SAMPLE LESSON: "The Lady or the Tiger?"

Computer Programming Concept(s): binary (+ decision trees)

Literary/Informational Text: "The Lady or the Tiger?", adapted

Lesson: 3rd of 3 in module



The story, lesson plan, content guide and other "The Lady or the Tiger?" printable PDFs listed at the right compose the climactic learning experience in an early module of three lessons which introduce the concept of binary

In the first lesson, the class shares a community reading of an adaptation of Frank R. Stockton's classic cliffhanger short story "The Lady, or the Tiger?" with each learner writing an ending (or "version") of the story for homework. In the second lesson, the class derives mathematical tools for determining the number of versions of the story that are possible. In this third lesson, the class connects the multiple versions of the story with binary, the elemental structure of computers.

Lesson Components

  1. StoryCode's
    "The Lady or the Tiger?"
    ~ an adaptation of the short story
  2. "The Lady or the Tiger?"
    Content Guide

    ~ detailed descriptions, explanations, instructions
  3. "LorT" Lesson Plan
    ~ 1 page outline
  4. "LorT" Decision Point Chart
    ~ a graphic display of possibilities
  5. ASCII Chart
    ~ HW handout
  6. "The Lady, or the Tiger?"
    by Frank Stockton

    ~ the original 1882 short story
  7. "LorT" Standards
    ~ Common Core and CSTA Standards

Binary Revealed...

A Short Story Models How Computers See the World
As Stockton wrote "The Lady or the Tiger?" in 1882, a princess must choose whether the man she loves will marry and live with another woman or be killed and eaten by a fierce tiger. The story models the vital computing concept of binary in its most elemental form: a choice of two options, in this case "marriage" or "death".A computer would label those options more simply as "1" or "0". Computers basically understand the world as increasingly complex combinations of such 1s and 0s. Such systems in which only two options exist are called "binary" systems. (A bicycle has two wheels. A binary star system has two suns, one orbiting around the other.) We simply say "binary" when we refer to the way computers construct meaning from only 1s and 0s.

"Decision Points" Increase a Story's Possibilities
"The Lady or the Tiger?" turns upon whether the princess will send her lover to marriage with another or to death. This single decision point generates two possible versions of the story, one in which the lover lives and one in which he dies. The princess's choice is thus a binary decision point.

Stockton's story ends with the lover of the princess in an arena with 2 doors, opening the one she has signaled him toward while ignoring the other door. The reader must decide which fate he meets through his obedience. This is all okay as far as it goes, but really people deserve a richer picture of this important concept. 

The StoryCode adaptation of "The Lady or the Tiger?" allows the lover to decide if he trusts the princess's signal or not. He does not necessarily open the door she indicates. It also introduces a third character, the tiger-keeper, from whom the princess learns which of the arena's two doors hold the tiger. Of course, the tiger-keeper also loves the princess, so it's uncertain whether the information he gives her to save her lover is reliable.

By introducing two new decision points, the StoryCode adaptation increases the number of versions of the story that are possible. With binary decision points (where you are always choosing one of two options) the expansion in complexity is easy to explore:

Bin. Dec. Pts





save lover OR condemn lover

save lover OR condemn lover
trust princess OR mistrust princess

save lover OR condemn lover
trust princess OR mistrust princess
tell truth to princess OR lie to princess
Possible Versions



Equally as important, the story is now much juicier with all sorts of melodramatic possibilities:

The Jealous Tiger Keeper
The princess decides to save her lover and he trusts her but the tiger-keeper has lied. She watches in horror as the tiger leaps from the door she indicated.

The False Lover Punished
The princess decides to save her lover but he just can't believe she would send him to the arms of another. The tiger-keeper couldn't bear to lie to the princess, so she watches in confusion and terror as her sneering lover opens the opposite door and pays the ultimate price for his faithlessness when the tiger leaps out.

Unreliable Men
The princess decides to save her lover but he just can't believe she would send him to the arms of another. The jealous tiger-keeper can't bear the idea of her love for anyone else and lies to the princess about where the tiger will be. She experiences first disbelief as her lover's mistrust leads him toward the door of death and then shock when the lady emerges rather than the tiger, while the tiger-keeper curses his foiled scheme.

Creative Writing Informs Mathematical Analysis

If a class can read the StoryCode adaptation of "The Lady or the Tiger?" in one session, the homework is obvious: write an ending to the story in which the choice made by each character at their decision point is made clear AND tell whether the lover lives or dies. Crafting a version of the story is a creative writing assignment that produces a spectrum of responses from terse single sentences to six page romantic thrillers.


After handing in their compositions at the start of the next session, learners work through simpler situations which model multiple possibilities, such as the number of flavor and topping combinations one could order in a somewhat restrictive ice cream parlor. Through exploring the various mathematical methods of displaying and counting such possibilities, learners ready themselves for this final, penetrating analysis of the structure of the story and the structure of digital information.


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