Writing Lesson Plan Using 127 Hours
SUBJECTS — English Language Arts
Note to teachers: Students love adventure stories, especially tales about young people and most especially when the stories are true. Still, students are often reluctant to read what many times can be a long build-up to the action they crave. Aron Ralston's book is ruminative and informative in its effort to explain how he managed to survive. Most young readers will want to skim the details about his outdoor adventures, the hikes, the climbs, and the description of terrain that is mostly unfamiliar and desolate. They will want to go quickly to the moment when Ralston falls and thus skip the reflection, fear and inspiration that finally leads him to cut off his arm and free himself mere hours from certain death.
Description of the Movie: Adapted from Aron Ralston's book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, this 127 Hours details the harrowing time Ralston spent trying to free himself after a shifting bolder pinned his arm against the wall of a remote slot canyon in the Utah desert. The film's high energy beginning defines Ralston's character and is in stark contrast to the isolation and silence that mark the young outdoorsman's time trapped without hope of rescue. Flashbacks and clever use of video taping move the story forward and reveal important life-lessons.
Rationale for Using the Movie By addressing ideas presented in the book before showing the movie, students will be led to examine how an individual can call upon his past in order to maintain composure in the face of doom. Each reference to one of Ralston's chapters described in the Student Handout introduces an idea that helps readers understand the young man who gathers the courage to cut off his arm and walk away from certain death. Suggested assignments are designed to encourage students to write freely in response to the information given and to empathize with the attributes of character that served Ralston so well. Then, as students watch the film, they will be able to see how ideas they have considered and written about are described visually.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will exercise their writing skills on a subject that interests them. They will consider and discuss the values that enabled Ralston to survive his ordeal.
Possible Problems: Any fear associated with confinement can be exacerbated by watching this film. The scene in which Aron frees himself by breaking bones and cutting through flesh is graphic and medically accurate. It may be disturbing to some students.
LESSON PLAN: USING 127 HOURS IN A CLASSROOM SETTING
1. Review the film to make sure it is suitable for the class. Obtain appropriate administrative or parental approval.
Presentation of the Lesson
This film is about a young man, an expert hiker, who went out alone to a remote area in the Utah desert. He didn't tell anyone where he was going. As he walked down a slot canyon, which is a deep narrow rift in the earth with steep rock walls on either side, his path was blocked by a large boulder. When Ralston tried to climb over the boulder it shifted and pinned his arm against the wall of the canyon. Ralston couldn't get out and he couldn't get help. He spent five days trapped between the boulder and the canyon wall. For much of the time Ralston thought he would die. He had a movie camera with him and recorded his good-bys to family and friends. After five days, Ralston discovered a way to break the bones in his arm. In a last ditch effort to survive, he cut away his flesh until he had severed his arm from the rest of his body. Ralston then stumbled out of the canyon and fortunately encountered a family that was hiking on a nearby trail. When he saw the family, Ralston collapsed. Help was summoned and Ralston was air-lifted to a hospital.2. Tell students that:
3. Describe the journal assignment.
4. Distribute the student handout that you have reviewed and that you may have modified.
5. Have students read the handout and complete the assigned journal entries at the end of each chapter either as in-class work or as homework.
6. Show the film without interruption or chunked.
7. Use the discussion questions and/or some of the journal topics to stimulate class discussion.
8. Assign a summative essay at the end of the discussion.
9. Collect the journal entries and the essays.
LEARNING GUIDE MENU
STUDENT HANDOUT FOR 127 HOURS
The book Between a Rock and a Hard Place begins with three verses from Homer's The Odyssey in which the enchantress Circe describes the dangers that Odysseus will face after he leaves her island. Through these verses Ralston describes the risk of adventure, preparing the reader for the idea that there are people who love adventure for the sake of adventure itself.
But once your crew has rowed you past the SirensNext, Ralston has chosen to show a map of the four corners area that includes the area in the state of Utah in which his climbing adventure and accident happened. Another map details the area of Blue John Canyon in which Ralston was trapped.
In his prologue, Ralston reveals the history of this infamous canyon with its Wild Bunch characters and its various hide-outs for the likes of Butch Cassidy. There is a marvelous history in these canyons.
Keep a Journal: Respond to the following information about select chapters in Ralston's book through journal entries. The journal entries will be helpful in a formal essay that you will be asked to write at the end of the unit. Each journal entry should be approximately one page typed, cover one topic, and follow the usual English language syntax, grammar and spelling conventions. You should prepare a draft and then a final. Both should be handed in. While writing your journal entries use your narrative skills by creating meaning through action, dialogue, comparisons, thoughts and descriptive language.
Chapter One: Geologic Time Includes Now
In his first chapter, Ralston opens with a quote from Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey:
This is the most beautiful place on earth.Abbey, one of the first of the radical environmentalists, loved the area in which Ralston hiked. Ralston agrees with Abbey, believing that everyone possesses an image of an ideal place, to which he or she may retreat in a "homing sentiment." Ralston also loves the wild deserts and canyons of Utah and seeks to wander their lonely expanses at every opportunity.
Assignment #1: Write a journal entry describing your own special place and what it means to you. Your special place doesn't have to be in the natural environment; it can be in your home, your neighborhood, or anywhere else. It doesn't have to be one place, but it can be several places that have something in common that has meaning for you. For example, a pilot's, special place consist of being airborne. If there is no physical location that is a special place for you, your special place might consist of being in someone's presence or of an activity such as hiking or bike riding. Include details about how you found this place and what it means to you. Use your narrative skills to make this place come alive to your reader. Consider using action, dialogue, comparison, thought and descriptive language.Later in the chapter, on page 3, Ralston mentions the many cave paintings he sees in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. He ponders what artifacts from our civilization will remain in 5,000 years. As he thinks about the peoples who left these etchings, he considers the concept of leisure time and what future generations will think of the fact that so many of us fritter away our leisure time watching television.
Assignment #2: In your journal, make a list of objects that you think would best explain what you are like should these objects be found in the distant future. Distance yourself from these objects; describe them and the thought process that the people of the future would use in coming to conclusions about you from these objects.On page 7, Ralston looks into a desert vista and begins to realize how delicate life is and how insignificant humans are against the immensity of nature. He then decides that humans are powerful beings because of our capacity to boldly continue pushing forward in life despite our insignificance.
Assignment #3: In a journal entry, recall a moment in your life when you may have felt a similar sentiment concerning your own life. Try to remember whether discovering the tenuousness of life made you feel insecure, afraid or comforted by a notion of religion or hope. If you have had no such experience, but remember seeing a character in a film or reading about a character in a novel who pondered existence itself, reflect on that memory.On page 11, Ralston quit a good-paying job and found employment as a sales and shop worker at a mountaineering outfitters so that he would have more time to hike and mountain climb. He asserts that it is better to be poor and live your dreams than be wealthy and unable to find time for your life's passions.
Assignment #4: In your journal, reflect on your own passions or strong interests that may not bring you a high paying job but strike you as worthy of pursuit. You may think about what you intend to do once you finish your schooling; there may be a difference between what you should do as opposed to what you want to do. Describe these passions or interests, how you came to them, how they have affected your life, and what you intend to do with them in the future.On page 13, Ralston notes how he took a risky climb down a rock face and says that he feels foolish since there were easier ways to reach the bottom of the canyon wall. His willingness to take risks is one of the reasons he likes to hike solo, despite the problems that could arise. For Ralston, a solo adventure is like meditation; it brings him peace and a sense of happiness. Some outdoor enthusiasts consider solo adventures to be risky in themselves. Later, in chapter six, Ralston repeats a lesson he had learned from an avalanche instructor who told him that when you take a risk, when you "play the odds," you must be prepared to handle the consequences should disaster strike.
Assignment #5: In your journal, reflect on both the notion of taking risks and of being alone. Write about a time you took a risk and be sure to detail the dangers as well as the outcome of the experience. Write also about when you find time to be alone and how it makes you feel. What kinds of thoughts are you inclined to follow when there is no one else around and no television or technology to otherwise occupy your thoughts.Throughout the book Ralston writes about the music he listens to on his CD player and various concerts he has attended. He says that music brings him joy and live performances have been very special occasions. He listens to music on his hikes and sings his favorite lyrics.
Assignment #6: In your journal, write about your relationship with music. How much time do you spend listening to it or playing an instrument? Which performers and which specific pieces are especially important to you? Why is that? Be sure to include a few lines of your favorite lyrics in and to explain why they stick in your mind.After Ralston falls, which is revealed on page 23, his internal dialogue begins. He says there is a voice over his right shoulder saying one thing and a voice over his left shoulder saying something else. He assesses his situation and concludes that he could very well die. Thus, he begins to seek ways to free himself from the boulder that has smashed and trapped him arm against the canyon wall. He is distracted for a moment as he ponders the likelihood that this 800 pound rock could have fallen at this moment and landed in this very place. He asks himself, what are the odds?
Assignment #7: In your journal, write about a very unlikely event that has happened to you, being in the wrong place or the right place at precisely the wrong or the right time. Be sure to include details and to reveal the outcome of the situation, either positive or negative. How did you react to the opportunities or risks caused by the event.Chapter Two: Beginnings
On page 43, Ralston reveals that he graduated at the top of his class from Carnegie Melon University with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a second area of concentration in French. He minored in piano performance. He then began an outdoors adventure in the Tetons and was stalked by a bear. Nothing in his formal education prepared him for this experience yet he survived by turning into the aggressor, pursuing and throwing rocks at the bear. Later, this tendency to actively attack a problem serves him well.
Assignment #8: In your journal, write about a time when you were in a dangerous situation and you were able to get out of the trouble by using your wits. The experience may have occurred when you were very young and may seem trivial in retrospect, but the fear and the difficulty nonetheless seemed real at the time, so treat the narrative seriously.Chapter Three: The Night Shift
On page 58, Aron recounts an experience in which his family, along with a friend and fellow lover of nature named Betty, got got up early to see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. Betty loved the outdoors despite the paralysis she had developed from polio as a child. The memory of this experience and Betty's evident joy, along with her willingness to tolerate the discomfort of paralysis and the early morning cold, serves Ralston well during the time he is trapped against the Canon Wall.
Assignment #9: In your journal, write about someone who has been inspirational to you. What personal characteristics in this individual serve as guideposts to you when you need direction. This person may be someone you know personally or someone described to you by the mass media. Be clear about the effect that this person has had in your life.Chapter Four: How to Become a Retired Engineer in Just Five Short Years
In chapter four, Ralston mentions reading John Krakauer's book, Into the Wild, about the adventures of Chris McCandless, a young college graduate who took to the road and was found dead in the Alaska wilderness a year later. Ralston shares the values McCandless expressed in his desire to gain new experiences everyday and to pursue change and adventure. Ralston also read Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air, about a Himalayan expedition gone bad, and wondered how he would behave in such deadly circumstances. He felt challenged by each story. At the end of the chapter, he quotes Goethe: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." Reading has been important to Ralston and has profoundly influenced his attitudes and values.
Assignment #10: Write about either a book or a film or a quote that has served to inspire you to do more than you previously thought possible. Do not concern yourself with whether or not your experience is dramatic; pay attention only to how important it has been to you. It could be that you have been inspired but have not yet acted upon your inspiration. Just be sure to explain what, in your reading or viewing, has been inspirational.Chapter Five: Failing Options
In chapter five, Ralston decides he is simply waiting to be found after trying everything he sees as possible to survive. He says, "I will die here." He becomes hopeless. He then begins to realize that he got himself into this situation and that each of us creates our own lives. He thinks he must have sought this experience in order to fulfill his desire for the ultimate adventure. He is now 32 hours into his entrapment. Later, in Chapter Eleven, Ralston falls into trances and accepts the fact that he will die. He scratches RIP on the rock above where he had earlier etched his name and birth month. Then he envisions a three year old boy who leaves him with a sensation of joy and the knowledge that he will survive this experience. The vision inspires him to keep hope alive.
Assignment #11: In your journal, write about a moment of hopelessness you may have had either in terms of an adventure, a relationship or even in an effort to do an especially difficult or tedious assignment in school. The subject does not matter; only the sense of hopelessness is important. Write about the outcome of the situation. How did you get past hopelessness or how did you feel when you gave up and simply moved on?Chapter Seven: Push on Till the Day
Ralston begins chapter seven with a quote from the ancient poet Horace: "Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which, in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant." He reflects on what it is he is supposed to learn from being trapped against the canyon wall, facing the slow process of dying of thirst. He is cold. He is tired. His efforts to free himself have failed. He notices a cycle of action and repose that he has begun to follow. He pays attention to the process of getting free rather than just the desired results. In this chapter he makes the first attempt to cut off his arm, something he had considered and dismissed earlier, and discovers it is not possible with the knife blade he has with him. He gives up the effort. He returns to self-reflection and the camcorder. He has yet to learn what talent may have been lying dormant in his life.
Assignment #12: In your journal, write about something you learned about yourself when you got into a difficult situation. Use your best narrative writing skills to create an image of the situation and be sure you are clear about the lesson learned, even if the knowledge of the lesson did not fully present itself to you until much later.Chapter Eight: I'm Going to Utah
Now three days into his experience, out of water and collecting urine, feeling despair and even contemplating suicide, thinking about the people that have been important to him and about those to whom he has harbored a selfish and dismissive attitude, Ralston begins to pray. In his prayer he asks God to help him keep true to himself and not to give up. He wants to see this experience through to the end, no matter what; he wants to die with his boots on, if that is what is to come.
Assignment #13: In your journal, think about your relationship with the religion and the concept of God you have developed in your life. When, if ever, do you resort to prayer? What kinds of prayers do you say? Whether or not you believe in a higher power, try to explore how your beliefs may have helped Ralston in his ordeal had he believed them as well.Chapter 13: Enlightenment and Euphoria
Chapter 13 begins with a quote from a character played by Brad Pitt in the film Fight Club to the effect that once you have lost everything, you are free to do anything. When Ralston realizes that his trapped hand is rotting, and that the putrefaction is advancing rapidly, he wants to get rid of the dead matter before it poisons his entire body. He is energized and throws himself back and forth until he feels an unnatural bending in his arm bones. At this point he figures out that by twisting and bending he can snap his arm bones in two. As he goes through these maneuvers he hears the cap gun snap of the bones and then spends nearly 40 minutes tearing, slicing and pulling the tendons, arteries, nerve branches and tissue, finally freeing himself from entrapment. He screams, "I am free!" Then he begins the walk out of the slot canyon to safety.
Assignment #14: In your journal, write about the quote from Fight Club. Analyze its meaning in terms of Ralston's perspective, trapped as he was in the canyon, just hours away from dying of thirst. Then look into your own life for moments when, since you had nothing to lose, you were able to actually take action that propelled you forward. Should you be unable to relate to the quote on a personal level, write about how you have seen the truth in this quote in the lives of others, in films or in stories you have read.Chapter 15: A Date with Destiny
In his final chapter, Ralston recounts the difficult climb out of the canyon and describes the technical moves required so that he can make it to a pool of water 150 feet below him. One tiny mistake now, easily possible given the weakness he feels from his days trapped in the cold and unrelenting canyon, would mean lost time and certain death. He must walk miles to his bike and to his truck and get to a hospital before the rot in the arm, loss of blood and his near starvation kills him. He keeps his grip, rappels to the canyon floor, drinks the brown water, feels the warmth of the sun, and is soon met by a family of hikers who run for help.
Assignment #15: In your journal, write about a time when you experienced a happy ending to a difficult and possibly dangerous situation. Try to explain the feelings associated with the event. Consider using metaphors and similes to describe your response to putting a difficult experience behind you. In retrospect, was your experience worthwhile in any way?Epilogue: A Farewell to Arm
Ralston's final words about his experience explain the difficulty he faced in recovery, the many operations he had to endure and the uncomfortable dependency he felt when he had to have others care for him. He writes about going back to the canyon to visit the place that seems to have taught him so much. He writes about how he has become an even better outdoorsman since the accident and jokes that he may cut off his other arm to see if he can improve even more. He claims that the accident and the rescue were miraculous events about which he feels no regrets and which taught him the value of living one's life with passion and as an inspiration to others. The experience seems to have been, in retrospect, a spiritual encounter with the forces of life.
Assignment #16: In your journal, write about your thoughts concerning what is apparently true from Ralston's point of view, that the quality of our lives is determined by our ability to hold on to the values by which we choose to live. Think of your values and the ones you hope to affirm as you continue through your education and the many experiences you will have in your life. By what principles do you hope to live?[End of handout]
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Assessment of Journal Entries:
The journals: Teachers can use personal methods of evaluating journal entries, looking for focus, depth and clarity of thought. It is important that journal entries do not drift off topic and simply become an opportunity for ventilation of personal issues. Although journal entries are informal in nature, quality writing, in terms of grammar, punctuation, descriptive word choice and variety of sentence length and style remain important.
1. Write a critical analysis of 127 Hours focusing on three important ideas communicated both in the book and in the film. You may use your journal entries and the handout to help clarify the points you make in your essay.
2. Write a critical essay in which you examine three ideas that can be found in the book but have not been presented, either at all or adequately, in the film.
3. Write a persuasive essay in which you convince your reader of one of the two following propositions: (1) the film's artistry helps to convey the ideas in the book or (2) the film weakens the value of the ideas presented.
4. Write an essay in which you analyze the character of Aron Ralston. Select three characteristics, such as determination, forbearance, optimism, flexibility, etc, and show how the nature of each characteristic is shown through either action or monologue.
5. Write an essay in which you evaluate the dominant ideas presented in the film in terms of their applicability to young people who will in all likelihood never face a situation similar to the one experienced by Ralston.
See also, Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
This is Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay with assistance from James Frieden. This Guide was first published on August 7, 2012.
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