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Teaching Guide

Teaching Life of Pi

He's on a boat.

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Life of Pi is about everything: adventure, religion, tigers (oh my!). Life of Shmoop is about reading Life of Pi (and approximately 3,792 other books) and passing our knowledge on to you.

In this guide you will find

  • a lesson on how Yann Martel wrote Life of Pi. 
  • an activity comparing the book to the movie.
  • reading quizzes for each and every chapter.

There might be a tiger in Pi's lifeboat, but we're in yours. That tiger is no match for us.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: The majority of your students probably haven't read a picture book since they were pre-teens, or maybe even pre-tweens. And Life of Pi? Is not a picture book. Or at least, it wasn't ... until Croatian artist Tomislav Torjanac created twelve beautiful oil paintings that now accompany a deluxe, illustrated version of the novel. 

Okay, so the picture-to-text ratio is too low to truly qualify this edition as a picture book, but the pictures are certainly worth viewing—and discussing. 

  • Why, for instance, did Torjanac choose these particular scenes to illustrate?
  • Do the illustrations enhance the narrative? Why or why not? 
  • What techniques did Torjanac use in creating the illustrations and how well do these techniques fit with the tone of the novel? 

Your students will analyze the pictures along with the literary text in order to answer these questions and write an analytical essay. In addition, they will use the illustrations, arranged in a different order, to inspire a fictional narrative of their own making. 

Length of Lesson: 1-3 days

Materials Needed:

  • Large (8x10ish) copies of the Life of Pi illustrations by Croatian artist Tomislav Torjanac (to print each image, right click on the image, choose "open image in new tab," and then print the image from that page)
  • Chart paper & markers
  • Smaller copies of the illustrations for students to use in Step 4

Step 1: Post copies of some of Torjanac's illustrations from the novel around the room with accompanying pieces of chart paper. (We suggest that you print out enough illustrations so that students will be able to spread out among them in pairs or groups of three. For a class of 18 students, five or six images will do; for 24 students, you may want more.)

Ask your students to walk around the room, look at the pictures, and then, on the accompanying chart paper, write a quick response about how each picture is linked to the novel. You can give your students 15 minutes to do this free-form, or divide them into pairs or small groups and give them two to three minutes with each picture. 

Step 2: Bring the class back together and use the comments on one of the illustrations to begin a class discussion of how the illustrations relate to the text. Emphasize the use of specific moments in the text to help support analysis. Here are some questions you may ask your students:

  • What is it about this scene that makes it worthwhile enough to be illustrated?
  • Does the artist's style (use of color, brush strokes, medium, etc.) work with the style of the novel or does it work against it? Why?
  • How do the illustrations help tell the story?
  • How might the illustration be viewed differently by someone who has never read Life of Pi and has no idea that the piece is associated with a novel?

Go through this process with at least two of the illustrations and associated comments to help model the process of analyzing the art and its relationship to the novel.

Step 3: Show your students all twelve of the illustrations Torjanac created for the book and give them their first assignment. Here's a prompt:

Look through all twelve of Torjanac's illustrations for Life of Pi and choose one to consider in depth by writing an analytical essay. Your essay should address the points we discussed in class, mainly:

  • why you believe the artist chose to illustrate this particular scene from the book;
  • how the artist's style (use of color, brush strokes, choice of medium, etc.) works with or against the style of the novel;
  • how this illustration helps to tell the story; and
  • how this piece might be interpreted differently if it were not associated with a novel.

Step 3A: [Optional] If you have the time and the inclination, have your students divide up according to which illustrations they analyzed. (If any one group is too large, you can split it into smaller groups.) Give them time to share their thoughts and/or their papers in these small groups before collecting their essays. You could also have each small group report out to the class, summarizing their discussion ... or you could skip this step altogether and go straight to Step 4. 

Step 4: After students have completed and turned in their essays, give them their follow up assignment. Again, we've got a prompt ready for you if you want it:

Now that you have that analytical essay under your belt, it's time to try your hand at fiction writing. (And actually, if that analytical essay really is under your belt, you probably ought to turn it in.) 

Go back to your copy of the twelve illustrations Torjanac created for Life of Pi and (ready?) ... shuffle them. Rearrange them. Shake things up a bit. Put them in any order you choose, and use them to tell a completely new story. Write it out, proofread/edit it, and revise it. Then get ready to share your new story with the class.

Step 5: Stories can be shared orally with the whole class, or, if time is an issue, in small groups. 

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.11, 3.12; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 2.1, 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5; (Optional) Listening & Speaking 2.1. 11th & 12th grade Reading 3.2, 3.3, 3.8, 3.9; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3; (Optional) Listening & Speaking 1.3, 1.4, 1.8, 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

When was the last time you read a picture book? It's probably been a while ... unless, of course, you count Life of Pi. 

Wait a minute ! Life of Pi isn't a picture book. Or at least, it wasn't ... until Croatian artist Tomislav Torjanac created twelve beautiful oil paintings that now accompany a deluxe, illustrated version of the novel. 

Okay, so the picture-to-text ratio is too low to truly qualify this edition as a picture book, but the pictures are certainly worth viewing—and discussing. And hey, maybe even using as the inspiration for your own short story (hint, hint).

Step 1: You're about to get a look at some of Torjanac's illustrations from the novel Life of Pi. As you walk around the room viewing the pictures, take some time to jot down your reactions to each piece on the accompanying chart paper. Think specifically about how each picture relates to the novel. 

Step 2: When the gallery tour is over, you and your classmates will use the comments from some of the illustrations as a jumping off point for a class discussion of the art. Here are some questions you may consider as you discuss each piece:

  • What is it about this scene that makes it worthwhile enough to be illustrated?
  • Does the artist's style (use of color, brush strokes, medium, etc.) work with the style of the novel or does it work against it? Why?
  • How do the illustrations help tell the story?
  • How might the illustration be viewed differently by someone who has never read Life of Pi and has no idea that the piece is associated with a novel?

You'll go through this process with a few of the illustrations and comments so you can get a good feel for the process of analyzing the art and its relationship to the novel.

Step 3: At this point, you've probably only seen about half of Torjanac's Life of Pi inspired pieces. Now you'll get to see them all—and complete your first assignment. Here's the deal:

Look through all twelve of all twelve of Torjanac's illustration for Life of Pi and choose one to consider in depth by writing an analytical essay. Your essay should address the points we discussed in class, mainly:

  • why you believe the artist chose to illustrate this particular scene from the book;
  • how the artist's style (use of color, brush strokes, choice of medium, etc.) works with or against the style of the novel;
  • how this illustration helps to tell the story; and
  • how this piece might be interpreted differently if it were not associated with a novel.

Step 4: Now that you have that analytical essay under your belt, it's time to try your hand at fiction writing. (And actually, if that analytical essay really is under your belt, you probably ought to turn it in.) 

Ready? Good. Go back to the twelve illustrations Torjanac created for Life of Pi (you'll need a printed copy of the pieces for this part) and—ready?—shuffle them. Rearrange them. Shake things up a bit. Put them in any order you choose, and use them to tell a completely new story. Write out your original piece of fiction, proofread/edit it, and revise it. Then get ready to share your new story with the class before you turn it in.

Step 5: Storytime! Remember those magical days back in Kindergarten (or first grade, or at the library, or at home) when someone read you a story with beautiful illustrations? Now you can relive that moment, as reader and read-ee. 

Put on your best reading-to-children voice and share your story with your class or small group. And be sure to show the pictures as you go! 

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.11, 3.12; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 2.1, 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5; (Optional) Listening & Speaking 2.1. 11th & 12th grade Reading 3.2, 3.3, 3.8, 3.9; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3; (Optional) Listening & Speaking 1.3, 1.4, 1.8, 2.3.)

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING LIFE OF PI?

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Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Study Questions    Characters    Analysis    Facts    Quizzes    Movie    Best of the Web    
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