Things They Carried Synthesis Activity


the things they carried imageEach student will be assigned a group number. Each night, you’ll complete a task at home that will ask you to reflect on a specific section of the novel as well as some other texts. Some tasks will require you to read a news article, watch a video, or analyze some visuals.

On the following day in class, you’ll meet with your assigned group to discuss what you found and take some notes together as a group.  Each night/class, you’ll repeat the process until your group has worked through at least three tasks (there are seven altogether).


On the first night, each group must complete the task that coincides with their group number (for example, group 5 should complete task 5 on the first night).  From that point, you can complete the rest of the tasks in whatever order you like.  However, be sure that you decide as a group which task to complete each night so that you are all working on the same thing.  Remember, only three tasks are required.

Central Question

When you are finished all the tasks, work together to answer this central question (it might be helpful to keep this question in mind as you review the materials during the week):

Consider and review the sources from this activity thoughtfully. Then, using at least four of the sources for support—one of which must be The Things They Carried— discuss the consequences for military personnel and their families, civilians, and the welfare of the nation that should be considered when leaders are making an argument to go to war.


Note: This assignment was adapted from the work of Dawn Moss and Suzanne Houser, Gwinnett County Public Schools, GA. Originally presented at the AP Annual Conference, 2014.  

Task 1: Letters Home

Review the description of Rat’s letter to Curt Lemmon’s sister at the beginning of “How to Tell a True War Story.”  Then do the following: 1. View a short clip from the video, Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (below, about 3 minutes, from 1:06:29 to 1:09:37) 2. Read the transcript of an actual letter written … Continue reading Task 1: Letters Home

Task 2: Steve Mumford paintings

In 2010 and again in 2011, New York based artist Steve Mumford embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. He documented his time with the troops through a series of paintings, which were later published in Harper’s Magazine. FIRST, Click the image below to view all the paintings published Harper’s. You can also view more of Steve Mumford’s … Continue reading Task 2: Steve Mumford paintings

Task 3: The Man He Killed

In the chapter entitled “The Man I Killed,” O’Brien goes into great detail describing the physical appearance of the man he may or may not have killed, as well as the life Tim imagines the man leaves behind. Think about why O’Brien describes in such minute detail the man’s appearance, both the damaged and undamaged … Continue reading Task 3: The Man He Killed

Task 4: War Stories

What is O’Brien’s central argument about war stories? Consider the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story” and other comments O’Brien makes throughout the book on the power and purpose of stories.  Consider how he has blurred the line between truth and fiction throughout the novel. Read the articles linked below and then answer … Continue reading Task 4: War Stories

Task 6: Good Times

As O’Brien notes in “Spin,” the “war wasn’t all terror and violence.” Review the vignettes he presents in the chapter.  Then do the following: FIRST,  watch the Dear America video below from 01:32 to 4:43 (a little over three minutes). SECOND, read the article, “The Iraq Story: How the Troops See It.” FINALLY, respond to the following … Continue reading Task 6: Good Times

Task 7: Life After War

For those involved, the effects of war go on long after the final bombs are dropped or the final shots fired. Consider and discuss the post-war experiences of Norman Bowker (“Notes”), Jimmy Cross (“Love”), and Tim O’Brien (“Field Trip”), as well as those chronicled in the two articles from The Daily Beast: “Writing About War: I … Continue reading Task 7: Life After War