand what he’s done. He also doesn’t understand the verbal abuse, and those around him take advantage of it. While they assume Charlie doesn’t know any better, Gimpy rightly states, “But you know better.” The irony of Charlie’s mistreatment by the people around him before the operation is that as his own intelligence grows, he begins to mistreat those around him with a condescending attitude and feeling of intellectual superiority. So much importance is placed on intellect in society that the humanity of a person is often overlooked, and the motivations behind this attitude are important to examine.


Motifs & Symbols

Algernon

Algernon represents the intelligence that Charlie is striving for. When Charlie first meets Algernon, he is impressed by how smart he is. As they progress in intelligence together, Charlie notices how they are both treated as science experiments and not like individuals. Like Algernon, Charlie feels like he’s trapped in a cage. At the convention, Charlie frees Algernon and takes off with him, freeing both of them from the sideshow attractions Nemur and Strauss have turned them into.


The Other Charlie

Charlie often notes that he feels like he’s being watched by the old “Charlie”, the emotionally-stunted child who is still trying to figure things out for himself. The old Charlie interferes with new Charlie, consistently interrupting his thoughts and any attempts to advance his emotional relationships with women. The Other Charlie was routinely screamed at by his mother for normal sexual development, leaving him with feelings of fear and shame when he tries to cross this threshold with Alice. The Other Charlie represents New Charlie’s attempts to reconcile his newfound intelligence and superiority with his former naivete and humility. Old Charlie is also New Charlie’s fear of this new emotional world he must now learn to navigate.


Inkblots (Rorschach Test)

The inkblots for Charlie first represent failure, as he is unable to see any pictures in them. The second time, when Charlie’s intelligence has increased and he now understands the directions, the test represents Charlie’s newfound anger as he explodes for the first time at thinking he’s being ridiculed. It’s one of the first times that the reader sees Charlie developing his sense of inner self-awareness. It also represents confusion, because Charlie’s mind has developed a more questioning side, as he wonders why anyone would make up lies about seeing things in the inkblots. When Burt gives him his final Rorschach Test, as Charlie regresses, the inkblots are the last straw of all of the testing for Charlie. He frantically goes through the cards, swearing that, “somewhere in those inkblots there were answers I had known just a little while ago. Not really in the inkblots, but in the part of my mind that would give form and meaning to them and project my imprint on them.” After Charlie realizes that he has lost this part of his intelligence, he tells Burt he is done coming to the lab, and sheds his identity as a science experiment.


Flowers

Charlie makes sure that Algernon’s grave is marked with flowers, because he was no ordinary mouse; this mouse was special. In a way, this also symbolizes that Charlie’s experience is special despite the experiment ultimately being deemed a failure. Charlie himself hopes to be remembered as special, too. His last progress report notes his wish that someone visit Algernon’s grave and continue to leave flowers once Charlie is committed to the Warren Home. In doing so, Algernon’s memory will be kept alive - along with Charlie’s.


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

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/3] Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/5] Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise
  • [ELA-Literacy/SL/9-10/2] Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source


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 Flowers for Algernon. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Flowers for Algernon you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for the example(s) that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



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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