Grades 9-10: An Introduction with Death: A Close Reading of the Prologue from THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak


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Reading Literature

RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone)

RL.9-10.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.


W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

W.9-10.2(a) Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

W.9-10.2(b) Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.

W.9-10.2(c) Use appropriate and varied transitions to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.

W.9-10.2(d) Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.

W.9-10.2(e) Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

W.9-10.2(f) Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).

W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

W.9-10.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

W.9-10.9(a) Apply grades 9–10 Reading standards to literature (e.g., “Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work [e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare]”).

W.9-10.9(b) Apply grades 9–10 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning”).

Speaking & Listening

SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

SL.9-10.1(a) Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

SL.9-10.1(b) Work with peers to set rules for collegial discussions and decision-making (e.g., informal consensus, taking votes on key issues, presentation of alternate views), clear goals and deadlines, and individual roles as needed.

SL.9-10.1(c) Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.

SL.9-10.1(d) Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.


L.9-10.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 9–10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

L.9-10.4(a) Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or text; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

L.9-10.4(b) Identify and correctly use patterns of word changes that indicate different meanings or parts of speech (e.g., analyze, analysis, analytical; advocate, advocacy).

L.9-10.4 (c) Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning, its part of speech, or its etymology.

Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

L.9-10.5(a)Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text.

L.9-10.5(b)Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.


This Grades 9-10 lesson titled “Grades 9-10: An Introduction with Death: A Close Reading of the Prologue from THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak” cited on is intended to be completed in 4 hours of ELA/Literacy/Literacy instruction. Throughout the lesson, students conduct several close readings of an excerpt from the book’s prologue and participate in small and large group discussions, as well as vocabulary and text structure activities that are interspersed with the readings. For the first close reading, students focus on identifying the narrator and select academic vocabulary. In the second reading, they analyze different examples of figurative language within the prologue. They focus on how the word choices impact the tone of the novel and what effect it has on the reader. During the final close reading, students explore the persona of the narrator. The summative assessment is a two-paragraph writing task that requires students to use their notes from the close readings to discuss how the author’s use of figurative language enhances the story, as well as to examine how the structure of the text sets the tone for the rest of the novel.


Connecticut teachers are cautioned that due to the rigor required for student success, additional modifications and supports for students who are ELL, have disabilities, or read well below the grade level text band may be required; additional time may also be necessary, depending on the needs of students. The teacher notes and preparation materials are extensive and will require familiarity to be used effectively; these notes contain a section that lists the knowledge and skills that students should have prior to the lesson. Dictionaries or access to online dictionaries are necessary for every student.


This lesson is an exemplary example of how to make the rigor of reading a complex text closely, examining textual evidence, and discerning deep meaning a central focus of instruction. Activities focus on building students’ academic vocabulary in context throughout instruction. The lesson addresses instructional expectations and is easy to understand and use. Varied modes of assessment and feedback to students provide sufficient guidance for interpreting individual student performance. Accommodations and extensions are listed in the teacher materials.