Lesson Plan: Graphing Tension vs. Time Of A Story

Applying mathematical concepts to abstract literary ideas will reinforce the students knowledge of both. If the student is familiar with stories, it will be natural to consider the curve as a whole and see how the tension varies over time. They should notice that the peaks are the high points in tension where really exciting things happen. Considering the function as a whole will be useful in algebra and beyond. This exercise also leads the student toward the idea of slope. The jagged points in the graph represent a period of time where the action/tension changed dramatically.

First, tell the student about the literary idea of tension. The point of highest tension is called the climax of the story. Have the student pick a mutually understood story and ask him to plot the tension at various points in the story. Provide the first few examples. Let the student flip through the book and choose different events to plot. It is necessary to discuss how the time axis is divided – by chapters, time? This will get the student to think about how the tension depends on a point in time. Have the student pick a book of his own and graph the plot and explain it to you. Discuss the differences between the curves.

The two books that we chose were both fantasy and had similar curves. I proposed the question of how a story in a different genre might look which led into a discussion of archetypes. I then encouraged her to make her work into a slideshow to show the progression of the story. We wrapped up the exercise by writing a reflection. She wrote an essay on how to replicate her work. I strongly recommend having the student write at least an operational definition.

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