Subject: ELA: Expository Phase

Ages: 12+

Length: Snippet: 15 minutes, 20 seconds; Lesson: one to two 45 – 55 minute class periods.



Students will be introduced to the essential components of the expository phase in a film and will be asked to analyze it. Responses will be discussed in class. Then students will be guided to literature and asked to provide a more formal analysis of the expository phase in a novel, play, or short story of the teacher’s choice. Introducing literary devices in film and then moving to print may help today’s students understand literary analysis. Golden, J, Reading in the Dark, pg. xiii, National Council of Teachers of English, Urbana, 2001.


Students will be able to recognize and understand the use of the expository phase in a work of fiction.


The expository phase is an important element of literature and appears in most works of fiction, written or performed.


Released in 1953, “High Noon” is one of America’s most respected Western films. It illuminates the struggle of a man who resists the forces of lawlessness despite the fact that no one else will stand with him. The first 15 minutes are the expository phase of the film, containing a clear presentation of setting, characters and a complication that will keep the audience interested.


Will Kane, the protagonist, is ending a successful career as a marshal in what once was a crime-ridden frontier town. After years of hard work, Kane secured the conviction of Frank Miller, the leader of the gang that had terrorized the town. Miller is now in state prison and the town is a safe place in which to live. As the movie opens, Kane is marrying a beautiful Quaker woman who has prevailed on him to move to another town and become a shopkeeper. The conflict comes into focus at the end of the wedding ceremony, when it is learned that Miller has been released from prison and is coming back for revenge. He is scheduled to arrive on the noon train. His gang has reassembled and is waiting. Kane is unwilling to leave the town undefended until a new marshal, scheduled to arrive the next day, is sworn in. As the time for Miller’s arrival approaches, every person in town, including long time friends, town officials, Kane’s deputy marshal, and even his new wife, find some reason to decline the marshal’s request that they stand with him in an effort to stop the outlaws.

Shown in its entirety, “High Noon” provides an example of the use of foils, symbol and motif. It is an excellent basis for teaching the myths of the Western genre, some of which are still important in the cultures of the U.S., Canada, and Australia. The film has been called an allegory criticizing to the failure of political and business leaders, and even common people, to resist the excesses of the McCarthyites and the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Made during the height of the Red Scare, “High Noon” is one of the few American movies in which the filmmakers had to disguise the political implications of their movie in order to get it made. As such, the film itself is an artifact of history.

“High Noon” also contains a well crafted expository phase, which provides the opportunity for this Snippet Lesson Plan. Because of the many teaching opportunities provided by this movie for both English and history classes, TWM recommends making this lesson part of a larger unit based on the entire film. Click here for the Learning Guide to “High Noon“.


1. Review the Snippet and to make sure it is suitable for the class. Review the Lesson Plan and decide how to present it to the class, making any necessary modifications.


2. Make a class set of the lyrics to the title song, High Noon, written by Ned Washington. Click here for a copy of the lyrics suitable to be printed and passed out to the class.

Do not forsake me Oh my darlin’
On this, our weddin’ day.
Do not forsake me oh my darlin’
Wait, wait along.

The noon day train will bring Frank Miller.
If I’m a man I must be brave
And I must face that deadly killer,
Or lie a coward, a craven coward,
Or lie a coward in my grave.

Oh, to be torn twixt love and duty
Supposin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty.
Look at that big hand move along nearin’ high noon.

He made a vow while in state prison,
Vowed it would be my life or his’n.
I’m not afraid of death but oh
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me oh my darlin’
You made a promise when we wed.
Do not forsake me oh my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’
I can’t be leavin’
Until I shoot Frank Miller dead.

Wait along, wait along,
Wait along, wait along.


3. Cue the DVD to the first film clip and make sure that all necessary materials are available.


1. Introduce the lesson, telling the class what is going to be taught and why the lesson is important. A suggestion for an introduction for this Snippet Lesson Plan is set out below.

The movie “High Noon” is a study of the characters of many of the people portrayed in the film. The primary character is Will Kane, the marshal. The expository phase of any story sets the stage for the rest of the tale. It sets the time and place while it introduces the major characters and the conflict. Most stories, written, filmed, or presented on a stage, have an expository phase.


2. Play the first two minutes twenty seconds of the clip from the beginning of the film until the ballad is finished.


3. Distribute and read aloud the lyrics of the title song, High Noon. Tell students that the lyrics include characterization and a description of a conflict, two important elements of any expository phase.


4. Continue playing the snippet to the end.


5. Have the class write quick answers to the following questions, citing evidence to support their conclusions from what they saw in the snippet:

A. During what time period does the story take place?

B. Where does the story take place?

C. Who is the protagonist? What do we know about the protagonist?

D. Who or what is the antagonist? What do we know about the antagonist?

E. What is the conflict faced by the protagonist?


The following are responses that TWM would give to these questions. Strong student responses may contain fewer details and some students may cite additional details.


A. Time Period: The film takes place sometime in the second half of the 19th century. The manner in which people dress, the use of horses to get around, men openly carrying guns, the use of the telegraph to communicate information, buckboards, marshals, saloons, and the architecture of the town itself all point to this time period.


B. Setting: The setting is the frontier of the Western United States. As the ballad is being sung, the camera shows dry terrain with scattered trees and a town that is stark and undecorated. Three riders pass a church, a saloon and the marshal’s office, three staples of Western film. They stop at a bleak train station along lonely tracks. The way the characters dress, talk and get around also provides clues to the setting. The setting is simple and serious.


C. Protagonist: The story’s protagonist, Will Kane, is first characterized in the lyrics of the song as a man troubled about the conflict between love and duty. He is introduced at his wedding. He is tall, dignified and serious. But he is a man of action who uses his gun to preserve law and order. Amy, Kane’s Quaker wife, believes in nonviolence. Referring to their differences and what Amy apparently expects from him, right after the marriage ceremony, Kane tells her, “I’m going to try, Amy. I’ll do my best.” Kane does not seem very social, wanting to get away from the close friends who attended the wedding and be alone with his wife. After the wedding Kane turns in his marshal’s badge reluctantly because the new marshal is not due to arrive until the next day. Assured that the town will be alright without him, Kane says, “Don’t ever marry a Quaker; she’ll have you running a store.” Someone says he cannot imagine Kane tending shop. This bit of dialogue confirms that Kane is a man of action who intends to change his life for the love of a beautiful woman. When the train master hurries in with the message that Frank Miller has been pardoned and may arrive on the noon train, Kane and his bride are hustled out of town. Everyone wants to avoid a confrontation between Kane and the newly freed outlaw.

In the next scene, Kane is further characterized when the marshal’s assistant asks Helen Ramirez, a businesswoman, whether she thinks Kane is “scared of those three guys”, referring to Miller’s gang that had just ridden into town. Mrs. Ramirez knows Kane very well and her facial gesture mocks the idea that he would be afraid of anything. This suggests that Kane is courageous.

The camera then cuts back to the horses drawing the buckboard carrying Kane and Amy out of town. Kane looks as if he were having a difficult time with the decision to leave. He glances at his wife and pulls up the horses, saying, “It’s no good; I’ve got to go back. They are making me run. I’ve never run from anybody before.” Amy objects and argues against turning back, but he simply says, “I’ve got to.” Here Kane is shown as a highly principled man.

When Helen Ramirez sees Kane return to town, she gives a knowing smile, again suggesting that she is confident of his courage.

In the marshal’s office, more dialogue lets the viewer know that Kane cannot abandon his duty despite his love for his wife and his respect for her belief in nonviolence. Amy tells Kane that he is no longer marshal and he replies, “I am the same man with or without this [indicating the badge].” Amy tells Kane that he does not have to be a hero but Kane makes it clear that he cannot run. Again, Kane is showing that he is a man of principle. In this exchange, Kane also mentions a very practical problem. If he and Amy run, the outlaws will follow and Kane will have to fight them alone, or keep on running. Kane tells Amy that it’s better to face the outlaws in the town, where he is confident he can find special deputies to stand with him in the fight against the outlaws.


D. Antagonist: The film’s antagonist is the Frank Miller gang that is bent on killing Kane and taking over the town. The expository phase only shows three of the subordinate gang members; the leader, Frank Miller is amply described in the lyrics of the song and by other characters. The gang members are typical in their villainy; they smoke, swagger, rein their horses forcefully. One man rushes toward the marshal’s office and another calls him a fool for being in a hurry. One man drinks too much. Evidence that these men are dangerous can be seen in the way the man in the carriage turns to look as the men pass; he glances at his wife next to him to point out the threat. One woman walking in the thoroughfare crosses herself as the men pass. Several men standing outside the saloon seem delighted that the conflict has come to town; one man claims it will be good for business. The train master responds with fear when the three men approach his window at the train station. He addresses one as “sir” and then greets each by name. When the three riders move away from his window, the train master scurries to the marshal’s office showing the audience the fear the men engender.


E. A Complication: The expository phase of “High Noon” shows several complications which make the story interesting. One is Kane’s internal conflict: will he return to protect the town from the outlaws or will he comply with his wife’s plea and that of his friends that he leave as fast as possible? By the end of the expository phase, Kane has made his decision to stay. Another complication is whether Amy will stay with him after he makes his decision not to run away. The third complication is the looming fight between the outlaws and Kane. Will Kane survive? It is not necessary for the expository phase to set out the central conflict of the story, although that often happens. The expository phase need only show the audience a complication that makes the story interesting. At the end of the expository phase of “High Noon”, the audience is interested to see if Kane will prevail against the outlaws and whether his wife will leave him.


6. Class Discussion: Have students share their responses and guide the discussion to include the information set out above and to stress the following points.

What becomes of the protagonist and the antagonist is dependent upon complications that arise in the story and may not be known to readers until after the end of the expository phase, which simply serves as the introduction. Expository phases tell a story’s time period, describe its setting, introduce the important characters, particularly the antagonist and the protagonist, and set up the conflict. For audiences to care about a story, the expository phase needs to provide a viable and clear explanation of the setting, the main characters, and a conflict.


7. Collect the lyrics for use by the next class.


8. Transfer to Literature: Any short story or novel with a well developed expository phase will be useful in helping students think about the techniques writers use to unfold their stories. Give the following assignment using a novel or story of your choice that has a fully developed and clearly defined expository phase.


A. Determine the story’s time period. What visuals, action or dialogue establish the period of time in which the story takes place?


B. Describe the story’s setting. Detail the geographic location, the lay of the land, the buildings or whatever physical environment in which the story unfolds.


C. Characterize the protagonist. Find examples from the expository phase that answer the following questions:


  • How does this person look? What information, whether direct or indirect, makes you see him or her this way?
  • What has this person said that lets you know what he or she is like? To whom and in what context was it said?
  • What does this person do that reveals any element of character?
  • What did others say about this person and how do other people react to how he or she looks, what he or she says, or what he or she does?

D. Characterize the antagonist. Answer the questions listed above in reference to the antagonist. In some cases, the antagonist may be a non-human, or an energy, like the weather or the Miller gang. Still, the description used in revealing the antgonist will involve thinking, speaking or acting; people will say things about the incoming storm or the writer will describe how the storm looks to the observers or what the storm does as it presents itself. Internal conflicts, those within the antagonist, can be tricky. Still, students will need to show how the antagonistic side of an individual is revealed by the writer through what is said or done or described.


E. Describe the complication that makes the reader want to continue with the story. Have the students specify the problem that provides interest to the story. How is the problem revealed; through action, dialogue, thought, descriptive language, direct statement or summary?


Activity One:

A practical method for assuring that students have a grasp of the elements of exposition is to ask them to create a setting, characters and conflict of their own. Students can create an expository phase to tell the story of a principled individual in conflict with the established order in a setting such as their school. (This has been done in a film called “Three O’Clock High” which met with little success when it was released in 1987.) Be certain that the students show rather than tell what the setting is like, who the characters are and what has occurred to create the conflict.


Activity Two:

The power of music to reveal atmosphere is well known to students who are plugged into iPods for hours every day. In literature, descriptive writing works to the same effect, albeit less dramatically. In preparation for this activity, ask the students to articulate the problems facing Will Kane as revealed by the lyrics in the theme song. They will find two: Kane must face deadly danger and he must risk losing love. The film unfolds other conflicts as the clock ticks away toward high noon.

Ask the students to find lyrics to a song that contain a problem to be solved. They will find examples from any number of songs, from those made famous by musicals, operas, ballads, folk songs or even those heard in the lyrics of current popular musicians. Ask students to bring in the music to play for their peers and to make the lyrics clear. Much of this can be done by the use of YouTube, as the students well know. Again, either formal or informal assessment will be appropriate for this assignment.

This Snippet Lesson Plan was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden. It was published on August 28, 2009.