The Hand We Are Dealt

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SWBAT examine the development of the main character's path towards autonomy by tracking significant events, risks, and consequences on a chart. SWBAT make arguments and challenge each other's conclusions through guided discussion.

Big Idea

Sometimes we are dealt a good hand and sometimes we are not. Still, there is always a chance of "winning the game" if you play it right.


15 minutes

I give students the first few minutes of class to add quotes to their “Quotes in TEWWG” list. I also ask them to add questions to their t-chart and let them know that they will get to talk to each other about the chapters they read the night before, chapters 2 and 3. Several report that not much was confusing.

After a few minutes, I ask them if they could benefit from talking to each other about the chapter they read the night before even though they reported little confusion. Most say they could benefit from a discussion so I give them about 4 minutes to talk. I then invite them to ask questions that were not answered. One student asked about Janie’s racial background. To respond, I draw a quick family tree for Janie. Students respond to this with shock because it highlights the fact that both Janie’s mother and grandmother were raped, which makes both Janie and her mother products of rape. I stand and nod my head as students say things like, “Wow!” “They were both raped?!” “Janie was the only one not raped?” “Oh my god, that’s shocking!” A visual, like this diagram, sometimes is what they need to realize what the author meant the reader to realize.

In addition to giving students the opportunity to get help clarifying whatever they found confusing in the chapters they read, I want them to understand a very important symbol they read about in chapter 2, the pear tree. It is important to spend some time discussing this with students at this point because the pear tree and its specific description is central to Janie’s idea of an ideal way of experiencing love and life, which the reader must understand in order to understand her quest for autonomy. I direct students to the fourth page of chapter two, and ask them to find the paragraph that begins with the words, “She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree…” I read aloud this and the following paragraph. When I stop reading, I let them know that this is a good example of a lengthy description that uses figurative language. We have discussed figurative language in class before, but I remind them that figurative language says one thing but it means something else. This is a very simple way of explaining figurative language, but it works for my students. I ask students to think about what the meaning of this lengthy description may be. I point out that if this is figurative language, that means Hurston is not really talking about a pear tree or bees getting married. Students begin to suggest possible meanings of this. I guide their responses and encourage them to take risks. I know many have a pretty good idea of what Hurston is referring to but are just a bit insecure about their interpretation. I tell them that as long as they can back up their statement with textual evidence, whatever they say will not be totally far off. Soon, we arrive at the conclusion that this is the moment when Janie has become a woman and that she is in touch with her needs. In simple terms, students identified this as the point of puberty and the excitement Janie expects of life. Students will encounter this symbol again. This is a very good start.

Introducing A New Assignment

15 minutes

We then move to an activity I call “The Hand We Are Dealt.” We are going to be applying this expression to Janie’s quest for autonomy. The reason why I selected this expression is because it will allow students to evaluate the quality of the life Janie was born into, the obstacles she faces, and the choices she makes as she exercises her agency. This is essentially what students must pay attention to if they are to understand the character’s quest for autonomy. Most of my students are not familiar with this expression so I spend a couple of minutes explaining that this comes from a card game and it refers to the set of cards you are dealt and what you may be able to do with such set in order to increase your chances of winning the game. I explain that applying this to real life refers to the type of life you are born into and what you choose to do with it in order to fulfill your needs, dreams and happiness.

I distribute The Hand We Are Dealt worksheet. I made it look like a set of cards in a deck and used the image of a pear as the icon for these cards, a direct reference to the symbol discussed earlier in this lesson. I point this out to students and explain that in these “cards” they are to identify the most significant events in the story that help us understand Janie’s quest for autonomy and use each card for one story event. Additionally, they are to think of four aspects of each event: what is under Janie’s control in this event, what is out of Janie’s control, risks this event poses for Janie, and consequences of this event. I selected these four aspects because once students fill in this information on each card, they will have had a thorough understanding of the factors surrounding events and experiences in someone’s quest for autonomy. It is important for students to have a clear understanding of what is expected in this assignment so we work on the first ones together.

I ask students to think of all the events in chapters 1-3 that have the potential of making it to these cards. Students begin to suggest events and I write these on the board. In a short time, we end up with the following list:

  • Forced to marry Logan
  • Nanny died
  • Leafy and Nanny got raped
  • Janie hit puberty and kissed Johnny Taylor
  • Janie thought she was white until she saw herself in a picture

I then ask students to evaluate these events and select the three that will make it to the worksheet. For this, students begin to suggest events and I guide a discussion where students make arguments for the event they are suggesting and challenge each other’s conclusions until we all arrive at a consensus. In this video, you can see this process of posing ideas and conclusions, challenging them and arriving at consensus. I ask students to go ahead and write the two events we agreed on in the first two cards in the order that they appear in the novel. We have a more difficult time selecting the third one. I end up giving students the option of selecting the one they feel better illustrates Janie’s quest for autonomy.

The next part of the assignment is to think about these events by answering the two questions in each card and identifying risks and consequences associated with these events. I want to illustrate this for students so I tell them that we are working on the first event together. I ask each question in the boxes, one at a time, and students suggest responses. I ask them to think of risks and consequences and they make suggestions. This part happens quickly. Different students suggest different things so the resulting information is a nice collaboration. They all write this information on the first card. Cards 2 and 3 will be finished for homework. This is a student sample of the first 3 cards.


20 minutes

I ask students to fill in the information for the events on card 2 and 3 for homework. I also want them to read chapter 4 before the beginning of the period tomorrow. I give students the last 15 minutes of class to get started on chapter 4. I remind them to continue adding quotes that reveal something about her quest for autonomy on the chart called “Quotes in TEWWW.”