Evaluating The Hand Janie Was Dealt in Their Eyes Were Watching God

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SWBAT evaluate the development of the character’s quest for autonomy by using a scale and discussing guiding questions.

Big Idea

No matter how bad a hand we are dealt, there are always choices that can help us beat the odds.


5 minutes

Students read chapter 5 at home the night before. I open with an invitation to ask questions about anything they found confusing in the reading. Students ask a couple of questions and I bounce these to the group. I fill in here and there. This ends up being a mini discussion about the novel.

Your students may want to comment on the changes they already notice in Janie and Joe’s relationship, specifically the part where Joe does not allow Janie to give a speech. They may also have questions about the town’s developing of Joe and Janie. The most nuanced details in this chapter have to do with this last point. The characters express their opinion about Joe and Janie mostly through the vernacular, and that can be difficult for students to perceive.

My students did not mention the fact that the townspeople are paying attention to Janie's looks and have mixed feelings about Joe and the way Joe is trying to establish his authority in the town. One of my students brings up the interesting detail that is that this is the first all-African-American town in the U.S. and that this was attractive to Jody. I take this opportunity to share that another reason why this book is so important is because Hurston adds historical events to the story.

We move on after all questions are answered.


Describe the Hand Janie Was Dealt

15 minutes

We have been working on an activity called the hand we are dealt. In this activity, students keep track of the major events in the life of the main character, Janie, to help them get a clear picture of her quest for autonomy, a central idea of the novel. Students have finished four cards at this point. I tell them that we will add one more today, an event from chapter 5. I give them two minutes to talk to the two people at their table and together decide on an event from chapter 5 they believe should be included in these cards. I refer them to the criteria I posted on the board:

  • The events should mark a significant point in Janie’s life,
  • reveal the major forces out of her control as well as those she controls, and
  • help us discuss the extent to which she controls her life. In other words, they should help us understand Janie’s quest for autonomy.

I walk around and listen in on their conversations. After they have been working for a minute, I begin to ask groups if they have reached an agreement about their event. I tell the groups who have not decided on anything to have options to share when we talk with the whole class. After a few more minutes, I ask students to share their events, which I record on the board. They suggest these events:

  • Janie moved to Florida.
  • Janie didn’t like that Jody became mayor.
  • Jody giving a speech and Jody preventing Janie from giving a speech.

I ask students to identify the best example of an event that helps mark Janie’s quest for autonomy. Students have different opinions, and I ask them to make an argument to support their choice. Through discussion, we decide on the last event about Jody not allowing Janie to give a speech.

I give students several minutes to fill in the information on card 5. To do so, they have to think about what was under Janie’s control, what was out of her control, and the risks and consequences associated with this. I allow them to talk to each other, and I work with groups of students one-on-one as needed. Students have a hard time thinking of risks for this event, so we talk about this. We also talk about the consequences in the same manner. These are two samples of what students wrote on card 5.

Evaluate the Hand Janie Was Dealt

15 minutes

At this point, students have identified several major events that help us discuss Janie’s quest for autonomy. I summarize what we tracked on the cards and remind them that it is our way of looking at the “hand” Janie was dealt. I remind them that this idea comes from a poker game, in which we get a "hand" of cards and can say we got dealt a good or bad hand. I explain that it is important to figure out what to do with this hand, meaning that you may still be able to “win the game” if you play it right.

I ask students to scan all the events on the cards and to consider how easy or difficult Janie’s quest for autonomy has been. It should be clear that this quest has been quite difficult. I then ask them to discuss this in small groups, using the scale and questions below.






Not at all





  1. How GOOD is the hand Janie has been dealt?
  2. How SUCCESSFUL has Janie been at playing her hand?
  3. How CLOSE is Janie to being AUTONOMOUS?

I give students 5 minutes to discuss and ask them to be ready to share with the whole class. I walk around to listen in, answer questions, ask guiding questions, briefly join discussions, and clarify. I expect that most groups will agree on the answers to the questions. Still, I take about 5 minutes to have each group present their answer to one of the questions. As each group shares, I ask the class if they gave it a different rating, and we discuss differences. There is some discrepancy, but not severe.

Making Predictions Backed Up With Evidence

15 minutes

I pose the question below to students to get them to take the discussion a step further and evaluate Janie’s options in life. I ask them to rate it using the same scale we used with the first three questions.

4. What choices does Janie have at this point? What are the risks associated with each choice? How easy would it be for Janie to make each choice?

I ask students to turn to their small groups again and discuss the choices Janie has, brainstorm possible risks associated with these choices, and discuss how easy it would be for Janie to make these choices. I give small groups about 5 minutes to discuss. 

We move to a whole group discussion. I ask one group to share the choice they feel is best for Janie. I ask if any other group agrees or disagrees with this choice and to share theirs. I follow this process until all groups have shared. A good discussion around these questions will reveal student understanding of the character. This pushes students to take into account the main events they have read so far, which makes this a good opportunity to gauge student understanding of the story and the main character.


2 minutes

I let students know that they will soon read about the choice Janie actually makes.