The Extra Place LessonPrint this Page
- Subject(s): Language Arts & Literature, Social Studies & Geography
- Region / Country: Central & Eastern Europe / Republic of Poland
- Grade Level(s): 6–8, 9–12
- Related Publication: Voice From the Field
Students take up the challenge of deciding what to do when confronted by a difficult and awkward situation.
About the Setting
"The Extra Place" is by Susan Peters, a Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Poland from 1990 to 1992, in the heart of Eastern Europe. Poland's capital, Warsaw, dating back to the Middle Ages, has a population of more than 1.6 million people. Active in Poland from 1990 to 2001, the Peace Corps worked to ease the country's return to democracy after decades of Communist rule. More than 950 Peace Corps Volunteers served in communities throughout Poland in programs focusing on English education, environmental education, and small business development.
Poland is bordered by Germany on the west, the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the south, and Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania on the east. An estimated 99 percent of the population age 15 and older can read and write. Ninety-five percent of Poles are Roman Catholic. Christmas Eve supper, called Wigilia (vee-GEEL-ya), is widely celebrated as one of the most important holiday meals for the Polish people. Wigilia involves many traditions, one of which is to leave one extra chair and a table setting for an unexpected or missing guest. Uneaten food is also left on the table for anyone who might come in. According to Peace Corps Volunteer Cindy Bestland, who served in Poland from 1996 to 1998, the Polish have a saying that they take to heart: "A guest in the house is God in the house."
To introduce the story to students and have them reflect on its setting.
To stimulate group discussion about the story's meaning.
To help students probe the meaning of the text.
To help students connect the story with their own lives.
To give students the opportunity to think about and discuss a question the text raises that has no easy answers.
- The Extra Place by Susan Peters
- Explain to students that the next selection they will read describes a story told to a Peace Corps Volunteer, Susan Peters, who served in Poland from 1990 to 1992. Provide students with the information about Poland from the Background Information section. Show them a map of Europe and point out Poland.
- Present students with this scenario:
Imagine that your family is getting ready for a holiday celebration. Unexpectedly, a stranger knocks at your front door. You don't know this person and are afraid to open the door, so you talk to the stranger through the intercom. You are impatient to get on with your holiday preparations as you ask the stranger what he wants. You discover the stranger is homeless. He is cold and hungry and has nowhere to stay. He wants your family to take him in. Would you open the door?
- Have students discuss this question with a partner and then conduct a class discussion.
- Have students read the story and ask them to highlight sentences or phrases that have particular meaning to them.
- Then have students pair off anew to discuss the question above. Ask each pair to try to come to a consensus on what they think is significant about "The Extra Place"—and on one or two questions they think the story raises that have no easy answers. Give each pair a sheet of chart paper for use in summarizing their responses.
- Give pairs 10 minutes to discuss the questions and record their responses on the chart paper. Ask each pair to select a reporter to present their responses, using the chart paper summary as a guide.
- Journal Entry. For homework, ask students to tell the story of "The Extra Place" to an adult—or to a younger person—and to ask that person what made Kasia's situation so difficult. What would the listener have done in her position?
- Ask students to return to their partners from the previous day and share their journal summaries from the last class. Then conduct a class discussion as follows:
- Read this passage from "The Extra Place" to students:
So I am thinking now that maybe I do not want to live in Poland for a while. I know that the old system was bad, but I think now that we are losing our soul, and that the problem we have in Poland is not just the inflation that people complain about. It is something else, and I don't know what to call it. But we are losing a part of ourselves....
I don't want to live in this country if we are so afraid that we do not even open our door on Christmas to a stranger. If we are so busy that we forget what it means, the extra place.
- Ask students what they think Kasia meant when she said "we are losing our soul a part of ourselves." What exactly does it mean "to lose your soul to lose a part of yourself," and how do you know it's happening? What is the connection between change and "losing a part of yourself"?
- Suggest to students that making the transition from childhood to adulthood represents a change in which a part of us is lost or left behind to make room for the new person we are becoming. Have students return to their partners to discuss how the story "The Extra Place" might help them think about changes they're experiencing in their own lives.
- After the partners have had some time for discussion, ask how we can hold on to the good in the midst of change. Give the students five minutes to discuss this question, and then have one from each pair summarize their responses.
- Journal Entry. Ask students to respond in their journals to the following prompt: Describe a time in your life when, as a result of a change or an event that occurred, you felt as if you were "losing a part of yourself—or losing your soul." For example, this might have been a situation where, because of peer pressure, you compromised your values. Or it could have been an event or change that had nothing to do with friends. It might have been moving to a new place, growing up and facing issues that you didn't have to face as a child, seeing things in the media you didn't agree with.
- Give students at least 10 minutes for writing, and then ask them to share their thoughts with a partner. Then ask for volunteers to report their thoughts to the rest of the class.
- For homework, ask students to return to their journal response in #6, write about it in more detail, and then respond to the question: Is change always accompanied by losing a part of yourself? Why or why not?
- Conduct a class discussion about the journal responses to the questions: Is change always accompanied by losing a part of yourself? Why or why not?
- The night before the class, make large signs that say: "Strongly Agree," "Agree," "Disagree," and "Strongly Disagree." Post each of the signs in a different corner of the room.
- Ask students to reread "The Extra Place" and then form groups of four. Ask each group to identify the most important question they think the story raises. Allow time for groups to discuss their question and possible answers.
- Suggest to students: "Some people might say (or perhaps a group has already said) that because it was Christmas and a Polish tradition to set an extra place at the table, Kasia and her husband should have invited the stranger to come in and share the meal with them. This is a difficult question to answer. I'd like to invite you to move to the corner of the room that best expresses your opinion on this issue: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly disagree."
- Allow students time to move to their desired corner. Then have them select a partner and discuss the reasons they have taken this position on the issue—or, perhaps, more important, why it might have been hard to take a position.
- After students have had a chance to discuss with a partner the reasons for their position, ask them to discuss it with the rest of the students in their corner. Allow five minutes for discussion, after which a spokesperson from each corner is selected to summarize the reasons behind his or her group's position.
- Journal Entry. Following the group summaries, debrief the students by having them return to their seats and respond in their journals to the following prompts:
- As a result of this activity, what have you learned?
- As a result of reading and thinking about "The Extra Place," what have you learned about the world, yourself, and others? What have you learned about change?
- Ask students to complete their journal writing for homework. Tell them that you are looking forward to responding to what they have written about each of the above questions in a "dialogue journal" format. If students are not familiar with dialogue journaling, explain to them that it is an opportunity for them to express their thoughts to you, and for you to respond to them in writing with your reflections on what they have written.
- To reinforce the process of finding the more abstract patterns in a text, explain to students that, just as folk tales such as "The Talking Goat" have abstract patterns that underlie their structure, so does a story like "The Extra Place." Explain that the more they practice finding the abstract patterns in a text, the easier it becomes. Then they can use this skill in this class—or in a social studies or history class—to make connections between two seemingly unrelated stories, incidents, or events, based on their abstract patterns. Explain that the ability to uncover abstract patterns and make connections can increase their ability to think at higher levels about what they are learning in any class. Provide students with the following example on Worksheet #10.
- Ask students to help you complete parts of the middle column and then to fill in the left-hand column with the literal facts from "The Extra Place."
- Then ask them what analogy they can develop in the right-hand column. What is something they have seen or read or experienced that follows the abstract pattern in the middle column, but that has nothing to do with Christmas or strangers at the door?
- Have students work with a partner to come up with an analogy. Then ask for volunteers to share their analogies with the rest of the class. See how many different analogies you can elicit. Ask students what they think of the strategy of abstracting the pattern in a story. How might they use this strategy in another class? In another subject area?
- Based on these analogies, or on their personal responses to "The Extra Place," ask students to write a poem or draw a mind map or other graphic representation that illustrates the mental connections they have made.
Group discussions, journal entries, oral reports, extended writing assignments.
Framework and Standards
- Cultures and people change.
- Change can sometimes make us feel we are losing a part of ourselves and prompt questions that have no easy answers.
- Reading can help us see the world from many different perspectives and lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves and others.
- How do you hold on to the good in the midst of change?
- What is it "to lose a part of yourself," and how do you know it's happening?
- How does reading help us expand our perspective on the world, ourselves, and others?
National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association
Standard 1: Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world.
Standard 2: Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions of human experience.
Standard 3: Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
National Council for the Social Studies
Theme 1: Culture. Social studies programs should provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity so that the learner can explain how information and experiences may be interpreted by people from diverse cultural perspectives and frames of reference.