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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOne-Flew-Over-The-Cuckoos-Nest

  • Subject: Literature
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. All works of art lend themselves to critical reviews.
2. Critical reviews consist of opinions and support for the opinions.
3. A critical review may compare and contrast a work in one medium to the same work in another medium.


For this lesson, you will need:
The novel One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
The video release of the 1975 movie One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, directed by Milos Foreman and starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher


1. After students have finished reading One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and you have conducted your final lesson on the work as a novel, initiate a general class discussion about novels that have been made into movies. Give students an opportunity to vent their opinions about when movies are more effective than novels and when movies do not capture the essence of a novel. Introduce the project of comparing and contrasting the movie version of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest to the novel.
2. Show the video One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest in parts as best fits your class schedule, giving students a chance between parts to discuss differences from and similarities to the written source of the video.
3. Ask students to tell what they know about critical reviews in general. Help them realize the following:
  • A reviewer may write about literature, movies, plays, exhibits of artwork, television shows, concerts, and other forms of art.
  • Reviews appear in many venues: they are published in newspapers and magazines, orally delivered on television and radio, and can be found online.
4. Consider teaching or reviewing with your students that a review can have three parts:
  • A summary or description of the work under review with a general statement of the reviewer's opinion about the work
  • An evaluation of specific elements (for a movie, the elements include, among others, plot, script, acting, directing, camera work, scenery and costumes, and special effects)
  • A conclusion that recommends the reader experience the work of art—or not
5. Add to the preceding that in reviewing a movie based on a novel, the reviewer may comment throughout the review on the success or failure of the adaptation. Remind students of the organizational options when writing a comparison-contrast:
  • The block method, in which the writer gives all the information about one item (the movie) and then all the information about the other item (the novel)
  • The alternating method, in which the writer focuses on one feature—say, humor—of each item before going on to focus on another feature—say, narrative technique
You may also remind students of the transitions that help a reader in a piece of comparison-contrast writing:
on the contrary
6. Advise students to apply the writing process to their reviews—going through prewriting (perhaps using a chart to collect notes about the movie), drafting (selecting a tone), and revising (making sure enough details support each generalization; replacing vague words such as good, poor, weak, and strong ).

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If you have studied the novel with younger students, you may opt to show students one scene from the movie so that as a class you can compare and contrast it to the corresponding scene in the novel.

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Discussion Questions

1. The main conflict in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is described in three different ways: as the struggle of the "sane individual vs. a crazy institution," "man vs. machine," and "a primeval, wild, unsocialized, anti-family form of masculinity vs. asexual women, institutions, and society that want to tame it." Discuss how these views differ from one another. Choose the theme that you think most accurately describes the conflict in the book and explain why.
2. Compare Ken Kesey's concept of the Combine—as demonstrated by President Eisenhower's policies, and corporate America's views on an efficient, well-organized, and compliant society—with Chief Bromden's concept of the Combine—an all-powerful, all-seeing secret group in the mental hospital, which watches and controls everything.
3. During the mid-1960s Kesey and his group, the Merry Pranksters, referred to those in their counterculture as being "on the bus." Describe what you think it means to be "on the bus." Is this concept different in the late-1990s than it was in the mid-1960s? Who and what in today's world are "on the bus" or "off the bus?"
4. Kesey states that One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest helps the reader to "question reality" by "tearing away the fabric of what we've been told is reality and showing us something that is far more real." Do you agree with Kesey's analysis of his book? Select a scene or two that does or does not effectively accomplish this.
5. Describe Chief Bromden. Why do you think that Kesey chose him to be the narrator of the book?
6. The Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead epitomize the rebellious generation of the 1960s. Is there a contemporary equivalent to this phenomenon? Why or why not?

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You can evaluate students' reviews using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: very well organized and highly coherent review; more than enough examples to support overall opinion of the movie; no errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
  • Two points: well-organized and coherent review; enough examples to support overall opinion of the movie; some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
  • One point: weakly organized review, lacking coherence in parts; not enough examples to support overall opinion of the movie; many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining a minimum number of examples to be included to support the writer's overall opinion of the movie.

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Nurse Ratched's Perspective
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is written from Chief Bromden's point of view. Have students choose a scene from the book, such as one of the group meetings or a confrontation between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, and ask them to rewrite the scene from Nurse Ratched's point of view.

Treatments for Mental Health Patients
Instruct students to select and research a mental disorder—its causes, symptoms, and treatments. Possible disorders to research include the following:
  • Clinical depression
  • Manic depression (bipolar disorder)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Multiple personalities disorder
Students should compare today's treatments to those presented in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest . Ask students to present their findings orally and to use visual aids in their presentations.

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Suggested Readings

Making Peace with the 60s
David Burner. Princeton University Press, 1996.
What did the 1960s mean? This book looks at this decade of civil rights and black power movements, political figures and the Cold War, student rebellion, and the war in Vietnam and analyzes the role and legacy of liberal politics in America.

Careers for Writers & Others Who Have a Way With Words
Robert W. Bly. VGM Career Horizons, 1996.
Do you want to portray the 1990s as Kesey did the 1960s? Reading this book will help you plan your writing career. Here is an introduction to book publishing, magazine and newspaper writing, careers in advertising and public relations, technical writing, writing for television and film, as well as freelance writing.

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American Dominance in the Works of Ken Kesey
An article about the theme of American dominance in Kesey's works.

Literary Kicks
Very brief bio of Ken Kesey with some insights into his life and works.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Memorable Moments
Memorable moments from the film are discussed, plus quotes and one photograph from the movie are included.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    combine
Definition: A combination especially of business or political interests. Also, a harvesting machine that heads, threshes, and cleans grain while moving over a field.
Context: In Chief Bromden's mind, the world is run by an all-powerful, all-seeing secret group—the Combine.

speaker    existentialism
Definition: A philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for his acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad.
Context: The Merry Pranksters and the hippies had some ideas of what existentialism was about.

speaker    lobotomy
Definition: Surgical severance of nerve fibers connecting the frontal lobes to the thalamus for the relief of some mental disorders.
Context: Lobotomy—the ultimate horror in Psychiatry. During one procedure common in the 1940s, a long tool, very much like an ice pick, was driven through the top of the eye sockets into the brain, into the frontal lobes, and then wiggled about to disconnect the cellular wiring.

speaker    psychotic
Definition: Affected with a fundamental mental derangement characterized by defective or lost contact with reality.
Context: Releasing mental patients from hospitals led to the bizarre phenomenon of having the street full of psychotic, untreated people.

speaker    schizophrenia
Definition: A psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life, and by disintegration of personality expressed as disorder of feeling, thought (as in hallucinations and delusions), and conduct.
Context: Both schizophrenia and LSD impair the brain's ability to distinguish whether impulses are coming from outside—out there in reality—or from inside—from the workings of one's own mind.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: literature
Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of literary texts.
Benchmark 1: Makes connections among literary works based on theme (e.g., universal themes in literature of different cultures, major themes in American literature).

Benchmark 2: Understands the effects of complex literary devices and techniques (e.g., tone, irony, mood, figurative language, allusion, diction, dialogue, symbolism, point of view, style) on the overall quality of a work.

Benchmark 3: Understands historical and cultural influences on literary works.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: literature
Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
Identifies and analyzes the philosophical assumptions and basic beliefs underlying an author's work.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: American history
Understands how the Cold War and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics.
Understands the social issues that resulted from U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (e.g., the composition of American forces recruited in the war, why the Vietnam War contributed to a generational conflict and concomitant lack of respect for traditional authority figures).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: behavioral studies
Understands that interactions among learning, inheritance, and physical development affect human behavior.
Understands that expectations, moods, and prior experiences of human beings can affect how they interpret new perceptions or ideas.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: behavioral studies
Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions.
Benchmark 1: Understands that conflicts are especially difficult to resolve in situations in which there are few choices and little room for compromise.

Benchmark 2: Understands how various institutions (e.g., social, religious, political) develop and change over time (i.e., school teaching as well as school policies toward student behavior have changed over the years in response to family and community pressures), and how they further both continuity and change in societies.

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Kirsten W. Rooks, teacher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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