Creative Writing Unit:
Analyzing, Interpreting, Discussing and Writing Various Genres of African-American Literature
Lesson Author: Carolyn Hopkins
School Affiliation: Bethel High School
Subject: Language Arts
Grade Levels: 10, 11, 12
Time Required: Approximately 6 weeks
Teacher Comments:This unit is a great way to introduce the richness of African-American literature and the contributions of African-American writers to high-school students. The unit can be used during Black History Month or any time a teacher wants to incorporate multicultural literature into his or her curriculum, providing there is time.
The learner will:
recognize and appreciate assonance in poetry
understand how devices of sound emphasize ideas
respond to implied metaphors in the poems
recognize metaphor, implied metaphor, and extended metaphor
write a poem that is a tribute to someone who is not famous
present an oral interpretation of poems
discover the tone of selected work
write a journal entry about a personal relationship
demonstrate the elements and structure of drama
demonstrate an understanding of the character of African-American speech
write an essay comparing treatments of a theme
write a few paragraphs discussing character’s actions
present arguments through the performance of an imagined scene
understand the function of dialogue
write an original play
write a narrative relating a personal experience about overcoming fears
review types of conflict and identity external and internal conflicts to plot
use descriptive language to create a setting
determine the meaning of a story or poem’s title
describe rhyme schemes
write a description of the characters in a poem
write a creative response to a question posed by the poem
In order to get the most out of this unit, the following literature will need to be copied so that each student will have his or her own copies for the various assignments associated with unit. The following literature should be used:
"For Poets" by Al Young ( a poem)
"Women" by Alice Walker ( a poem)
"Harlem/Soweto" by Safiya Henderson
"Sisters" by Rita Dove ( a poem)
The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (a play)
"The Bean Eaters" by Gwendolyn Brooks ( a poem)
"We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks (a poem)
"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker ( a short story)
Students will be able to:
use rhyme effectively
recognize the standard poetic forms such as sonnet and ballad
use alliteration, repetition, and parallel constructions when writing original poems and stories
write a poem using an extended metaphor
understand irony within a story or poem
define the difference between drama and poetry
write a one-act play
understand the different elements of drama and to see the different the functions of dialogue, to provide exposition, to advance the plot, and to reveal characters’ inner feelings.
develop dynamic, flat, round and static characters in short stories and drama
use setting effectively to create a mood or atmosphere
It is important for students to understand the richness of our nation and the diversity that is a part of America’s heritage. In an effort to familiarize you with the various experiences of other cultures, particularly, the African-American culture, I have created a unit devoted to the literature of some major and minor African-American writers. It is my hope that after we have finished this unit, each of you will be able to appreciate the differences and commonalties that all humans share. Although we may be of different ethnicity, it does not mean that we cannot find common ground on which to build diverse relationships. This literature will help each of you to understand and to recognize the beauty of the universal human experience. This unit is not designed to exclude anyone but to be inclusive of everyone. You will read several poems, a play, and a few short stories that I hope will enrich your lives and open your minds. In addition, to poetry and stories, you will analyze paintings of the African-American experience and write about our interpretations.
Students will read and analyze two poems. The titles of the poems are “Women” by Alice Walker and “Sisters” by Rita Dove. Each student will be given copies of poems. I will read the poems aloud and then have students take turns reading the poem to gain a sense of rhythm and theme. Students will then do the following:
Define the terms drama and poetry:
I will explain to students that Rita Dove’s poem is a dramatic poem and ask them to identify the speaker of the poem and try to determine what the speaker is doing and to whom is she speaking. Additionally, I will ask students about their relationships with their brothers and sisters. Do they ever tease a younger sibling? Are they ever teased by older siblings? How? Why? Do they ever think about how they will relate to their brothers and sisters when they are adults? Students will write responses in their learning logs for later review when asked to write a poem about questions.
Students will then read the poem "Women" by Alice Walker. This particular poem focuses upon the African-American women of her mother’s generation. “Women” is based on metaphor. The poem gives students an opportunity to examine both implied and extended metaphor. Additionally, since both poems allude to struggles of women and family, I will ask students to think of notable women of any ethnic group from any period.
Creative writing assignment:
After students choose a woman to write about, they will make a list of the person’s admirable qualities. Then they will write a paragraph describing the person and explaining why they admire her. They may turn the paragraphs into either a prose poem or a traditional poem.
I will check each student’s work for various criteria such as grammar, syntax, and originality. Once work has been reviewed and revised, students will move on.
The composing of the poem or prose in honor of a woman in a student’s life will be my form of assessment in terms of students’ understanding assignment. Students will be asked to continue polishing work on their own time.
We will use Gwendolyn Brooks' poems “We Real Cool” and “Bean Eaters.” Students will be given some brief background knowledge about the great Gwendolyn Brooks. Additionally, I will let them know that Brooks’ work deals a lot with the people who lived in her neighborhood in Chicago.
The poem “Bean Eaters” is thematically concerned with an old couple who “Could make a pound of beans go further than a pound of potatoes.” “We Real Cool” presents the naïve posturing of youths, and hints at the factors that will lead to their doom. The suggestions of self-doubt and baffled pride in the youths’ halting and emphatic boasts imbue the poem with compassion. Students will read poems to understand the plight of the elderly, the poor, and the disenfranchised.
This lesson provides students with an opportunity to study Brooks’ effective use of rhyme, rhythm, and diction. The selections also give students the opportunity to re-familiarize themselves with standard poetic forms such as the sonnet and ballad. In addition, students will have an opportunity to use descriptive language to contribute to setting.
Creative writing assignment : Describing the Characters in a Poem
Students will write a creative response to a poem. They will also write a poem about someone from their neighborhood and use rhyme scheme and imagery.
Students will peer edit each other’s work.
I will write a poem and illustrate the organization of stanzas, the use of rhyme schemes, and imagery.
Students will read two poems entitled”Harlem/Soweto" by Safiya Henderson and the poem “For Poets” by Al Young. These poems will allow students to focus upon theme and how theme is a controlling element of a literary work. Additionally, students will discover the tone of a work through word choice.
Thematically, both poems are different. “For Poets” is about nature and therefore students will be asked several questions regarding their relationship with nature such as “Do you ever commune with nature?” They will respond to these questions in their learning logs and later use responses to compose a poem using poetic techniques such as assonance and alliteration to compose a poem using these elements.
When students read “Harlem/Soweto” they will be given background information on the South African government during the 1960’s and apartheid. Furthermore, discussions will focus around the suffering of black Americans and South Africans due to segregations, unemployment, substandard housing, and inadequate educational facilities. Students will understand the connection of the title to the work as a whole.
Writing about Literature:
Students will analyze the poems and determine the tone of each. Their paragraphs should should state what the tones are and support the statements with details from the poems. Afterwards, students will practice reading the poems to a partner before presenting it to the class. The class will give speakers feedback, telling them the strong and weak points of their interpretations. Students will then write a poem about a serious political, social, or racial injustice existing in America today.
Students will work in groups to brainstorm ideas.
Students will bring in another poem that either deals with nature or an important issue affecting our way of life in America.
Students will read the short story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. This story is about a family reunion that is by turns humorous and poignant. The story highlights one of the pervasive themes in African-American literature: the search for identity through a fuller understanding of one’s roots. The story offers students the opportunity to understand characterization, point of view, dynamic, static, flat, and round characters. Additionally, the story focuses on the literary element of symbolism and demonstrates how the symbols in the story underscore theme.
Addressing Different Levels of Ability:
Good readers will have no difficulty with this story. Less able readers might profit from a period of supervised reading. I will give them some questions to guide them through the story and allow time for slower readers to catch up. This strategy will also be incorporated in the other reading selections as well to assist slow readers.
Students will be asked to come up with a definition of the word heritage. They can work on this activity in small groups and then pool their findings.
This story can be read in one class reading.
Elements such as setting, tone, point of view, characterization, and plot will be discussed while reading the story.
Students will identify instances in which dialogue advances the plot
After focusing on the total effect of the story, the interaction of all its elements will culminate with the writing assignment. Students will be asked to write a story that focuses upon family and heritage or a particular heirloom that is valuable to their family. The short story must include the following elements: plot, character, setting, point of view, tone, and theme. Students will be reminded that their stories have to be in character with the figures in Walker’s story.
Students will spend class time using graphic organizers to focus upon their characters and the elements associated with the short story. After they have finished prewriting and organizational activities, they will begin to draft their stories. Stories will be peer and teacher edited and then typed in final draft.
Students will read their stories aloud in literature circles and elicit feedback from their classmates.
Week Five and Six
Students will spend the remaining two weeks reading August Wilson’s play The Piano Lesson. Students will study the conventions of drama. Some background information will be given to students about August Wilson and how he began his literary career as a poet. Wilson’s work is intended to convey his ideas about the history and culture of the African-American people.
The Piano Lesson is one of a series of plays Wilson has written about the lives of blacks in the United States. Each takes place in different decades. Students will have the opportunity to study the different elements of drama and to see different functions of dialogue, as well as to illustrate exposition, to advance the plot, to reveal characters’ inner feelings.
Understanding Dramatic Structure:
The Piano Lesson is conventional in structure and students should have no difficulty identifying the elements of drama. Additionally, African-American Speech will be given some attention and a brief discussion on dialectical differences will be discussed.
Creative Writing Assignment:
After having read and discussed the play, students will write a one-act play. They will incorporate the elements of drama studied in class to write their plays. Students will work on this assignment in groups. Some time is allowed for rehearsals.
Students will choose one of their creative writing assignments of which they are most proud and each student’s creative writing piece will be included in the class literary magazine. Students will be responsible for deciding the title of the magazine and the other elements of the class anthology. The title will allude to the African-American unit. Each student will be given a copy of the magazine and a possible reading of his or her work will be presented at a local middle school or senior citizen facility.