Use this lesson plan to help you increase your students’ understanding of ‘A Retrieved Reformation’ by O. Henry. Students will use text lessons to summarize plot, then analyze setting, characters and theme in an interactive way that will make tricky concepts stuck.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

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  • summarize A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry
  • identify theme in A Retrieved Reformation
  • analyze characters and setting in A Retrieved Reformation


1.5 – 2 hours


  • Copies of our text lessons A Retrieved Reformation: Summary ; Themes and A Retrieved Reformation: Characters ; Setting, one for each student
  • Copies of the short story A Retrieved Reformation, one for each student
  • Chart paper and markers
  • Copies of the lesson quizzes for characters and setting and summary and themes

Key Characters and Terms

  • Jimmy Valentine
  • Annabel Adams
  • Ralph D. Spencer
  • Ben Price
  • Mr. Adams
  • May
  • Agatha
  • Elmore, Arkansas

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.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.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3

Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.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.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


  • Before class, prepare five stations in your room. Hang chart paper at each station and label for characters, setting, summary, theme, and reformation.
  • Next, write the following guiding questions on the top of corresponding charts:
  • Characters – Choose one new character to analyze. Explain how their thoughts, words, and actions tell you about their character traits. Use text evidence to support your answer.
  • Setting – How does time and place propel action in the story? Choose one new aspect of setting to analyze, telling how the author’s choices help the story.
  • Summary– Tell your portion in the five-step summary. (Students will retell the story in five pieces, each building off the previous group’s stopping point.)
  • Theme – Choose one of the themes to analyze. Use text evidence to tell how the theme was conveyed in the story and how it continues to be applicable today.
  • Reformation – Is reformation possible? Determine as a group whether or not reformation is possible and write a statement to answer the question, listing reasons for your stance.


  • Connect students to the topic and prepare them for learning by asking them to respond to the following question from the text in writing:
    • Imagine you are a long-time criminal, good at what you do and used to the lifestyle you’ve created. You’re just being released from another stint in prison. This time, you had to do ten months of your four-year sentence, even though you had only expected to do three. What would it take to get you to completely turn your life around? What would cause your reformation?
  • Allow students to discuss their answers in small groups, then as a whole class. Examine the word ‘reformation.’
  • Now tell students they will be reading and analyzing a short story about this topic. Distribute copies of the story A Retrieved Reformation and discuss the title, including the use of the word ‘retrieved.’
  • Have students read the story silently, noting questions and comments in the margins.
  • When students are finished writing their response to the above prompt, allow them to discuss the story briefly in short groups answering the following questions:
    • What surprised you about the story?
    • Do you think Jimmy ‘reformed?’
    • Is your opinion about reformation the same or changed?
  • Now distribute copies of the lessons A Retrieved Reformation: Summary & Themes and A Retrieved Reformation: Characters & Setting.
  • Point out the five stations around the room. Divide students into five groups and have them each head to a station.
  • Give directions for each station and allow students to get to work, reading the accompanying text lesson to guide them in their work.
  • As students work, walk around to offer support and guidance.
  • Rotate students through all five stations.
  • When finished, read through each poster, discussing group answers in relation to the text.
  • Have students take the lesson quizzes for characters and setting and summary and themes to check for understanding.


  • Students will now apply concepts by writing a short sequel to the story. Explain to students that they should write in the same style as the story and honor setting and character traits.
  • Students can choose to write any point in the future, from immediately where the story leaves off to many years down the road.
  • Allow students to brainstorm ideas in a web or other graphic organizer, then begin writing.
  • When finished, ask students to share and discuss stories.

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