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Torn Apart: Moral Decision Making in Tim O’Brien’s “On the Rainy River”

Torn Apart: Moral Decision Making in Tim O’Brien’s “On the Rainy River”

Author: Beth Barsness
  1. Discuss and understand Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development.
  2. Apply these principles to the short story "On the Rainy River" from The Things They Carried
  3. Have proficient understanding in order to apply these concepts to upcoming literature (e.g. "The Inferno" from The Divine Comedy, The Canterbury Tales, and Crime and Punishment).

This lesson discusses the universal truth that we all have an idea of what constitutes right vs. wrong.  This lesson also discusses how morality is different for everyone based upon the following: societal or immediate environmental expectations; collective cultures that affect everyday decision-making; and historical events that have had bearing on what we find to be “normal”.  Students will take the knowledge gained from this lesson and relate it to future texts throughout the semester.

Length of time needed:  2 class periods (65 minutes each)

This lesson was written by Stephanie Hicks

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Lesson Plan

This lesson plan can be downloaded to your computer as a PDF document. If you would like to edit this document for your classroom needs, go to the "Handouts and Materials" section and click on the corresponding link.


Source: Stephanie Hicks

Handouts and Materials

The following files can be downloaded to your computer:

Lesson Plan (Word document)

"The Heinz Dilemma" (Word document)

Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development (PDF document)

Blank Student Note Taking Chart (PDF document)

Discussion Questions (Word document)


O’Brien, Tim. “On the Rainy River”. The Things They Carried. Mariner Books, 2009.

Definition of morality

Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development by W.C. Crain



Source: Stephanie Hicks