Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

"Three Shots": Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams


The Lesson


Ernest Hemingway at his writing desk in Kenya. Earl Theisen. Gelatin silver  print, 1953.

Ernest Hemingway at his writing desk in Kenya. Earl Theisen. Gelatin silver print, 1953.

Credit: Image courtesy Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts.

Ernest Miller Hemingway, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1954

“for his mastery of the art of narrative … and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.”

In this lesson, students study issues related to independence and notions of manliness in Ernest Hemingway’s “Three Shots” as they conduct in-depth literary character analysis, consider the significance of environment to growing up and investigate Hemingway’s Nobel Prize-winning, unique prose style. In addition, they will have the opportunity to write and revise a short story based on their own childhood experiences and together create a short story collection.

Guiding Questions

  • How does Hemingway examine the issue of independence and conceptions of manliness in “Three Shots”?

Learning Objectives

  • Conduct in-depth character analysis using textual evidence as support.
  • Recognize the theme of independence and specifically consider notions of manliness in the coming-of-age process.
  • Identify the third person, limited point of view.
  • Describe the elements of Hemingway’s prose style.


Ernest Hemingway was a prolific short story writer, authoring over fifty short stories in his lifetime. “Three Shots,” originally the opening for the short story “Indian Camp,” is included in the short story collection The Nick Adams Stories. The main character of “Three Shots,” Nick Adams, is the protagonist of two dozen of Hemingway’s stories and the character that is most inspired by Hemingway’s life and experiences. In “Three Shots,” students are introduced to the young Nick Adams as he spends a short but harrowing night alone in the northern woods of Michigan where Hemingway spent many boyhood summers learning to fish and camp. Much of Hemingway’s work deals with activities he was quite passionate about such as camping, fishing, hunting, travelling, and bullfighting, and his notions of manliness are often revealed through his writings about these activities. In “Three Shots,” Hemingway examines the coming-of-age of a young boy as he faces fear, recognizes his mortality, and struggles with his independence during a camping trip. Questions about his manliness arise when, in his desire to behave as an adult, he emulates his father and uncle. Hemingway was both a journalist and a writer, earning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 “…for his mastery of the art of narrative…and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.” His direct and declarative style of writing is instantly recognizable for its lack of both lengthy description and complex vocabulary, yet it is no less effective in conveying character and conflict. As part of this lesson, students not only experience Hemingway’s style for themselves, but have the opportunity to compare and contrast it to the styles of others as well as to develop and describe their own style in a creative writing piece. In this lesson, students will examine a text closely and conduct an in-depth analysis of the plot, characters, and themes in order to empathize with Nick Adams’s coming-of-age process. Just as Hemingway used his personal experiences and interests as inspiration for his writing, students will be encouraged to examine their own coming-of-age experiences in relation to where and how they grew up. Students will then use their experience with style analysis from Activity 3 to write their own coming-of-age piece inspired by their multimedia collage.

Preparation Instructions

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Read and Think

Download and print out as many copies as you need of the “Three Shots” Discussion Sheet.

The “Three Shots” Discussion Sheet is a list of questions that will encourage students to take a deeper look at the story, conduct character analysis, and examine major themes of the story. The discussion sheet is also a good way to teach students how to look beyond plotline and discover the wealth of information hidden within the text itself.

Assign students “Three Shots” to read at home, or, if you prefer, have them read the story in class. Distribute the “Three Shots” Discussion Sheet. Have students discuss the questions on the worksheet as a class or in groups. Ask them to take notes on their discussion. If you divide the class into groups, you might assign each group a couple questions and have each group present their answers to the class.

Character analysis aids the development of the skills of interpretation and prediction. Through intensive study of characters in a story, students can examine the motivations and intentions that shape the characters’ interactions with one another. Students also consider the characters’ different perspectives and how the characters’ different points of view can reveal the underlying conflicts that drive the themes in the story.

Insist that students defend their answers with examples or direct quotes from the text. Have them point out the lines or passages from the story that support their opinion during the discussion. This builds their ability to use evidence to support their interpretation or analysis.

After the discussion, assign students the Character Analysis Writing Assignment that asks them to describe one character of their choice from the story using the information they gathered from the discussion sheet and the discussion in class. The students should complete this assignment using complete sentences and quotations from the text as support. This assignment allows them to synthesize the reading, small group work, and discussion in class to better understand the character of Nick Adams and why character development is important to a story.

Activity 2. Introducing Hemingway

Download and print out as many copies as you need of the My Childhood Collage.

Now that they have read “Three Shots,” formally introduce your students to Ernest Hemingway and contextualize him in American literary history using the biographies and other information available in the “Background Information for the Teacher” section above. Using the Hemingway Facts worksheet, discuss Hemingway’s background with the class, especially how he spent his childhood in the northern woods of Michigan, the setting for “Three Shots.” Remind them that Hemingway’s own experiences were the basis for his character, Nick Adams. How does his biography inform his fiction, rather than just being a biography? Ask students:

  • To point out parts of the story that they think may have come from Hemingway’s own life.
  • Does visualizing Hemingway’s history change the way you visualize the story?

You can supplement the Hemingway Facts worksheet by sending students to browse the images of Hemingway from Picturing Hemingway: A Writer In His Time, an online exhibition from the EDSITEment-reviewed National Portrait Gallery or the Hemingway Photograph Archives from the JFK Library Hemingway Archive. After looking at these images from Hemingway’s childhood and going over his biography, ask students to think about their own experiences growing up and how where they grew up might have affected that experience. Hand out the My Childhood assignment, which asks the students to consider a moment in their own life where they realized they were growing up and gaining independence. These collages are intended to provide material and inspiration for the final assessment, Write Your Own Short Story. Have them consider these questions while they create their collage:

  • What types of activities, customs, culture, background, food, language, clothing, etc., guide your everyday life? Contemplate how growing up in another country would change your childhood experiences. What unique experiences have you had and what activities have you done as a result of where you live?
  • What are some issues that you dealt with while growing up (gaining independence, taking responsibility, first love, earning/saving money, learning about adult issues such as marriage, family, divorce, and death)? Think about some moments where you realized you were not a child anymore.
  • Have you had an experience of independence like Nick Adams? What emotions did it generate in you? Fear? Joy? Embarrassment? Regret?
Activity 3. Style

Download and print out as many copies as you need of the Style Contrast worksheet.

Discuss what “style” means with your students. Ask them what “style” means to them and then ask what “style” might mean in the context of writing. Ask them to think of ways that writers could have different “styles” of writing. They might mention descriptiveness, sentence length, clause length, simple or complex sentences, use of vernacular speech, use of dialogue, diction, choice of narrative voice, etc.

Guide your students in describing Hemingway’s style based on what they know of it through their reading of “Three Shots.” Note his use of short, declarative sentences that contain simple, spare, and straightforward description.

Hand out copies of the Style Contrast worksheet. One excerpt is from Hemingway, the other from Mark Twain. Have your students compare and contrast these authors’ styles as they write on the same topic. Have them especially take note of:

  • Types of adjectives and adverbs (simple or complex)
  • Clause length
  • Sentence length
  • Paragraph length
  • Use of dialogue
  • Use of vernacular
  • Choice of punctuation

Now that students have learned about describing style, ask them to explain why style is important and discuss how it can contribute to the mood of a story.

  • Why does style matter?
  • How does Hemingway’s style affect the mood of “Three Shots”?
  • How does Hemingway’s style shape the character development of Nick Adams?

Now that students have explored what style means in literature, you can discuss narrative choice as a part of style. Discuss the narration of “Three Shots” with your students. Ask them:

  • What point of view does the narrator adopt in this story—first or third person?

Your students should note that the narration is from a third-person perspective, since the narrator voice is not a character in the story. Remind students about the different kinds of third-person narration: limited and omniscient (definitions available via the EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets). To determine which type of third person is being used in “Three Shots,” ask students the following questions and have them provide specific passages to support their answers:

  • Who does the narrator focus on the most?
  • Does the narrator describe the other characters' thoughts and emotions? If so, does he describe them with certainty or speculatively?

Discuss with your students how narration is part of style. Ask students to consider:

  • How would the tone of the story be different if one of the characters was narrating it from the first person point of view?
  • How would the story be different if it were being narrated from the point of view of a third-person omniscient narrator?


Download and print out as many copies as you need of the Write Your Own Short Story assignment. Now that your students know more about style, give your students the fun and creative writing assignment of writing their own short story, using the collage they created in Activity 2 for inspiration. Hand out copies of the Write Your Own Short Story assignment. Go over the instructions with them carefully and explain that they will be sharing their short stories with the class, critiquing and editing each other’s stories, and eventually putting together a class short story collection. Remind and encourage them to use this assignment to explore and develop their own creative writing style. Links to helpful creative writing resources for students:
Common Pitfalls for Beginning Fiction Writers

Extending The Lesson

Read and critically study “Indian Camp” (“Three Shots” was originally the beginning to “Indian Camp”) or another short story by Hemingway:

  • “A Day’s Wait”
  • “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (audio clips of Charlton Heston reading)
  • “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
  • “Big Two-Hearted River Part 1”
  • “Big Two-Hearted River Part 2”

Ask your students to consider character development, conflict, themes, and style. For audio clips of Hemingway speaking about his writing and for excerpts from his Nobel Prize speech, visit http://town.hall.org/Archives/radio/IMS/HarperAudio/012494_harp_ITH.html

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Time Required

3-4 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Short Stories
  • Compare and contrast
  • Creative writing
  • Critical thinking
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Literary analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Visual analysis
  • Writing skills
  • Hana Quon, NEH (Washington, DC)
  • Katharine Boudreau, NEH (St. Louis, MO)

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