The Value of Life Student Version

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The Value of Life

Student Version

Readings for this module:

Armstrong, Lance, with Sally Jenkins. It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. New York: Putnam, 2000. 1-5.

Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education. “The Human Life Value Calculator.” LIFE. <>.

Ripley, Amanda. “What Is a Life Worth?” Time 11 Feb. 2002: 22-27.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, Act III, Sc. 1, Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy.

The assignment sequence you’re about to begin will ask you to read several different texts, each of which addresses the issue of how life is valued. As you will see, the texts provide very different ways of thinking about how we can, do, and should value life.

Reading Rhetorically


Activity 1: Getting Ready to Read

Before you read what others say about the value of life, take a few minutes to respond in writing to the following quickwrite prompt: What does being alive mean to you? How do you assign value to life? What makes life challenging? What makes it worth living? Describe a few examples that help to show your thinking about how people should value life.

Activity 2: Introducing Key Concepts

This activity will help you build your understanding of the many meanings suggested by the concept of “life.” Use the model below to explore the ways in which society defines “life” in various contexts.

Concept: Life

Example sentence:





Text 1 – Hamlet’s Soliloquy

Activity 3: Surveying the Text

The first text you will read is the famous “To be, or not to be” speech from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which was published in 1604 under the title The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. That speech is a soliloquy, a convention used by playwrights to allow the audience to hear the thoughts of a character. Take a few moments to look over the text, and then answer the following questions:

  • What prior experiences have you had reading plays?

  • What did you notice about the page format and annotations?

  • What did you notice about the text structure?

Activity 4: Making Predictions and Asking Questions

When approaching a new text, you should always try to draw on your prior experiences to help you predict what the text might be about. The following questions will help you to do so:

  • What is a tragedy? What themes and outcomes would you expect to find in a tragedy?

  • What do you know about the language in plays written by Shakespeare? What have you done in the past to help yourself read Shakespeare effectively?

  • The soliloquy here begins with a famous quotation: “To be, or not to be—that is the question.” What do you think is “the question” Hamlet is asking? How do you think he might answer it?


Activity 5: First Reading

Read the soliloquy from Hamlet. Although it is quite short, it packs much meaning into its 33 lines. You may need to read it more than once before you feel you have a good grasp on the ideas it contains.


At this point in the play, Hamlet feels that he is in a crisis. His father died a few months earlier under mysterious circumstances. Hamlet discovers that his father was secretly murdered—by Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. Making things even worse, Claudius then marries Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet does not know what to do about this knowledge. He wonders whether he can trust anyone or if perhaps he is going crazy.

As you first read the text, focus on what you see as the “big picture” Hamlet describes.

  1. A.)Based on this first reading, would you say that Hamlet is an optimist or a pessimist? B.)What are your reasons for thinking so?

Activity 6: Introducing Key Vocabulary (Vocabulary #1)

Shakespeare’s texts are often difficult because he uses words that are no longer in frequent use, even though they were common when he wrote his plays. Several words in the soliloquy fit into this category. You will see in the text that some words are marked with an asterisk (*); a definition or synonym is provided to the right of the line for those words.

Polar Opposites

An important rhetorical device Shakespeare uses in Hamlet’s soliloquy is antithesis, or a balance of opposites. Hamlet explores a series of oppositional relationships in his speech, beginning with the question of “to be, or not to be.” For this vocabulary activity, you will explore some of these antithetical relationships by brainstorming antonyms for the terms listed below.



  1. Oppression- a feeling of being weighed down, as with worries or problems; physical or mental distress

  2. Action- something that is done or performed

  3. Endurance- ability to last, continue, or remain

  4. Mystery- something unexplained, unknown, or kept secret

  5. Life- the period of flourishing, usefulness, etc.; period during which anything lasts

  6. Thought- the act of thinking or the outcome of mental activity

  7. Suffering- the bearing or undergoing of pain, distress, or injury

  8. Mortality- the condition of being mortal; esp., the nature of a human being, as having eventually to die

  9. Fear- to be afraid of someone or something

Activity 7: Rereading the Text and Looking Closely at Language

Strategic Marking of the Text

Because this series of texts focuses on the way people value life, you will now need to take a second look at the soliloquy. This time, read the text with a yellow highlighter or colored pencil (or devise some other way of marking the text in a unique and easily recognizable way), marking the places in the text where Hamlet describes what it means to be alive.

Example: In lines two and three, Hamlet describes life as “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” so you could highlight that phrase as an example of what Hamlet thinks it means “to be.”

Characterizing the Text

Take a look at the parts of the soliloquy you have highlighted and compare them with a classmate’s markings. Find a few examples that you both have marked and mark the examples with a “+” or “–” to indicate whether the examples show a positive (+) outlook on life or a negative (–) one. For the example above—“the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” —you would mark a “–” because it compares being alive to being under attack.

  1. After you have marked several such examples, reflect, by writing it down, on the question asked earlier: At this moment, does it seem as if Hamlet is an optimist or a pessimist?

Paraphrasing the Text

  1. Continuing to work with your partner, choose three of your samples and paraphrase them. “Paraphrasing” means putting the ideas of another writer into your own words. Again using the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” example, a paraphrase might sound something like this: “Hamlet compares being alive to having fate shoot arrows at him.” As you paraphrase, pay attention to the style used by Shakespeare to convey his ideas.

  2. What is the difference between having Hamlet say that life is like “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and having him just say, “Life isn’t very pleasant”?

  3. What are the effects of Shakespeare’s stylistic choices as a writer?


Activity 8: Thinking Critically

We identified the genre earlier as a drama, but more specifically, this is a soliloquy. As noted earlier, a soliloquy is a dramatic convention that allows a character to speak aloud his or her thoughts. From your reading of the soliloquy, answer the following questions:

  1. Does the soliloquy form seem to favor the expression of emotion (pathos) or logic (logos)? Explain why you think so.

  2. Does Hamlet’s soliloquy use emotion (pathos) to create a specific effect on the reader? If so, describe how emotion is used.

  3. Does Hamlet’s soliloquy use logic (logos) to create a specific effect on the reader? If so, describe how the logic is used.

  4. When Hamlet speaks his soliloquy, he is in crisis. A.) How do his circumstances position Hamlet to speak with authority (ethos) about the value of life? B.) Does Hamlet seem to be speaking about his life in particular or about the quality of life in general?

  5. As careful readers, we are of course aware that it is not really Hamlet speaking, but a character created by Shakespeare. A.) Does Shakespeare seem like someone whose opinions and attitudes are worth considering? B.) Why?

Activity 9: Charting Multiple Texts

Take a look at the chart constructed for this assignment. It is a “graphic organizer”—a fancy name for something that helps you keep track of various pieces of information and the relationships among those pieces. Because the chart is rather small and you will be doing a lot of writing on it, you might want to get a larger piece of paper and create your own chart. The chart will prove useful in the writing assignment you will complete at the end of this module.

Directions: As you look down the side of the chart, you will see that it asks you for information about the different texts you will be reading in this assignment:

  • Title

  • Author

  • Genre

The title and author are self-explanatory. “Genre” means “type,” so you are asked to describe the type of writing. For this first text, you would put “Drama” or “Play” as the genre.

Across the top of the chart are the ideas you will be tracking as you read the texts in this module. They are presented in the form of questions:

  • What is the text’s big issue?

– This asks you to identify the “main idea” of the text.

  • What claim does the text make?

– This asks you to identify the writer’s perspective on the main idea.

  • What are examples or quotes from the text?

– This is where you would put examples given by the writer to help the reader understand his or her claim. The quotes and paraphrases you worked on earlier will fit well here. Be sure to include page or line numbers (or both) to identify where you found the quote or idea.

  • What do you think about the text’s claim?

– In this box, you will explain your response to the text’s claim, including to what extent (if any) you agree with it.

  • What are your examples?

  • – Give a few examples from your own experiences that help explain your response to the text’s claim.

  • How does this text connect to other texts?

– If you see a similarity to another text, make note of it here. Connections can be made even among texts that have very different claims.

Take a few moments to fill in the chart for Hamlet’s soliloquy. The final box on making connections may be left blank for the moment.

Text 2 – It’s Not About the Bike


Activity 10: Surveying the Text

The second text is an excerpt from It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins. The excerpt you will read is from the book’s opening chapter. Prior to reading, try to answer the questions below. They are designed to help you activate your schema, which is a technical term that means you generate some prior knowledge so you will be ready to read and comprehend more actively.

  1. What do you know about Lance Armstrong? If you do not know anything about him, try doing a quick Internet search and see what comes up.

  2. What is the significance of the fact that the book was written by Armstrong with Sally Jenkins?

  3. What kind of text—what genre—do you think this book is?

Activity 11: Making Predictions and Asking Questions

The following questions will help you make specific predictions about the content of Armstrong’s text:

  1. What topics do you think Armstrong might talk about that are related to the issue of how society values life?

  2. Do you think Armstrong’s claim about the value of life will agree with Hamlet’s or not?

Activity 12: Introducing Key Vocabulary (Vocabulary #2)

Although the excerpt from Armstrong’s autobiography is generally an easy, straightforward text to read, there are a few vocabulary words you might want to review prior to reading. When you run into those words during your reading of the text, note the context of each word and write a “best guess” synonym for it. Compare your work with your classmates.

  1. Expire - to come to an end; terminate; cease

  2. Poignant- something that has a strong effect on emotions or the senses, especially smell

  3. Demise - the act of dying or the end of something.

  4. Cadence - measured movement, as in dancing or marching, or the beat of such movement

  5. Marbled- mottled or streaked

  6. Acrid- a sharp, bitter taste or smell that is unpleasant

  7. Puckered- to draw up or gather into wrinkles or small folds

  8. Catheter- a slender, hollow tube, as of metal or rubber, inserted into a body passage, vessel, or cavity for passing fluids, making examinations

  9. Constitution- the physical, or rarely mental, makeup of a person

  10. Articulate- someone capable of speaking easily and clearly


Activity 13: First Reading

Read the text by Armstrong. As you read, pay attention to the way Armstrong talks about the value of life. As you did with Hamlet, try to determine whether Armstrong appears to be generally pessimistic or optimistic in this passage. In addition, answer this question:

  1. Does Armstrong also present an argument about the value of death?

Activity 14: Rereading the Text and Looking Closely at Language

Strategic Marking of the Text

First Highlighting: As you did with the Shakespeare text, you will mark Armstrong’s text. This time, use an orange-colored highlighter or colored pencil (or devise some other method of marking the text differently than you marked the soliloquy). Highlight the sentences, phrases, or words Armstrong uses to describe what he thinks it means to be alive.

Characterizing the Text

Once you have highlighted Armstrong’s text, compare what you have selected to highlight with the choices a classmate has made. Then, working with your partner, mark some of the commonly highlighted parts with a “+” or “–” sign to indicate whether each quote shows a generally positive or negative outlook on life. Discussing the results with your partner, decide how you would answer this question about Armstrong’s outlook on life:

  1. Is he an optimist or a pessimist?

Strategic Marking of the Text

Second Highlighting: Go through the text once more, this time with a yellow highlighter. Imagine that you are reading Armstrong’s text from Hamlet’s perspective. Highlight any passages that Hamlet would find particularly interesting or compelling. Some of these may be the same words you have already highlighted, while others will be new.

Activity 15: Connection the Texts - Mock Interview

Armstrong and Hamlet, in their respective texts, provide quite different perspectives on the meaning and value of life. Working with your partner, envision a scenario in which Hamlet somehow would have the opportunity to interview Armstrong and vice versa. One of you should write out a series of at least five questions (number them 1-5) that Hamlet would ask Armstrong, while the other writes five questions for Armstrong to ask Hamlet.






When the questions are finished, take on the personas of these two and conduct the interviews. Be sure to give answers that are in keeping with the points of view provided in the two texts. After conducting the mock interviews, discuss the relative viewpoints of the characters.

  1. How well would they get along with one another?

  2. How would each respond to the arguments made by the other?


Activity 16: Thinking Critically

Armstrong’s text is an autobiography. As with the soliloquy we examined earlier, the form of this writing has an effect on how it is read and understood. The questions below will help you assess Armstrong’s text.

  1. An autobiography is a form of nonfiction—a text that tells the “truth.” Do you think Armstrong is being truthful in his account of his life? Explain your reasoning.

  2. Armstrong’s autobiography is written “with” Sally Jenkins. A.) What role do you think Jenkins played in the writing of the text? B.) How does her participation in the creation of the text influence your interpretation of Armstrong’s story? In other words, how does the combination of Armstrong and Jenkins as authors affect the “ethos” of the text?

  3. Do you think Armstrong’s story has an impact on the reader because of its use of logic (logos) or emotion (pathos) or both?

  4. Unlike Hamlet, Armstrong is not in the midst of his crisis when he writes his story; instead, he writes about his experiences in hindsight. Does that have an impact on Armstrong’s ability to make his ideas and story compelling to the reader? Explain your reasoning.

Activity 17: Charting Multiple Texts

Make an entry in your chart for the Armstrong text. Fill it out as you did with the soliloquy. When you reach the entry for “How does this text connect to other texts?”, briefly describe the ways in which Armstrong responds to or challenges the assertions Shakespeare makes in his soliloquy for Hamlet.

Text 3 – “What is a Life Worth?”


Activity 18: Surveying the Text

The article “What Is a Life Worth?” comes from the February 12, 2002, issue of Time magazine. Take a look at its form and length.

  1. How much time do you think it will take to read this piece?

  2. Have you read anything from Time magazine?

  3. What do you know about that publication?

  4. What kinds of articles are commonly included in it?

  5. What types of people do you think compose the magazine’s primary readership?

Activity 19: Making Predictions and Asking Questions

This article includes the following subtitle: “To compensate families of the victims of Sept. 11, the government has invented a way to measure blood and loss in cash. A look at the wrenching calculus.”

  1. What predictions can you make about the article’s content from this subtitle?

  2. What connections do you think you might see between this article and the previous two texts you have read?

  1. The first two texts took first-person perspectives on the subject.
    A.) Do you anticipate that this article will continue in that vein, or will it be different?

B.) Why do you think so?

Activity 20: Introducing Key Vocabulary (Vocabulary #3 and #4)

Below, you will find three groupings of vocabulary words taken from “What Is a Life Worth?” The first group consists of words related to the legal and financial aspects of the article. The second list contains terms that convey information with particular emotional connotations. The final set of words is made up of terms that are used to describe the workings of the governmental plan to compensate 9/11 family victims. Working alone or with a partner, look over each list of words and provide a brief definition for the words you do not know well. Pay particular attention to the ways in which the words connect to one another (e.g., people litigate, or sue, because they want somebody to compensate them for a loss).

Financial and legal terms (Vocabulary #3 #’s 1-10)

  1. Compensate - to make equivalent or suitable return to

  2. Litigation - the act or process of carrying on a lawsuit

  3. Commodify- to treat as or make into a mere commodity to be bought and sold or to be used in selling something else

  4. Valuation- estimation of the worth, merit, etc. of anything

  5. Discretion- the right of someone to make choices or the quality of someone who is careful about what they do or say

  6. Liable- legally bound or obligated, as to make good any loss or damage that occurs in a transaction; responsible

  7. Beneficiary- a person named to receive the income or inheritance from a will, insurance policy, trust, etc

  8. Tort- a wrongful act, injury, or damage (not involving a breach of contract), for which a civil action can be brought

  9. Allocation- the act of being portioned out for a certain reason

  10. Disparity- inequality or difference, as in rank, amount, quality

Emotion-laden words (Vocabulary #4 #’s 1-16)

  1. Squeamish- easily nauseated; queasy

  2. Garish- too bright or gaudy; showy; glaring

  3. Gall- rude boldness; impudence; audacity

  4. Traumatize- to injure or wound

  5. Callous- lacking pity, mercy, etc.; unfeeling

  6. Inconsolable- disconsolate; brokenhearted

  7. Indignant- feeling or showing anger because of something unjust

  8. Balk- to stop or hold back from doing something

  9. Deteriorate- to make or become worse; lower in quality or value; depreciate

Descriptive terms

  1. Rorschach test- a test for the analysis of personality, in which the person being tested tells

what is suggested to him or her by a standard series of inkblot designs

  1. Artillery- the science of guns; gunnery

  2. Analogy- a likeness or a comparison between two things that have some features that are the

same and others which are different

  1. Solidarity- combination or agreement of all elements or individuals, as of a group; complete

unity, as of opinion, purpose, interest, or feeling

  1. Orchestrated- to coordinate or arrange (something) so as to achieve

  2. Concoct- to plan or make something using many parts

  3. Mechanism- the working parts or arrangement of parts of a machine


Activity 21: First Reading

As you read “What Is a Life Worth?” for the first time, look for the main issues and the various stances people take in response to those issues. Be sure to also look for connections to the idea of valuing life and to what was previously said about valuing life by Shakespeare and Armstrong.

  1. How is “life” defined in this text? For example, does “life” refer to a human body, a soul, human experience, existence, or quality of life?

  2. Does this definition include a person’s personal life and professional or working life?


Activity 22: Thinking Critically

The previous two texts (the soliloquy and the autobiographical excerpt) both provide very personal approaches to the idea of valuing life. The current text, though, is an article from a respected national news magazine. The following questions will help you work through some of the implications of the text’s structure and features on the interpretation and understanding of the text:

  1. Most news articles such as “What Is a Life Worth?” try to take an objective, unbiased approach. Would you agree that this text is un-biased, or do you think it favors one perspective? Explain your answer.

  2. A.) What kinds of evidence does Ripley, the author of the article, use to get across the key ideas and issues associated with the compensation of 9/11 victims and their families? B.) Are any specific types of evidence more compelling to you as a reader? Less compelling?

  3. A.) How accurate do you think the information in the article is? In other words, do you think Time magazine and Ripley are to be trusted? B.) Why or why not?

  4. A.) Does the article use logic, emotion, or both to make an impact on the reader? If so, describe how. B.) Compare that use to the way logic and emotion are used by Shakespeare, Armstrong, or both.

Activity 23: Charting Multiple Texts

Make a third entry on your chart for “What Is a Life Worth?” Feel free to use the highlighting, summarizing, connections, and critical thinking work you did previously as a way to fill out the chart.

Text 4 – “Human Life Value Calculator”


Activity 24: Surveying the Text

This text comes from an Internet resource called the “Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education.” Viewing the actual Web site is certainly preferable to looking at the printed text; the Web site’s human life value calculator is available for examination at:

  1. Look at the types of information available on the site as well as information about the organization that publishes the site. Do this at home if we do not finish in class. A.) What appears to be the purpose of the site? B.) How is the site organized?

Alternative for Option for #1 If you do not have Internet access, simply scan the text and take inventory of its attributes. What type of text does it appear to be? What are the features of the text, including the presence of such things as headings and graphs?

  1. This text comes from an Internet site whose domain name ends in “.org” instead of the more common “.com.” Do you know what this ending to the site’s address signifies?

Activity 25: Making Predictions and Asking Questions

This text is quite different from the previous three texts. It is not personal or narrative, as the first two texts were, nor is it an informative text designed for a general audience. Instead, as you probably noticed when surveying the text, it is an interactive site, asking the reader to provide data to input and generating specific information based on the particular data provided by the user. The Web-based pages are called the “Human Life Value Calculator.” Answer the following questions on the basis of what you know so far before you begin to read:

  1. What do you think might be the purpose of a text like this?

  2. Who might use this text?

  3. Since this text claims to calculate human life value, do you anticipate that this will have the most connections to Hamlet’s soliloquy, Armstrong’s autobiography, or Ripley’s Time article? Why?

Activity 26: Introducing Key Vocabulary (Vocabulary #5)

The vocabulary terms listed below come from the Web site text. Many of these terms are similar to those in the list of legal and financial terms from “What Is a Life Worth?”

  1. Assess- to evaluate or analyze

  2. Incur- to acquire or bring something upon oneself

  3. Expenditure- a spending or using up of money, time

  4. Consumption- the using up of goods or services,

  5. fringe benefits- any form of employee compensation provided in addition to wages or base salary, as a pension, insurance coverage, vacation time

  6. Contribution- to give or provide jointly with others; give to a common fund


Activity 27: First Reading ( You will have to finish this at home)

Read through the text, noting the way that a life’s value is determined by the Human Life Value Calculator. Pay particular attention to the data input, which reflects a twenty-year-old single mother working in a service industry. If you have access to the Web site itself, you can choose a variety of data inputs to see how the results vary. Try providing different age, gender, occupation, and income information, and then examine the effect on the results.

  1. As you make sense of the calculator and its workings, make note of any connections you see to the previous texts we have read.

Activity 28: Rereading the Text

Strategic Marking of the Text

This activity is a variation on the kind of highlighting you did with the Time magazine article. Once again, you will be using two colors to mark the text for two different aspects. This time, however, you will be using the highlighter colors to indicate your own responses to the ideas within the text. With one color, highlight the parts of the text with which you find yourself in agreement. Use the other color to highlight the parts of the text that you either disagree with or that raise questions for you.

Responding to the Text

Look over the highlighting you did in the previous step.

  1. Write a brief response—no more than eight sentences—to the Human Life Value Calculator Web site. The response should describe what the Web site asserts about human life’s value and your reactions to those assertions. Remember, your response doesn’t have to be in complete agreement or disagreement with the text; you might agree with some aspects and disagree with others.


Activity 29: Thinking Critically

  1. Unlike the other texts, the Human Life Value Calculator has no single identified author. A.) Does the lack of a named author affect your level of belief in the text’s ideas and purpose? B.) How can you find out more about the text and whose interests it represents?

  2. Did this text produce in you an emotional response of any sort? If so, briefly describe it.

  3. Consider the charts that the calculator produces. A.) How well do you understand the meaning of these charts? B.) How do the three charts differ? C.) Does the use of all of the numbers within the charts seem to make a logical argument about the value of life?

Writing Rhetorically

Activity 30: Writing

Writing Assignment

So far in this assignment sequence, we have heard a number of different voices giving insights into the value of life. Hamlet’s soliloquy offers an emotional, metaphor-laden glimpse into the thinking of a young man contemplating suicide. Lance Armstrong’s autobiography uses storytelling from a first-person perspective to get across how the famed cyclist thinks about life. Amanda Ripley’s article from Time magazine provides insight into the problems involved in translating the concept of valuing life from abstract terms into actual dollars and cents. The Human Life Value Calculator establishes specific criteria for assigning monetary value to a person’s life.

You might not fully agree or disagree with any of the texts’ essential claims about the value of life. This makes your voice an important contribution to this discussion about how we should value human life. Where do your ideas fit into the terrain mapped by the other texts we have read? Is it right to assign dollar values to a person’s life? Do suffering and illness impact how we should value life? Assume that the audience for your piece consists of intelligent citizens interested in this issue—the same types of people, for instance, who would read Time magazine.

As you write your essay, think about the different ways the authors we have read make their points about valuing life. Depending on the points you are trying to make, you might want to use some metaphors for life, as Hamlet does, or tell some stories the way Armstrong does. You may choose to include some words from people you interview, as Ripley does in her article, or you might even choose to establish some criteria for how human life should be calculated in monetary terms. As you construct your essay, make conscious choices about the ways you can represent your ideas to your reader.

How should our society assign value to human life?

Be sure to refer to and cite the readings. You may also use examples from your personal experience or observations.

Charting Multiple Texts

Text Information

What is the text’s big issue?

What claim does the text make?

What are the examples/quotes from the text?

What do you think about the text’s claim?

What are your examples?

How does this text connect to other texts?














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