Teaching The Old Man and the Sea: Part One

Teaching a longer work of literature to teenagers comes with its challenges: avoiding spoilers, keeping students interested for weeks, and fearing that the students are running to the comfort of quick online summaries.Image result for the old man and the sea"

Experienced teachers and pedagogical experts have found ways around these issues, while other educators opt to stick with short stories and excerpts. One simple approach is to stick with shorter novels that are accessible yet packed with material for teaching. One novel I have had great success with is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. From the accessibility of the text to the relatability of themes, I have used this novel with teenagers of different ages in various settings.


When picking up a hard copy of The Old Man and the Sea, I always find students to be surprised at how short it is. As a teacher, that’s a comforting reaction to see from reluctant novel-readers. The novel’s present time is only a few days and it takes place in Cuba and the sea nearby; but Santiago’s memories take the reader back to his childhood and young adulthood, to the coasts of Africa and Spain. It’s a vast setting full of ideas and themes as deep as the waters the great marlin swims in, yet the reader can access it in just a few readings.

The simplicity of vocabulary, sentence structure, and plot that Hemingway has become known for is a breath of fresh air for some students. Hemingway believed that “big emotions” do not need to come from big words. In The Old Man and the Sea, he holds to that simplicity. The simplicity also carries over to his short character list with main characters that are reduced to “the old man” and “the boy.”

Image result for the old man and the sea"Yet, the complexity of his ‘iceberg’ is apparent as the thoughts, dreams, and struggles of Santiago–”the old man”–fill the pages. Still further, the character list grows as Santiago speaks to and personifies those around him: the fish, birds, stars, and the sea. These become characters and take the reader deeper into a theme that explores the relationship between humans and nature.

Section-by-Section Approach Made Easy

The novel doesn’t have any chapters–its brevity doesn’t require them. But section breaks allow for daily readings, discussions, and writings that are more manageable for the young reader. The novel is easily broken up into about five sections. Paired with daily writings, it makes for a great Monday-Friday assignment.

A week spent reading the novel is a comfortable amount of days to spend, but the lesson could go further on both ends. Before starting the novel, the teacher or parent can take advantage of the 20th century Cuban setting to explore connected history, geography, weather, professions, and cultures. After reading the novel, the short plot and the intense climax will be fresh on the reader’s mind, and reflection writings, a detailed summary, and an essay can follow the reading.

In the next post, I look into the accessible and relatable themes and symbols of Hemingway’s classic novel: “Teaching The Old Man and the Sea: Part Two.”

Film Adaptations of Literature

Nothing can replace reading a great book. But watching a good film adaptation might be the next best thing.

It’s also a great way to write about literary elements such as theme, plot, and character without reading a book. When crunched for time—or when your “books-to-read” list has grown too long—watching a movie can provide a fabulous source for writing and critical thinking. Just as we write literary analysis, we can write film analysis.

However, watching a film adaptation can either be a great experience or a letdown. How many times have you heard or said “The book was better”?  To help you choose a film for you or your child to watch, here are list of great movies adapted from young adult and children’s books.

  1. Harry Potter series (2001-2011): These eight movies are HPbased on the seven-book series written by J.K. Rowling. The movies follow the life of a young wizard, Harry Potter, and his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, who are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The main story arc concerns Harry’s struggle against Lord Voldemort, the Dark wizard who intends to become immortal, overthrow the Ministry of Magic, subjugate non-magic people, and destroy anyone who stands in his way. Just like the books, the movies increase in complexity as the characters grow up. Rated PG to PG-13


  1. The Wizard of Oz (1939): This musical comedy-drama fantasy film is based on L. wizard of ozFrank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Dorothy, along with her dog Toto, is swept away in a tornado and taken to a magical land where she embarks on a quest to see the Wizard who can help her return home. Along the way she meets some memorable friends and foes. Notable for its use of fantasy storytelling, musical score, and unusual characters, it has become an icon of American popular culture. Not Rated


  1. Charlotte’s Web (2006): Based on the popular children’s novel by E.B. White, Webfilm tells of a young girl named Fern who rescues a runty piglet and raises it as her own. Wilbur, the pig, grows into an adult pig. To her regret, the girl is forced to take the pig to the Zuckerman farm, where he is to be slaughtered for food. At Zuckerman’s barn, Wilbur meets a host of animals and later learns from them that he will be slaughtered. Wilbur’s new spider friend then hatches a plan to save the pig’s life. Rated G


  1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005): This lion
    fantasy film is based on the works of C.S. Lewis, British novelist, poet, essayist, and lay theologian. During the World War II bombings of London, four English siblings are sent to a country house to be safe. One day Lucy finds a wardrobe that transports her to a magical world called Narnia. After coming back, she soon returns to Narnia with her brothers, Peter and Edmund, and her sister, Susan. There they join a magical lion in the fight against the evil White Witch. Rated PG


  1. Night at the Museum (2006): This hilarious fantasy film is based on Milan Trenc’snight-at-the-museum-533ed195d0cd9 children’s book. A new night watchman at a museum of natural history makes a startling discovery that takes him into a historical world of chaos and adventure. Because of the unleashing of an ancient Egyptian curse, the museum’s animals, birds, bugs, and other exhibits come to life after the building closes and the sun goes down. The encounters include a Tyrannosaurus skeleton, Old West cowboys, and former President Teddy Roosevelt. Rated PG


There are many more great films made from books—so stay tuned for part two of the list!