Analyzing How the Use of Dialect Establishes Tone and Reveals Characters in "Drenched In Light"

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SWBAT determine the meaning of the word "dialect" and analyze the cumulative impact of dialect on meaning and tone by reading the adapted story “Drenched In Light" and answering teacher made analysis extension questions.

Big Idea

What does "You jes wave dat rake at dis heap yahd, madame..." mean?


10 minutes

Word Splashes can have a variety of purposes in a lesson.  I begin this activator by using a Word Splash to predict what the story may be about. Words are "splashed" visually on the board so students in the classroom can easily read them and make their prediction. The  words that I use are: joyful, petulant, young girl, outgoing (vivacious), trouble, dancing, marching band, punishment, light.

Students are asked to read the words and write a short paragraph predicting the events in the story predicated on the word splash.  I ask them to share their predictions with a partner and a few students read their predictions a loud to the class.

Building Knowledge

25 minutes

This text is in our districts Unit Planning Guidelines as one of several shot fiction essays we can read in our class. This author is one of the several prolific African-American writers that are part of our reading list. Zora Neal Hurston would probably not be as popular if not for the author Alice Walker. Walker related how Hurston’s works had inspired her own writing, and had also inspired her to visit Eatonville where Hurston grew up and which is the setting in this story. She also visited her grave and added to her memory this epitath: "Zora Neale Hurston/ 'A Genius of the South'/ 1901---1960/ Novelist, Folklorist/ Anthropologist."  Zora Neal Hurston is a major female voice of the Harlem Renaissance unit that we will be covering in grade 9 as well.  Students will address the CCSS RL.9-10.3 by analyzing how the complex character, Isis, developes over the course of story and interacts with other characters while developing the theme.

Most of my students are predominately visual learners so I use a teacher made power-point presentation to give information on:

  1. Allusion to the protagonist Isis
  2. Some facts about the author Zora Neal Hurston which includes the story's setting and
  3. Use of Dialect

I begin with the power-point (slide 1) which shoes two different illustrations; one of someone dancing and another of someone daydreaming. I ask students to describe what they see and predict what the illustrations may say about the main character's personality.  Giving background information on the author will help my students connect with the writer's purpose.  I then review basic biographical facts about the author.  After reviewing these facts, I ask students to pair up and answer the basic understanding questions reviewed in the power point (slides 6-7).  We review and discuss the answers as a class.


For many of the students, the dialect used in this story is difficult to understand but the author uses dialect to create the tone of this story.  I do my best to model the pronunciation of the dialect by reading the first paragraph a loud while the students silently read along.  I hear comments such as, "What is she talking about?" and "Why is she speaking like that?"  We return briefly to the definition of dialect and I explain that this way of speaking reflected the way many African Americans spoke living in the south during this period of time.  I then ask them to take each word and try to interpret what the grandmother is saying to Isis.

As a summary to this part of the lesson, I give students a worksheet that has sample phrases from the story and their matching interpretations.  Working with a learning partner, students match the rows and when finished we correct the papers as a class.  This section serves to introduce the story before they begin reading.


Students Learning Activity

30 minutes

We begin the student learning activity with a short discussion on the use of dialect in their communities addressing the common core standard RL.9-10.4 which requires students to determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the story.  I then give these directions:

  • "With a processing partner, write a brief scene in which a parent demands that a young son or daughter complete a chore that he or she doesn't want to do. Strive to write it the exact way the two would talk.  Next share your dialogue with partner" while addressing common core writing standard W.9-10.10.

I then pick a few students to share their dialogues with the class.  

As a final part of this activity, working in pairs or reading alone, students read the opening dialogue between Isis and her grandmother capturing the tone of each character RL.9-10.4. They translate the dialogue and answers questions 1-3. I circulate among the students checking their answers and discussing the characters and the tone the author creates.

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Ticket to Leave 

Students write in their own words the definition of dialogue and why the author uses it in this story. By asking students to "write in their own words," this wrap-up activity will help them demonstrate their understanding of the author's use of dialect and how it effects the tone of the story.