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Teaching Guide

Teaching A Separate Peace

Make sense, not war.

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We have that peace over there, and then there's this peace over here. They're separate peaces. What are we going to do about that?

Like all the king's horses and all the king's men, Shmoop is here to "peace" everything together again, into one whole Separate Peace.

Sick of the puns? Great. In this guide you will find

  • strategies to plug the novel into two genres: historical commentary and bildungsroman.
  • activities exploring the head-splitting way this novel is both microcosm and macrocosm.
  • modern pieces from cultural authorities like NPR, Time magazine, and The Simpsons, showing how A Separate Peace is still relevant today.

Don't go to pieces over A Separate Peace—we'll help you hold it together.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

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: In this activity, we're going to go all macrocosm/microcosm. Translation: students will analyze the role that (real-life) history plays in Devon. First, they'll answer critical questions about World War II and its historical and literary implications in A Separate Peace. Then they'll write a mirror essay, exploring the differences and commonalities between the boys' reality, and that of the world outside of Devon.

Length of Lesson: You can expect to spend about 30-50 minutes on classroom discussion and possibly one or two more class periods for students to present original work.

Materials Needed: Computer/internet access (to view website); whiteboard/blackboard or chart paper; text of A Separate Peace

Step 1: For homework, students will explore Shmoop's World War II section. While poking around the site, they should keep their eye out for historical events and other important elements of World War II that Knowles addresses in the novel.

And unless they have steel traps for minds, they should write it all down.

Step 2: In class, ask students which historical events and other important elements of World War II Knowles addresses in the novel. As they list off events, write them on the board (or on chart paper) so everyone can see them.

Then dig a bit deeper. Here are some questions to get discussion going:

  • What is the role of World War II in A Separate Peace
  • How does this historical setting affect the way we read the boys' story?
  • How aware are the boys of the current events happening outside their bubble?
  • What would be different if the story took place today?

You can break students up into groups for discussion and circle around the room; or if you don't have as much time, you can all chat as one big, happy class.

Step 3: Finally, students will write an essay using A Separate Peace, their brains, and the mini history lesson derived from the Shmoop guide.

They should start by creating a table with two columns. (Thrilling, we know.) Now, we'll break it down:

  • In the left column, they can list any significant plot events/characters/names in Devon. 
  • In the right column, they should list that event's/character's/name's connection to World War II (and the larger world).

(If it's more intuitive for them, they can start with a focus on World War II events and then come up with their Devon counterparts.)

Step 4 Once the pre-writing is done, they should turn this into an essay, describing Devon through the lens of real-life history. They can use their thoughts from homework, ideas from class discussion, and brainstorming from their pre-writing to discuss how Devon reflects (or doesn't!) the world around it.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade reading standards 1.1, 1.2, 2.3, 2.5, 2.8, 3.3, 3.4, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.12; writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.8, 1.9, 2.2; listening & speaking 1.1, 1.4, 1.8, 2.4, 2.6. 11th & 12th grade reading standards 2.4, 2.5, 3.4, 3.5, 3.8; writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.9, 2.2, 2.4; listening & speaking 1.9, 1.10, 2.2, 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

A Separate Peace takes place between 1942 and 1943—right smack dab in the middle of World War II. Think there's a connection between blitzball and blitzkrieg? (Ahem, no winners…) You're absolutely right. In this activity, you'll prove your historical suspicions to be true (or false!) and get the facts straight about World War II and its role in the novel.

Step 1: For homework, take some time to explore Shmoop's World War II section. While poking around the site, keep your eye out for historical events and other important elements of World War II that Knowles addresses in the novel.

Oh, and unless you have a steel trap for a mind, write down your findings.

Step 2: In class, share your findings with everyone else. How many events and people (and anything else!) can you come up with?

Then it's time to dig a bit deeper:

  • What is the role of World War II in A Separate Peace
  • How does this historical setting affect the way we read the boys' story?
  • How aware are the boys of the current events happening outside their bubble?
  • What would be different if the story took place today?

Step 3: Finally, you'll write an essay using A Separate Peace, your brains, and the mini history lesson you got from Shmoop.

Here's a tip: start by creating a table with two columns. (Thrilling, we know.) Then, it's as easy as 1, 2… yep, just 1, 2.

  • In the left column, list any significant plot events/characters/names in Devon. 
  • In the right column, list that event's/character's/name's connection to World War II (and the larger world).

(If it's more intuitive for you, start with a focus on World War II events and then come up with their Devon counterparts.)

Step 4 Once the pre-writing is done, you'll turn this into an essay, describing Devon through the lens of real-life history. Use your thoughts from homework, ideas from class discussion, and brainstorming from your pre-writing to discuss how Devon reflects (or doesn't!) the world around it.

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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.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
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.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
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.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6

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