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Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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

Student Activities for Hills Like White Elephants By Ernest Hemingway Include:

Published in 1927, the Ernest Hemingway short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is an iceberg of conversation; that is, there is more beneath the surface of the dialogue between the American man and the girl named Jig. At first glance, it seems like a simple, sometimes tense conversation between a couple who are waiting for a train to Madrid. On a closer reading, however, one realizes that they are discussing whether or not Jig should have a “procedure.” In a time period where abortion was illegal in most parts of Europe and America, and where women could be faced with excommunication by the Catholic Church if they obtained an abortion, suddenly the conversation between the American man and Jig becomes one of grave importance, both to their own well-beings, and to their relationship. However, neither person seems willing to openly communicate what choice they would like to make. This story explores the themes of choices, breakdowns in communication, and gender roles.

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




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Teaching about the Abortion Topic in the English Classroom

Students will likely have differing viewpoints and feelings about abortions, as it is a very emotionally-charged political issue. That is what makes “Hills Like White Elephants” an excellent tool to use to teach about a controversial topic, and have students be able to discuss their ideas in an academic manner.

For students, abortion has been legal for their entire lives. In the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade, the justices ruled in a 7-2 decision that a Texas law barring a woman from having an abortion unless her life was in danger was unconstitutional. This was followed up with a 7-2 decision by the same court in the Doe vs. Bolton case, where they ruled that a Georgia abortion law barring abortions except for the cases of rape, fetal deformities, and danger to the mother’s life was also unconstitutional. These rulings essentially opened up access for women to seek abortions until the age of viability for the fetus. Up until 1973, many women sought abortions in secret and illegally, and as a result, many women died from complications of the procedure. Planned Parenthood now states that an abortion is one of the safest medical procedures a woman can have, with a 99% safety record.

Abortion as a topic can make for a very animated opinion paper, research paper, and debate forum in the classroom, as long as all sides are respectful of others’ opinions. It may be enlightening for students to hear from other students’ points of view. Some useful resources for both sides of the argument include:



Essential Questions for “Hills Like White Elephants”

  1. Why is it important to be open and honest when communicating about a difficult topic?
  2. What are some of the reasons why women consider having an abortion?
  3. How important is it to have reproductive choices?
  4. How does the author portray gender through conversation?

Hills Like White Elephants By Ernest Hemingway Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Hills Like White Elephants Summary | Plot Diagram


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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 helps 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.



Example “Hills Like White Elephants” Plot Diagram

Exposition

An American man and a girl named Jig are waiting at a train station in northern Spain near the Ebro River. They are waiting for a train to Madrid. As they sit in the station, they order two beers and the girl gazes at a line of distant hills.


Conflict

Jig muses that the hills look like white elephants, to which the man quickly replies that he hasn’t ever seen one. Jig replies, “No, you wouldn’t have,” to which the man shoots back that he might have seen one at one point. There is a tension between the couple, which is revealed as they drink and discuss an operation that the man seems to be trying to put Jig at ease about having.


Rising Action

Jig wonders what will happen after the operation, and the man states that they’ll be happy again, and go back to how they were before. They both bring up people they know who have had the operation and gone back to being happy. Jig wonders if it will make the man love her again like he used to, so silly in love that she could say anything to him and he would be delighted by it. He tells her that he thinks it’s the best thing to do, but if she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t have to.


Climax

Jig says that she will go through with the operation because she doesn’t care about herself. She seems to just want to make him happy, which perturbs the man because he doesn’t want her to do it for him. Jig gets up and walks to look out at the mountains again. She tells the man that they could have had everything, but they can’t anymore. She knows that something is about to be taken away, and that they can’t return to the way they were anymore.


Falling Action

Jig sits back down and they order another beer. The man again tells her that he’s willing to go have the baby if being a parent means anything to her. Jig wonders if being a parent means anything to him. He says it does, but that he doesn’t want anyone but her. She tells him to stop talking and threatens to scream if he doesn’t.


Resolution

The man takes the bags over to the other tracks because the train will arrive in five minutes. He has a drink at the bar and comes back to Jig. She smiles at him, and when he asks if she feels better, she tells him there’s nothing wrong with her; she feels fine.



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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of "Hills Like White Elephants".


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



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Literary Conflict Student Activity for “Hills Like White Elephants”


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

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict 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 it fits the particular category of conflict.


Examples of Literary Conflict in “Hills Like White Elephants”

MAN vs. SELF

Jig seems unsure of what she should do. She knows that no matter what choice she makes, her relationship with the American man can never go back to the way it was. She also seems to have to talk herself into accepting that she will do the procedure, rather than making the choice willingly.


MAN vs. MAN

Jig and the American man are at odds with one another. He wants her to have the operation, but she is not as willing to do so. He wants them to be together and travel as they have been doing, but she knows that it is much more complicated than that no matter what decision she makes. Ultimately, she just wants him to stop talking, and he walks away, hoping to clear some of the tension between them.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

What the American man and Jig are discussing doing is at odds with society, especially in the 1920s, where abortion was illegal in many countries and in the United States. While they know others who have gone through with it and seem to be happy with their decision, it is still a risk, and it is still a major decision that is frowned upon by many.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in “Hills Like White Elephants”.


  1. Identify conflicts in “Hills Like White Elephants”.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Student Activity for “Hills Like White Elephants”


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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.


“Hills Like White Elephants” Themes to Look For and Discuss

Choices

While abortion may be illegal at this point in time, Jig and the American man are still facing a choice of whether or not to seek one. The American man seems to think it will save their relationship and put everything back to normal, but Jig realizes that it is not a trivial decision. She must decide whether to change their lives completely by having a child, or to try to put things back to the way they were, even though they never will be again. In either scenario, Jig and the American man will probably drift away from each other, as they have already started to.


Breakdown in Communication

Jig and the American man are not speaking plainly about what each one wants to do. Jig is making her decision based on the American man’s happiness, even though she seems reluctant to have an abortion; the American man wants her to have the abortion, but he doesn’t want her to do it if she doesn’t want to do it. They are hiding behind drinks and train schedules, rather than simply having a conversation about what they want to do. It is this breakdown in communication that reveals the bigger problem in their relationship, which is a lack of honesty and trust. Without that, their relationship is doomed anyways, and Jig seems to know it.


Gender Roles

Jig, the woman, seems to need permission from the American man to get a drink, to try a new drink, etc. She looks off at the hills and romanticizes that they look like something else, but the American man is unable to see what she sees. He is very straight-forward and rational about most topics, although he, too, seems to be unable to voice exactly what he wants from Jig. His opinion carries a lot of weight for Jig, so her choice is being influenced strongly by him. He tells her how she should or shouldn’t feel, and while she is assertive, she doesn’t seem willing to defend her own emotions for very long. Hemingway does portray the man as having more power in this conversation, and Jig, as the woman, seems to feel powerless as a result.


”Hills Like White Elephants” Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

Elephants

The two most well-known references to elephants come with the saying, “The elephant in the room,” and a “white elephant gift.” Both have negative connotations. The elephant in the room is the abortion procedure that Jig and the man must decide to do or not to do. A white elephant gift is an outrageously ugly gift that is often given in jest, that no one really wants. At first, Jig compares the mountains to white elephants, but then decides they they don’t really look like them. This seems to be a metaphor for the baby she seems to want to keep while the man wants it to be just the two of them again.


Drinks

The drinks are a distraction for Jig and the American man. Jig wants to have a beer, and then she wants to try the Anis del Toro. Jig remarks that everything tastes like licorice, especially the things she’s waited so long to try, like absinthe, and it’s always a disappointment. This could also be a metaphor for the baby she is thinking about having, or for her hopes that the man would be more open to having a baby, and instead he lets Jig down by advocating for the abortion.


The Hills

Jig looks out at the hills and compares them to white elephants, but the American man is no longer dazzled by anything she says. He chalks it up to worrying about the pregnancy, and says that worry could be taken away if she has the operation. She seems compelled to do it because she wants to make him happy. As she looks at the hills again, though, she seems to realize that nothing can go back to the way it was before in their relationship. The beauty of the hills represents their happiness, and she knows they will never have that back - not fully.


The Bead Curtain

The bead curtain becomes a part of the story as well. The curtain keeps out the flies from the bar, and it holds Jig’s attention several times. It allows her a distraction from her tense conversation with the man as she realizes it is advertising Anis del Toro. She touches the beads as the man tells her he wants her to have the operation. The bead curtain separates them from the actual barroom, and as the man walks back from the platform, he hopes that she will be feeling “better”, or more agreeable, as he passes through the curtain and returns to her.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in ”Hills Like White Elephants”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from ”Hills Like White Elephants” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



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Analyzing the Narrator’s Dilemma in “Hills Like White Elephants”


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Often in literature, characters have to make important choices, even when the outcomes are equally unpleasant. This is called a dilemma, and many students will be able to identify with being stuck “between a rock and a hard place”, much like characters are in their various conflicts in a story. Have students analyze the dilemma the Jig is facing in “Hills Like White Elephants” as they read and speculate on the potential outcomes of the her choice. Have them incorporate their findings into a storyboard like the example below.


Introduction

The American man wants Jig to have an abortion so they can go back to their normal lives of traveling and drinking and being carefree. Jig is hesitant, but seems to acquiesce because she wants to make him happy. However, she knows that her decision is complicated, and she finds herself in a dilemma.


Problem 1

If Jig has the abortion, she and the American man will go back to their carefree lifestyle, but something will be broken between them. She knows they will never be as happy as they were before, and they will probably continue to drift apart.


Problem 2

If Jig has the baby, the American man will be unhappy and she will likely lose him or feel guilty for not having the abortion. They will lose their carefree lifestyle, and having a baby is a lifetime commitment.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that analyzes a dilemma that a character is facing in "Hills Like White Elephants".


  1. Identify the problem and depict it in the "Introduction" cell.
  2. Show and discuss the character's possible choices under "Problem 1" and "Problem 2".
  3. Save and submit the assignment.



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Vocabulary Lesson Plan for “Hills Like White Elephants”


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from “Hills Like White Elephants”. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the story, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.


”Hills Like White Elephants” Vocabulary

  • cervezas
  • reales
  • absinthe
  • junction
  • express

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in ”Hills Like White Elephants” by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



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•   (English) Hills Like White Elephants   •   (Español) Colinas Como Elefantes Blancos   •   (Français) Collines, Comme, Blanc, Éléphants   •   (Deutsch) Hügel Mögen Weiße Elefanten   •   (Italiana) Colline Come Elefanti Bianchi   •   (Nederlands) Hills Vind Witte Olifanten   •   (Português) Colinas, Como, Branca, Elefantes   •   (עברית) גבעות כמו פילים לבנים   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) التلال مثل الفيلة البيضاء   •   (हिन्दी) सफेद हाथियों की तरह हिल्स   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Холмы как Белые Слоны   •   (Dansk) Hills Ligesom Hvide Elefanter   •   (Svenska) Hills som Vita Elefanter   •   (Suomi) Hills Like White Norsut   •   (Norsk) Hills som Hvite Elefanter   •   (Türkçe) Beyaz Filler Gibi Hills   •   (Polski) Wzgórza jak Słonie Białe   •   (Româna) Hills Vede alb Elephants   •   (Ceština) Hills Jako Bílý Slony   •   (Slovenský) Hills ako Biele Slony   •   (Magyar) Hills, Mint a Fehér Elefántok   •   (Hrvatski) Brda Poput Bijelih Slonova   •   (български) Хълмовете Като Белите Слонове   •   (Lietuvos) Kalvų, Kaip White Elephants   •   (Slovenščina) Hills Kot Belih Slonov   •   (Latvijas) Hills Like White Elephants   •   (eesti) Hills Nagu Valge Elephants