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Teaching Guide

Teaching One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Jack Nicholson not included.

GO TO STUDENT LEARNING GUIDE

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has even less to do with birds than To Kill a Mockingbird. So have your students put away the binoculars and guide their attention to our lessons before they drive themselves (and you) crazy.

In this guide you will find

  • a lesson exploring the psychedelic imagery of Cuckoo's Nest through animation.
  • an activity exploring music and poetry inspired by the novel.
  • pop culture connections starring jack-of-all-trades (or at least the acting trade), Jack Nicholson.

Our teaching guide will make sure the only jacket you have to handle is the dust jacket.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

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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: There's a fair amount of injustice in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is why we're going to ask your students to bring a little law and order into play.

This assignment encourages your students to creatively analyze the main characters in the novel by staging mock trials. In small groups, they'll prosecute and defend a character of their choice, for whatever “crime” they choose. 

Length of Lesson: 2 class periods—one for discussion and group planning, and a second for performing the mock trials.

Materials Needed:

Step 1: Begin by leading a discussion of the themes of democracy, law and order, rules, power, authority, and rebellion in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You can do this by having students read through the Shmoop pages below, answer the questions provided on each, and debate one or more of the "Chew on This" statements at the bottom of each page.

Step 2: Explain to students that they'll be working in small groups to design mock trials, charging a character with a crime and defending him or her for it. 

The “crimes” don’t have to be actual charges like "manslaughter" or "murder." For example, students might charge McMurphy with causing Cheswick to kill himself, or Nurse Ratched for increasing, rather than helping to cure, Harding’s insecurities. Students should refer to specific scenes in the book, using the text as evidence for why a character is guilty or innocent.

Step 3: Help students divide into groups, choose their characters/crimes, and adopt the roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, a character to serve as defendant, and another who can play all the necessary witnesses.

Step 4: For homework, students should script and rehearse their mock trials. (If you have ample class time, you could give them another day to work on their trials in class.)

Step 5: Give students time to perform their trials in class. The non-performing class members will vote on who wins each mock trial—the defense or the prosecution.

Step 6: [Optional] Students can be asked to write a short essay analyzing the character they chose to stand trial, using evidence from the text to support their claim that the character is either guilty or innocent, and arguing how this “crime” fits into the larger themes of the novel.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading Standards 2.5, 3.3, 3.4; Writing 1.1, 1.4, 1.6, 2.2, 2.4; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.8, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5; 11th & 12th grade Reading Standards 3.2; Writing 1.1, 1.3, 2.2, 2.3; Listening & Speaking 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 2.3, 2.5.)

Instructions for Your Students

Nurse Ratched likes to claim the ward is a democracy, a little microcosm of society in the “Outside” world. In this activity, you’ll get to execute some law and order yourself by putting a character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on trial. 

You might want to charge McMurphy for indirectly causing Cheswick’s suicide; Nurse Ratched for making her patients worse (not better); or Chief Bromden for murder—or for leaving his friends behind when he escapes.  

Whatever character-crime combination you choose, you’ll have a chance to play either the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the character on trial, or perhaps a witness or two. Powdered wigs, of course, are optional.

Step 1: First engage in a discussion of the themes of democracy, law and order, rules, power, authority, and rebellion in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You can do this by checking out these Shmoop resources:

Step 2: Go over the assignment with your teacher to make sure everyone's on the same page. Here's the jist: 

You'll be working in a small group to design a mock trial in which you will charge a character from the book with a crime and defend him or her for it. 

The “crimes” don’t have to be actual charges like "manslaughter" or "murder." For example, you might charge McMurphy with causing Cheswick to kill himself, or Nurse Ratched for increasing, rather than helping to cure, Harding’s insecurities. 

Step 3: Once everyone understands, divide into small groups, choose your character and crime, and decide who will play the roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, the character on trial, and any necessary witnesses. Use evidence from the text to make your arguments for the character’s guilt or innocence.

Step 4: For homework, write up a script for your mock trial, which you’ll perform in class. You’ll want to prepare short opening and closing statements for both the prosecution and defense, as well as questions to ask witnesses, and their responses.

Step 5: Perform your mock trial. The non-performing class members will vote on who wins each mock trial—the prosecution or the defense.

Step 6: [Optional] Write a short essay analyzing the character you chose to stand trial, using evidence from the text to support your claim that the character is either guilty or innocent, and arguing how this “crime” fits into the larger themes of the novel.

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

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Movie    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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