Make it a Hemingway Day

It’s always a good time to have your class read the works of this Nobel Prize recipient.

By Cathy Neushul

old glasses and books

Do you remember the first book you read by Ernest Hemingway? Most likely, the experience was a memorable one that led you on a journey to explore the author’s other works. For me, this moment came when I read The Sun Also Rises. I fully immersed myself in the world that Hemingway created. I could picture the main characters, Jake and Brett, and the bulls running through the streets of Pamplona, Spain. In honor of Hemingway’s birthday July 21st, or whenever your class is reading Hemingway, you can help your readers embark on their own exploration of this author’s works.

There are many things that make Hemingway an enduring presence. He had a gift for translating his experiences into stories and images that anyone could appreciate. He also used prose style that is both pared-down and incredibly descriptive. With a minimum of use words, Hemingway was able to paint a picture and make his characters come to life.

An Interesting Life

Ernest Hemingway led a life as fascinating as the lives of his characters. He was an ambulance driver during World War I, a journalist covering the Spanish Civil War, and a big game hunter who went on African safaris. When he describes the bullfights in Spain, or the experience of men wounded during World War I, it is from first-hand experience.

As a way to help your class get an idea of the type of life Hemingway led, have them create a timeline of his experiences and achievements. There is a wonderful timeline about Hemingway’s life on PBS’s website that can help them get started. Be sure they reference Hemingway’s military service, the date he received the Nobel Prize, and the publication dates of his major works.

Once the timelines are complete, use one of Hemingway's works as a way to connect his life experiences to the subjects he wrote about. For this task, you can use any one of his works, including a short story. Have the class discuss the ways Hemingway’s experiences affected the subject matter of his books and short stories.

Hear It in His Own Words

Invite Mr. Hemingway to speak in your classroom. How? By playing the audio recording of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. He received the award “for his mastery of the art of narrative" as well as for "the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.” (arina-natasha-project,

Use some of Ernest Hemingway's quotes as a way to spur discussion, or as the theme of an essay.

  • “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
  • “For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.
  • “How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.”

Interviews with Hemingway

Another way to learn about Hemingway is by reading what he had to say about a variety of topics, including the Spanish Civil War. The New York Times has a wonderful collection of articles and interviews. You can use this resource as a way to have your class learn more about this author. After visiting this website, have your students the information to write a newspaper article as if they had personally met with, and interviewed Mr. Hemingway. 

Reading is the Real Fun

No exploration of Hemingway would be complete without reading his works. Have your class read a few of his short stories or books. You can make this a long-term assignment by requiring class members to read a certain number of his works throughout the year. For a shorter unit, simply shorten the time frame. 

More Lessons on Ernest Hemingway from Lesson Planet:

Fishing With Hemingway

This is a terrific way to introduce this fine author to your class. Pupils employ a variety of means for learning. They visit the Smithsonian website to look at photographs, read newspaper interviews with the author, and take a virtual tour pointing out the highlights of his life.

“Three Shots”: Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams

Using Ernest Hemingway’s “Three Shots”, learners conduct a literary character analysis of Nick Adams. They discuss the ways a person’s environment can affect the way he/she grows up. Additionally, they analyze the characteristics of Hemingway’s prose style. Finish by asking them to write a short story about one of their own childhood experiences.

Picturing Hemingway: A Writer In His Time

As a novel way to kick off a lesson on Ernest Hemingway, have your class look at a variety of portraits of the author and make comments. Focusing on one portrait of Hemingway, pupils delve into the specifics of his life. This is a great introductory activity to launch your class on an exploration of Hemingway’s literature.

The Lost Generation of Writers of the 1920’s

Focusing on idea of the “Lost Generation of Writers”, students learn about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. This is a great way to introduce the authors' works while exploring the 1920s in Paris. It is a lesson that should pique an interest in the authors as well as Paris!