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Richard Wright: Mississippi's Native Son lesson plan

OVERVIEW

Recognized as one of America’s greatest writers, Richard Wright was born in a time and place that significantly molded who he was and what he did. In this lesson students will look for linkages between Wright’s environment and his writing. Students will be able to find answers to these questions:

Who was Richard Wright?

How was he shaped by the environment and time in which he lived?

What was his purpose for writing?

CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 3, 4, 6.

TEACHING LEVELS

Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.

MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT

Mississippi History Now article

Mississippi History/Studies textbooks

Butcher Paper

Blank Transparency/overhead projector

OBJECTIVES

Students will:

analyze the impact of environment/time on Wright’s development as both person and writer;

illustrate, in a creative manner, the major themes of Wright’s work;

suggest convincing reasons to read and examine the works of Richard Wright and other writers.

OPENING THE LESSON

Write these dates, 1908-1960, on the board or on a transparency. Lead students to brainstorm events taking place in the United States and in Mississippi during those years. Tell them the dates represent the life span of a great American writer who was born in Mississippi — Richard Wright. Inform the students that the concept of “hunger” was present in much of Wright’s work – not just a physical hunger for food, but a hunger for other things. Ask students to list in their notes the types of things for which one might hunger. Some may want to share their answers with the large group. As the study progresses, students will compare/contrast their lists with the information they learn about the author.

DEVELOPING THE LESSON

1.

A review of the meaning of certain terms associated with the lesson may be needed. Students should be able to define the following terms: segregation, integration, Jim Crow laws, biography, autobiography, fiction, non-fiction. Teacher may wish to add others.

2.

Using the Mississippi History Now article, various texts, and web sites, students will compile biographical information regarding Richard Wright. (Teacher may suggest a specific number of items which may or may not include names and dates of Wright’s published works.)

3.

In small groups, students will compare/contrast their information and will create, either individually or cooperatively, a time-line of the major events in the author’s life. Have students place their information on a piece of butcher paper for display.

4.

In a large-group discussion, students will share their findings and opinions. Lead students to describe Wright’s environment and the time in which he lived. Ask them to reflect on the relationship between the author’s life circumstances and his writing style and purpose for writing.

5.

Using all available resources, students will search for specific areas of “hunger” in the author’s life. They will list the areas in chart form and then will offer reasons for them. (At this point, it may be interesting for students to revisit their early listing of “hungers” for comparison/contrast.) Students will illustrate these “hungers” by creating one of the following: collage; song; dramatization; model; drawing, etc.

6.

Using all the information they have collected, students will construct a ten-line bio-poem about Wright. (See end of lesson for model.) These can be posted or shared so that students can discuss their responses. Teacher will lead the class in combining their thoughts in order to produce one bio-poem which most accurately depicts the author. The class bio-poem should be displayed, either on butcher paper or transparency.

7.

Teacher will lead large-group discussion regarding objective 3. Students should be able to discuss the significance of Wright’s work. Ask them to think of other writers who have helped us “know history.”

8.

As a summative evaluation, ask students to write an entry on Wright for an encyclopedia of American writers. Readers of the encyclopedia will be especially interested in the facts of the author’s life and how they affected his career.

CONCLUDING THE LESSON

Draw students’ attention to the date of Wright’s death. The decade of the sixties was the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Ask students to think of the modern Civil Rights Movement in terms of a military engagement. What “weapons” did the civil rights workers use? (non-violence) Ask them if Wright could be viewed as an early civil rights advocate. If so, what were his “weapons?” (words) Teacher may want to explore this topic further.

ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING

1.

Accuracy of timeline

2.

Chart and “hunger” illustration

3.

Bio-poem

4.

Entry for encyclopedia

5.

Class participation

EXTENDING THE LESSON

1.

Visit the old Smith-Robertson school in Jackson, which Wright attended. The building currently houses the Smith-Robertson Cultural Museum and contains numerous items of Wright memorabilia. Contact: Terry Fluker, Curator, at 528 Bloom St., Jackson 39202. He may also be reached at 601-960- 1457 or by e-mail: tfluker@city,jackson.ms.us

2.

Students may wish to interpret the following description of Wright written by John M. Reilly in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, p. 902.

“He was surely a product of the older South and of the great black migration to the cities; his distinction lay in his refusal to be simply a product.”

3.

There are three videos on Richard Wright available from Mississippi History On Loan, a service offered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Museum Division. The three videos are: “Almos’ A Man” (39 minutes, produced by Dan McCann, 1977), “Native Son” (112 minutes, produced by Diane Silver Productions, 1986), and “A Climate for Genius: A Native Son” (26 minutes, produced by the Mississippi Center for Educational Television, 1975). Videos are available free of charge to Mississippi public schools and to eligible private schools. Complete the required form (if you do not have one, call 601-961-4724 and ask the audiovisual coordinator to mail one to you). Mail the completed form to: Mississippi History On Loan, Manship House Museum, 420 East Fortification Street, Jackson, MS 39202-2340. Orders will be shipped and must be returned by first class U.S. Postal Service. Borrowers are responsible for return shipping costs. Contact: Mississippi History on Loan, State Historical Museum, P.O. Box 571, Jackson, MS 39205-0571.

A film biography, "RICHARD WRIGHT: Black Boy" which was aired on PBS in 1995, is a presentation of Mississippi Educational Television and the Independent Television Service.

4.

After reading works by the author, students can design book jackets or write a book review.

Resources:

For additional biographical information:

Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Wilson and Ferris, co-editors, University of North Carolina Press, 1989, pp. 902-903.

Mississippi: A Portrait of an American State, McKee, Clairmont Press, 1995, pp. 222-223.

For excerpts from the author's works:

Mississippi Writers: An Anthology, edited by Dorothy Abbott, University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Mississippi Writers/Reflections of Childhood and Youth, Vol I: Fiction, edited by Dorothy Abbott, University Press of Mississippi, 1985.

Bio-Poem:

Use the following form to make a bio-poem about a person. You may give more or less detail depending on the available information. Be as accurate as possible; you may want to try several words before deciding on which ones to use.

Line 1

First Name

Line 2

Title

Line 3

Four words that describe the person

Line 4

Lover of (3 things or ideas)

Line 5

Who believed in (1 or more ideas)

Line 6

Who wanted (3 things)

Line 7

Who used (3 methods or things)

Line 8

Who gave (3 things)

Line 9

Who said (a quote)

Line 10

Last Name

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