A Wrinkle in Time: Exploring Theme
Lesson Plans and Big Ideas
A Wrinkle in Time is the sci-fi/ fantasy story of siblings who travel across space and time, rescue their beloved father from a dark planet, and, by virtue of their own strengths, make it home again. It's a feat that these kids couldn't accomplish if they didn't have a power that the seemingly all-powerful IT force didn't have. The most powerful force of all: love.
How I remember reading A Wrinkle in Time at eleven! I was just at the point of making that transition from fantasy that was pure story to fantasy that was driven by emotion and theme. The book didn't create that transition, but it shone a light on it: on my new eleven-year-old self. It also taught me to look at fantasy literature and expect something more than just fantastical events.
I was one of many children, across a span of decades, touched by the travel across the tesseract and the joyous return home. That book is 50 years old this year -- can you believe it? There are new editions on the market, but that's not all that's on the horizon. Next year will see the release of a made-for-theaters movie. A Wrinkle in Time has never gone out of print or become quaint, but there's a bit of resurgence in interest.
Checking out a classroom set? Here's an exploration in theme and some lesson plan ideas.
Teaching Children the Big Ideas
You can go a long way toward expressing the theme with a single word. I would put it in a sentence, though, "Love is the most powerful thing in the universe". Here's how this theme unfolds: Meg's little brother, Charles Wallace, is briefly lost after an encounter with the powerful, but impersonal force, IT. He's there, but it's not really him behind those eyes. There's a coldness there. And he's become a mouthpiece for IT.
After recouping on another planet, Meg tessers back alone. She is told that she has something that IT doesn't have. It seems impossible, and yet, she -- and not IT! -- can love. She concentrates on loving her little brother and he breaks free from the spell and the compulsion to do IT's will. He runs to her.
At what point can we clearly state what the biggest overarching theme is? The moment comes late in the book, in Chapter 12, at that pivotal moment when Meg realizes what she has that IT doesn't. Before that, though, we get clues that love is part of the author's message.
Students can interact with the book as they read by writing on Post-It notes and affixing them to the book. Later, after that climactic last chapter, they can look back. What early clues did the author give about her theme?
Author's Viewpoint? Reader's Viewpoint?
Separating the author's point-of-view from one's own... Now that can be a tricky concept.
A Wrinkle in Time is a great book for exploring the difference! The themes including trusting one's intuition and accepting what's there (as opposed to what we think should or must be).
Chances are there are a number of children in the classroom who would have difficulty accepting their own perceptions to quite the extent "L'engle's characters do. So... let's explore the difference between what the characters think, what the real life kids think -- and also the message the author might be trying to convey.
The early chapters -- even before the book becomes obvious science fiction -- are rich fodder for exploration. This is a good to read aloud and use a think-aloud strategy. Here are some scenes to consider: Mrs. Murray's encounter with Mrs. Whatsit, the Murray's first encounter with Calvin.
We can see how the characters are reacting to their encounters-- but what of the author? Is she giving us clues about her attitude? Here's a related question: Do we,as readers have a sense of which characters can be trusted? If so, why? What are the text clues? What has the author done to reveal her own attitude toward the characters?
The image here is from a dramatization of the story. Now that adds still another viewpoint...
Journal Prompts (First Chapters)
Meg asks her mother whether the twins are really as normal as they seem -- or whether they are pretending. What do you think? How does this apply to the real world? Do kids pretend to be normal? Are they convincing?
What do you think the author's attitude is toward "normal"? Is it better or worse to be normal? Is it important?
Interacting with the Book
Sticky notes are great for interacting with the book and bringing notes to literature circle. You can make them even more fun with sticky notes that are expressly designed to hold your thinking. Yes, it's thought bubble sticky notes! (Speech bubbles, regular and starburst-shaped, are also available.)
Nonfiction Connection: Exploring the Tesseract
Meg's mother is told by an unusual guest that there is indeed such a thing as a tesseract. Apparently there is (even if no one has actually traveled across one). Here the Mathematical Association offers an explanation of the real tesseract. There are links to additional resources at the bottom of the editorial. Some are to Wrinkle in Time resources. Yes,A Wrinkle in Time has made the tesseract famous!
Explore: What does A Wrinkle in Time add or change when incorporating the tesseract into a fictional story?
- Mathematical Association Editorial
Resources for pondering The Tesseract -- and, yes, you will find links back to A Wrinkle in Time?
A Wrinkle in Time includes science terms and concepts, but many elements -- flying creatures, tangible forces of good and evil -- are characteristic of the fantasy genre. What about kything? There have been attempts to explain telepathy scientifically.
2013 Movie Trailer
A Wrinkle in Time has been interpreted many times: in theater, on television, and on the "big screen". Here's the trailer for the 2013 movie.
This trailer is from the 2003 movie. Something about the casting of Meg seems just right. I thought some of the characters were altered in ways that made them less true.
The producer has also taken some liberties with plot. It will be interesting to see how the book is envisioned in the 2013 big screen version: Will it stay closer to the original story?
Let's not forget this one, though. It can be a good exercise to examine multiple interpretations.
Study Guide for Basic Comprehension - A Resource for Classroom Teachers
Even basic comprehension can be difficult for fifth and sixth graders. (What do those words mean? How to put it all together and construct the plot?)
Here is a reading comprehension study guide. It provides the difficult vocabulary chapter by chapter and also includes comprehension questions to ensure that children are following along.
- Life Stream Study Guide
Study guide for A Wrinkle in Time.
Resources from Theater Companies
Some theater companies put together marvelous study guides. They are designed primarily for students who will be watching the play, but remain there in the website archive years later!
Planet Camazotz is no utopia -- more like the opposite! What's the worst thing about it? (Pick a couple things if you need to.)
Traditional measures place this book at about the fifth grade level, but the Common Core standards, which take into account additional factors (like levels of meaning) place it in the middle school band.
More Lesson Plans for A Wrinkle in Time
Grade 6 unit.
Resources from Sparknotes: chapter summaries, characters, and more.
- Cowden-Herrick Schools
- Multnomah County Library
Here are some real thinking questions! The first gets at the difference between science fiction and fantasy.
- Colorado Unit Writing
This is a Readers Theater activity. There are links to quite a few units on the page -- look for it under the fiction heading.
The Time Quintet Boxed Set
When I was little there were three books. But soon there were five. The original Time Trilogy featured Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin. A generation later, though, Calvin's and Meg's daughter tessered (in An Acceptable Time).