Dinner Party By Mona Gardner Essay

Student Models Written on Under the Rice Moon

This story was used in class to model the OnLine Essay scoring process.  The examples below demonstrate student responses to the story representing three different scoring levels for revisions written in response to the feedback generated by the model "2" paper.  Students may find that examining the evolution of this paper towards a score of "4" may help them revise their own papers on The Dinner Party.

Read Under the Rice Moon by Rhiannon Puck.

Model Responses will be posted as they read in class.

Student Model Response - Score 2
Paper lacks a thesis statement or a focus on the topic.  Body of the paper simply summarizes the story rather than focusing on the topic.  Student needs to go back and plan the paper.

Student Model Response - Score 3
Paper reflects a plan and and an increased focus on the writing topic.  Thesis statement continues to be weak, and body paragraphs do not have topic sentences which focus on how the author is using the characters to make her point.  Body paragraphs need stronger topic sentences and content that focuses on them.

Student Model Response - Score 4
Paper represents a strong revised focus on the prompt including an opening strategy for the introduction introducing the thematic focus of the story.  Development is improved throughout including a stronger thesis statement and topic sentences that directly support it as well as establish a focus for each paragraph.  Concluding paragraph is leaves reader with a message to think further about.

Students attempting to improve their papers from one holistic scoring level to another may find that comparing the papers above helpful in identifying revision strategies that they might successfully apply to their own papers.

Focus Question: How do we write a literary analysis?

“Today we will practice the process of analyzing a literary work. You will ultimately record your analysis in a group composition. In the next lesson you will each apply what you learned to write an analysis of a book or story you have previously read.”

Tell students that they are going to read a short story from 1941 called “The Dinner Party” and then follow the same process they used for “The Three Little Pigs.” This time they will work alone for the first step in the analysis. Read the story aloud to them (possibly showing it on a large screen). “During the last lesson we analyzed ‘The Three Little Pigs.’ We listed and described the main characters, graphed the plot, identified the setting, and discussed theme. You will be doing this same process for ‘The Dinner Party.’” Distribute Literary Analysis Notes (LW-8-1-2_Literary Analysis Notes.docx) and allow 10–15 minutes for students to

  • List the main characters and a key characteristic of each based on evidence in the text (Some possible student answers: Mrs. Wynnes/observant, quick-witted, calm; the colonel/opinionated; the American naturalist/observant, quick-witted, calm; the young girl/determined, spirited).
  • Graph the plot (Some possible student answers: exposition: a dinner party in India in a room opening onto a veranda; rising action: an argument between the colonel and a young girl about whether women have self-control in a crisis/Mrs. W. has a bowl of milk placed outside the open dining room doors/the naturalist realizes there is a cobra in the room/he scrutinizes the room and realizes that the cobra is under the table/he asks everyone to stay perfectly still while he counts to 300/they do so while he counts; climax: the cobra comes out from under the table and goes to the milk; falling action: they close the doors against the cobra/Mr. W. says that the colonel was right because the naturalist has shown perfect control/the naturalist asks Mrs. W. how she knew a cobra was in the room; resolution: she replies that she knew because it was crawling across her foot.)
  • Identify setting (Some possible student answers: India, a large dining room with doors open onto a veranda during a large dinner party).
  • Identify a theme and compose a thesis statement (Some possible student answers: Generalizations are dangerous./Self-control during a crisis is not determined by gender./Calmness is the most effective response to a crisis.).

As students are writing, walk around the room and help as needed. Review students’ work if they finish early and provide quick feedback. After students have finished, say, “Now you will get into groups and discuss your findings. If there are disagreements, discuss them.” After groups have come to a consensus, have each element presented by one of the groups.

Following the presentation, ask the groups to decide on a thesis statement that could be used to analyze the story. (Examples: The setting is vital to the development of the plot./The self-control of Mrs. Wynnes shapes the plot./The American naturalist’s keen powers of observation determine the plot of the story.)

After they agree on a thesis statement, have them list its supporting evidence. Remind them that if they can’t find enough evidence, they probably need a new thesis statement. Have them check with you if they encounter a problem.

When ready, have each group present its thesis statement and list of supporting evidence. (All the members of the group should participate in the informal presentation.) Then ask them which thesis statement they think worked best. Discuss that one again, concentrating on its strong points.

“Now you are going to work together as a group to compose an analysis. You may use the same thesis statement and evidence that we just discussed as a strong example or, if you want to use a different one, check it with me before you begin writing.” It doesn’t matter whether all groups use the same thesis and evidence or whether they differ, as long as you are certain they are doing something workable. To ensure that students do not waste their time, approve all thesis statements before they begin the next part.

Explain the main points that they need to include in their analysis. Italicized phrases below should be written for the class to view. Remaining text may be used to explain what students should include in each section of the paper.

  • The introductoryparagraph should contain the thesis statement and it should be just what it says it is––an introduction to the rest of the discussion. Include the title of the short story and the author’s name, as well as a little information to prepare the reader for what is to come.
  • The evidence supporting the thesis statement will be presented in several paragraphs that form the body of the paper. How the evidence is organized will depend upon the thesis.
    • For instance, if the focus of the analysis is that the American naturalist’s keen observation determines the plot, the first paragraph of evidence might describe how his ability affects the rising action: his initial observation of Mrs. Wynnes and his awareness that the bowl of milk signals the presence of a cobra.
    • The next paragraphof evidence could present how his ability intensifies the rising action when he examines the room and realizes that the cobra is under the table and that he must keep the others still until the climax occurs with the emergence of the cobra.
    • The final paragraph(s) of evidence could resolve the story’s initial conflict about self-control by connecting the naturalist’s observation of the opening argument to his question to Mrs. Wynnes about how she became aware of the cobra’s presence in the room.
    • The concluding paragraph of the analysis may be as brief as two sentences, but it should reiterate the idea of the thesis statement. A strong final paragraph should actually reach a conclusion. (If the naturalist had not asked Mrs. Wynnes how she knew the cobra was present, the others present––and the readers––would have concluded that the story simply presents an obvious example of a man’s self-control during a crisis. His observant question turns the story around and offers an example of a woman’s steely, silent self-control.)

Remind students that the body of the analysis should present two or more major points of evidence to support the thesis statement and an explanation of why each point is important. Note that the number of paragraphs in an analysis will depend on the number of points of evidence that support a particular thesis. Also remind them that all of their evidence must support the thesis statement.

Before the groups begin, make sure to provide tasks that each student can perform. This will help safeguard against one group member doing all the work. Depending on the size of the groups, each student can be in charge of one of the paragraphs. As the groups are working, walk around the room and ensure that everyone is participating. If you see that one student is doing all the work, intervene and help the group split the tasks. Collect the drafts after they are finished and provide feedback. Identify drafts that are strong and those that require substantial revision. If necessary, review weak areas with the whole class.

Ask each group to revise their paper based upon your feedback. This would be a good time to have a short lesson on transitions to help with the flow between sentences and paragraphs. “As you revise your papers, pay attention to the transitions you have used to tie your sentences and paragraphs together. Transition words and phrases help your paper flow.” If possible, ask students to share some transitions they have used in their papers. Pass out copies of transition words and phrases found at Purdue’s OWL (Online Writing Lab) Web site: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/owlprint/574/.

When it is time to conduct a peer review, say, “Now that each group has written an analysis of ‘The Dinner Party,’ it is time to switch essays and let other groups read them. As we read each group’s essay, begin deciding which paper has the best introductory paragraph, the best presentation of evidence, and the best conclusion. After you’re finished reading each paper, we will discuss the ones you find most effective.” Distribute copies of the Sample Rubric for a Literary Analysis Paper, which is at the end of this unit. Explain that this rubric will be used to evaluate their final analyses and show them how to use it to decide which group drafts have the best sections. Coordinate the review so that each group reads each analysis. After they are finished, discuss which essays exhibit good writing. Finally, have the groups revise their drafts and collect them so that you can see if they understand the characteristics of a good analysis. Review if necessary.

Tell students to bring a short story or novel they have previously read to the next class session.

Language Skills Mini-Lesson

Take 10 minutes to use “The Dinner Party” to illustrate correct usage of a dash to indicate a break between ideas. See that each student has a copy of the story or display the story for class viewing. “Before we finish this lesson, let’s quickly look at some examples in ‘The Dinner Party’ for correct usage of a dash to show a break between the writer’s ideas. As you can see, Mona Gardner used a number of dashes in ‘The Dinner Party.’

“Let’s look at the example in the first paragraph. What idea is emphasized between the dashes?” (The dashes enclose a list of who the dinner guests are.)

“Now find the three examples of dashes used in the sixth paragraph. What ideas do they separate from the other ideas in the sentences? Write down your answers.” Check to see that students have written their answers, and then have them meet with a partner. Give students a few minutes to confer and write. Then ask students to share their answers with the class.

“In all three sentences, the dashes are used in the same way. The first example says that ‘In India, milk in a bowl means only one thing.’ Then the author uses a dash to indicate that she will now explain what the ‘one thing’ is—‘bait for a snake.’ Notice that the dash creates a break that helps to emphasize the way the milk is being used.

“Now look at the last sentence of the sixth paragraph. The character has looked around the room, but has not been able to locate any snake. The sentence says, ‘There is only one place left—’ The dash then prepares us to find out what the ‘one place’ is: ‘under the table.’ Notice again how the break created by the dash helps to emphasize the surprising idea that there may be a snake under the table.

“Place a dash correctly in these sentences that I’m writing:”

  1. He opened the box and couldn’t believe he’d just gotten the best present ever a basketball!
  2. Shana wondered who would leave a dog in such a place and why.
  3. Alternative energy any energy source that does not use fossil fuels has become a top priority for development in the U.S.
  4. If he could go when he could go he would change his clothes first.

To end the lesson, collect students’ sentences that have dashes added.

Remind students to bring a short story or novel they have previously read to the next class session.


  • For review, students who might have difficulty writing a draft with a group can work with you. Use the same story, but choose another thesis statement; then have them list relevant evidence and work through a draft of the paper.

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