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Story and Study: Articles of a Personal Nature, by Deborah Coates

“Articles of a Personal Nature” can be found on Deborah Coates’ author blog, here.

“Tracking is about communication, decision-making, and memory. Tracking is reading your dog. It’s recognizing your place and holding firmly to it. It’s totally and completely about trust and communication. The official objective of a tracking test is to demonstrate a dog’s ability to recognize and follow scent. But it is far more than that.”

· · · ·

 Sarah stands in front of a group of about ten students and talks about tracking, while I sit alone in the back of the room and watch her. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and nods at a woman with short salt-and-pepper hair who has a question. You can’t tell by looking at her that Sarah was gone for seven years, lost in some unknown alternate dimension. Though she has been back six months now, she never talks about it, never says word one about what it was like to be ripped out of her life—out of our life—into a completely different world. Sarah doesn’t want to talk about it. She thinks we should all just go on. But you don’t go on from seven years. Seven years brings a lifetime of change.

It was first published back in 2004.  As soon as I read it, I knew I had to share it.  I loved how Coates entwined facts about tracking with a heart-twisting bit of specfic.  At the time, I’d been tutoring an enthusiastic high school student who had just begun learning about story elements in her regular classes, so I crafted a couple of study guides to go with the story. The first one is pretty bare bones, going over the basic elements of the story, leaving a lot of room for vocabulary. [N.B. I’m still playing around with how best to format these for use on the blog.]

“Articles of a Personal Nature” by Deborah Coates Study Guide 1

1.  Who are the main characters?

2. What is the POV?

3. How does the author use italics in this story?

4.  What is the major conflict in the story?

5.  What does tracking have to do with the story?

6.  What is the significance of the title?

VOCABULARY (use the back if necessary)

new words your guess (from context) dictionary

The second is a bit more advanced, covering the first half of the story.  It seeks to get the reader thinking a little more in depth:

“Articles of a Personal Nature” by Deborah Coates Study Guide 2

Section 1 (pages 1-5):

1. Who is the narrator (the “I”) in the story?

2.  Who is speaking when italics are used?

3. Describe the two characters.


Name of #2:

4.  Is their relationship happy?  Why or why not?

5.  Does this story take place nowadays?  When does it take place?  How do you know?

6.  Sometimes writers make up phrases for use in the worlds they create.  You probably won’t find them in a dictionary, so you have to guess their meanings from context.

Word or phrase

What is it?

GeoGen Industries
U-Store EZ Find
feral bots
quantum computing

7.  What happened to Sarah?

8.   The story focuses a lot on “tracking.”  What is tracking?

9.  Why do you think she talks so much about tracking?  How is it important to the story?

10. How does the title relate to the story?  What is an “article of a personal nature” and what is its purpose?

11. What are some specific articles talked about in the story and to whom do they correspond?

12.  Keep a list of new vocabulary words from the story.  See if you can guess their meanings before you look them up in a dictionary.




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