White Fang can be used in various ways in the classroom (lit. circles, summer reading, small groups, etc.) Here is a White Fang unit plan to follow for whole-class instruction.
White Fang Reading Level (7th-9th grade)
White Fang is not necessarily a kid’s book. The vocabulary of White Fang may be challenging for youngsters, English learners, and/or developing readers. Furthermore, the plot does not follow a typical narrative structure; it is really a fictional biography. Lastly, the harsh themes are anything but childish.
- Page count: 250 (typical)
- Guided reading: P
- Lexile measure: 900L
- DRA level: 38
- ATOS / Acclerated Reader level: 7.4ATOS / Acclerated Reader level: 7.4
As a whole-class book, I set the reading level of White Fang at 7th-9th grade depending the reading diagnostics for the group.
White Fang unit plan overview:
I separate White Fang into 5 readings. I assign readings and check that students are following the schedule with my White Fang reading quizzes. (I like a weekly basis to provide students with flexibility and access to support.) After each quiz, students engage in one or more lessons focused on the reading.
With each reading students are asked to explore the key literary elements of White Fang (point of view, characterization, craft, theme, etc.) At the end of the unit, students complete a culminating task to demonstrate mastery.
White Fang unit plan reading schedule:
|Chapters 1-4 (pages 1-46)||Point of view|
|Chapters 5-9 (pages 47-97)||Word choice|
|Chapters 10-15 (pages 97-152)||Characterization|
|Chapters 16-20 (152-206)||Conflict and plot|
|Chapters 21-25 (206-252)||Theme|
Note: page numbers refer to ISBN 978-0-439-23619-5 (Scholastic version)
White Fang unit plan: pre-reading
Pre-reading always sets you and your students up for success. This can be as simple as telling the students about the setting and introducing the major theme subjects (personal influences, the laws of nature, violence, and so on). You might also use an activity (like an anticipation guide) or a connected reading.
White Fang anticipation guide
Use this White Fang anticipation guide to prepare students for the themes and setting of the novel:
White Fang connected reading:
Another way to prepare students for the White Fang unit is with a related short story. I like to use Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” as it prepares students for both the setting and the style. In addition, (spoiler alert) the death of the protagonist prepares students for the harsh themes found in White Fang.
Reading 1: The Observer in the Wild (point of view)
- How are Bill and Henry different from the man that they are transporting?
- Describe Bill and Henry’s relationship.
- Are the wolves admirable or despicable?
- How does the narrator feel about the events unfolding?
- Why is the narrator impassive (unfeeling) regarding Henry’s rescue?
- What message is implied by the one-eyed wolf’s victory?
- Why does London start the novel with a story that goes nowhere?
Key element: point of view
Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.
Have students work in collaborative groups to identify who or what is telling the story. Have the students collect and analyze textual evidence that demonstrates the nature of the narration. Who is telling the story? What are the limits on this being’s knowledge? Why do you think London chose this point of view? What tone does this point of view create?
How would the first episode be different if it was told from Henry’s point of view?
What effect does this point of view have on the reader experience?
Reading 2: The Author’s Craft (word choice)
- Why does One Eye bother to care for his cubs?
- Why is White Fang so obsessed with the wall of light? What does it represent?
- How would you describe White Fang’s personality at this point in the novel?
- Why does Kiche submit to the rule of humans?
- What makes White Fang conclude that the humans are gods?
Key element: word choice
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
A key element of the author’s craft is word choice. (Review word choice as needed.) Authors use word choice to create tone mood, and a sense of time and place.
Have the students collect key evidence from this part of the text focused on word choice so that they can share their selection and analysis with the class. You might point out that London’s use of imagery / sensory language is especially notable.
Key terms for word choice:
- Figurative language (metaphors, similes, idioms, understatement, etc.)
- Connotations (the feelings and associations of words)
- Tone (the attitude of the speaker toward a subject)
- Imagery / sensory language (our five senses)
- Sense of time and place (dialect, terminology, and references)
- Sound devices (alliteration, parallel construction, repetition, etc.)
What is the overall mood created by the word choice in White Fang? Use examples from the text in your answer.
Demonstrate your mastery of imagery. Describe a person, place, or object in detail by focusing on creating powerful imagery / sensory language. What feelings do your words create?
Reading 3: The Character of White Fang (characterization)
- Why do the strong feel compelled harm the weak?
- Based on his behavior, how does Gray Beaver view dogs?
- Why does White Fang give up on his chance for freedom?
- Why is White Fang able to survive the famine while others perish?
- Why do we care for White Fang even though he is a ruthless killer?
Key element: characterization
Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
Characterization refers to the methods that an author employs to create a character in the mind of the reader. These methods include direct characterization as well as what the character says, thinks, and does. It also includes how the character interacts with others – what other characters think, do, and say in regards to the character.
Have the students create a character map for White Fang. The students should highlight White Fang’s cruel nature, but also how London makes him the protagonist. It is not easy to get the reader to root for a despicable creature. Choose one key excerpt to share and analyze for the class.
How does London use characterization to get us to care for this vile being?
Reading 4: The Love-master (conflict and plot)
- What has made Beauty Smith such a terrible person?
- What makes White Fang such an effective fighter?
- Why do you think some people are thrilled by dog fights?
- How might White Fang’s life proceeded if he had defeated the bulldog?
- When do you think White Fang truly comes to trust Scott?
- Does White Fang follow a typical narrative plot (exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution)?
Key element: conflict and plot
Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.
White Fang is structured more like a biography than a novel. If you had to identify the main conflict, it would be White Fang’s struggle to find a place in the world. His circumstances make him ill-suited for life among humans and life among wolves. Despite his ability to survive, he is often a miserable misfit.
If White Fang has a central internal conflict, it is White Fang’s struggle to trust and care for Weedon Scott.
Have the students work in groups to list all of the conflicts portrayed in White Fang. Instruct them to include the internal and external, the major and the minor. Then ask them to identify a main conflict that pervades the novel (White Fang finding his place in the world). Finally, have them identify the key internal conflict for White Fang.
How is the structure of White Fang more like a biography than a novel?
How does London develop White Fang’s internal conflict?
If the main story is White Fang learning to trust Scott, why does the novel have so many other episodes?
Reading 5: The World of White Fang (themes)
- Is White Fang for kids? Why or why not?
- What are some of the difficult changes that White Fang must make in his new life?
- Why do you think the family allows White Fang to live with them?
- What messages does London convey with the episode concerning Jim Hall?
- How are the stories of Beauty Smith, Jim Hall, and White Fang similar?
- Do you think White Fang is happy in his new life? Would he be happier in the wild?
- What do you think will happen to White Fang after the end of the novel?
Key element: themes
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
Group presentations on theme:
- List all of the themes conveyed in White Fang.
- Choose one theme and explain how it is developed. (It does not need to be the main theme.) Include three pieces of textual evidence in your analysis.
- Present your findings.
After hearing the group presentations, which theme is the most important to London? How do you know?
White Fang unit plan culminating tasks:
Creative Writing (point of view): Rewrite an episode of White Fang from a different point of view. Include a brief explanation of how the change in perspective effects the telling of the story.
Creative Writing (word choice): Emulate London’s example by writing an original narrative that focuses on powerful imagery / sensory language. Highlight the three examples of word choice with which you are most pleased.
Creative Writing (structure): Write a new episode to fit into the overall structure of White Fang. The “lost chapter” should correspond to the existing elements. Include a brief explanation of where this episode fits into the story and why.
Essay (point of view): London decides to have an all-knowing outsider tell the story of White Fang. The narrator has the tone of an impassive (unfeeling) observer. Wouldn’t the story been more exciting from White Fang’s point of view? Explain how and why London uses point of view in White Fang. Include textual evidence.
Essay (theme): What is London saying about how people and animals are changed by their experiences? Think about how Beauty Smith, White Fang, Weedon Scott, and others are developed by their experiences. What role do natural instincts play?
Essay (theme): What is London saying about how the world works? Use examples from the text to analyze how he develops this theme.
Presentation (theme): Choose one theme found in White Fang and analyze its development for the class. Make sure to include textual evidence and explain how the theme is shaped by other elements (character, setting, plot events, etc.)
Presentation (characterization): Choose a character other than White Fang and present on how London develops this character. Make sure to explain what is explicit (clearly stated by the narrator) and what is implied by the character’s thoughts, statements, actions, and interactions with others.
- Gray Beaver
- Jim Hall
- Judge Scott
- Weedon Scott
- One Eye
- Beauty Smith
Conclusions on White Fang unit plan
I find this unit structure helpful in general. I break the book into logical readings, make a reading quiz for each, and decide which literary element is central to the reading. Add pre-reading and final task, and you have it.
When teaching White Fang with an entire class, it makes sense to focus on point of view, characterization, imagery, structure, and theme.
Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I love this book. If you decide that White Fang will not be part of you course syllabus, perhaps you can use it as an extra credit assignment or a summer reading book. If this is the case, check out my White Fang (whole book) reading test.