Seizing the Neighborhood

By Peter Weiss, December 29, 2008

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Urban Planning

Subject Area

  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

1 sixty minute period.


Operational questions for text:
  •  why is it set here?
  • how does the setting befit the novel's themes?
  • how does setting function?
The problem to identify:  How does the design of your surroundings affect you?  Affect Tommy?  How might Tommy’s life and mood be changed by redesigning his surroundings?

National Standards


1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions

4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes


5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

6. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts


9. Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

10. Understands the characteristics and components of the media


Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 7Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


  • depict an actual setting within a novel by list or drawing
  • read for detail within a text
  • describe in words or picture or map, or however chosen, a setting
  • explain the significance of a setting
  • understand how designing of your surroundings can affect your physical and emotional being
  • Observe Tommy's setting in Seize The Day and
  • Document one aspect of his surroundings that contributes to his negative emotional condition
  • Determine ways to alter his surroundings so as to change the effect upon him


"Seize The Day" by Saul Bellow


  • the text
  • general charting supplies
  • general drawing supplies (optional)


transience--not of permanent nature universality--applying to everyone tone--that attitude a writer applies toward the material catharsis--the bottom letting go epiphany-- the light bulb going on, the insight that changes a character setting plot theme all having been discussed as elements of fiction


Aim: How can we depict the setting of Seize the Day? How do our settings affect us?

Do-Now:  Describe your favorite classroom and explain why it is your favorite. Motivation: Where in your house do you feel most comfortable? Why?  How does what you wear reflect how you feel?  What you want to show?

  • Brief discussion here about comfort and how their decorations of rooms at home are setting, and then to ambiance and things related to that with them.  Identifying the problem: how does the design of your surroundings affect you?  Affect Tommy?  How might Tommy’s life and mood be changed by redesigning his surroundings?



Setting, as an element of fiction, will have been discussed, not necessarily in regard to this novel, but in general.

  • Class will be divided into 4 groups
  • Each group will work as a team to identify one aspect of Tommy’s surroundings within the novel, a part of the setting, and to reframe the problem with the setting for Tommy. For example: How does his setting contribute to his mood and well-being? Reconsider the problem, and make sure the identified aspect of the setting is within the framework of the problem identified.
  • Each group will work as a team to depict what it would look like if they were to modify this aspect of Tommy’s surroundings to change its emotional affect. What would it look like, or how would you depict it if you drew it to reflect the opposite emotion?  If Tommy is depressed, how might an uplifting setting be built?
  • Generate possible solutions and develop the one your group considers the best modification.  Be prepared to explain and justify your soltuion chosen.
  • Group work will take approximately 20-25 minutes and each group will complete: one chart/picture/series of charts, or pictures, depicting Tommy’s surroundings as they affect a mood that Tommy displays within the novel; include the textual reference for where this is found within the novel, i.e. page number and paragraph.
  • a description in words to match the selection above
  • a depiction of the modified setting that the group has designed to effect the opposite emotion
  • Statement of Tommy’s mood and feelings, as represented in author's the choice of setting and how it reflects Tommy's well being as well as how modifying the setting might have altered his mood or sense of his life.
Presentations will take about 15 minutes. Each group will present their product(s) which will be hung on the side of the room to stay until after novel is completed in discussion; each group will speak accountably to what they selected and why and how they produced what they did. Evaluate your idea in conjunction with whole class feedback.



  • How did you go about finding the aspect of Tommy’s surroundings you chose?  How does it address Tommy’s emotional state? How does your opposite reflect the opposite emotion?  Which elements are similar in all the presentations? Which are unique?
  • What is your sense of how our surroundings affect us?  How can we design surroundings to influence our emotional well-being?
  • How is setting crafted to match theme?  How does such design work in your life?


    • Group products
    • Written descriptions to be collected and individual descriptions to be written for homework.
    • Homework assignment relating setting to theme of novel
Homework Assignment
  • Describe Tommy’s overall surroundings and how the design of them contributes to his moods and feelings.
Thought question:   Why do we cry?  What does it mean that there are a finite set of emotions we all share?  Does it matter where we live to share an emotion?  Where do you go to feel happy and what makes you sad? Answers to these assessments are geared more to thought and understanding.  Articulate the solution in terms of yourself and your surroundings. Restate the issue of connections between surroundings and mental states, consider the design solutions posited for Tommy in Seize the Day and adapt the process and solution to your surroundings.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Do research into what people's lives were like 100 years ago, how they were treated, what they had, their setting.  How have surroundings changed now, or have they?  What is your setting? How are your surroundings more pleasant than 100 years ago?  Are they? Think in terms of toys you have and then in terms of global warming and pollution and overpopulation.

Teacher Reflection

Students liked making and seeing depictions of where the novel was set and came to the conclusion that setting is like a milieu (my word, not theirs). They called it just the stuff you have and live in. All of this leads, like every lesson, to what it is to be human and what literature does in examining what it is to be human.  This leads to literature in the world and design and how it all fits together, what changes and what doesn't. Students liked being immersed in where the book was set, they liked working in groups, and they liked working  from detail in the text outside the text, in chart and picture and using hands-on, as well as in words. Sometimes, often, I wonder about my own clarity.  I would change my directionals and work on being more precise in outcomes.

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