A Close Reading of Chinua Achebe's Obituary

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SWBAT extrapolate Chinua Achebe's motivations for writing by analyzing his New York Times obituary.

Big Idea

March 22, 2013 "Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82." Why did his write? Why is he a titan? Examine his obituary for answers.

Let's Get Started: A Quick Look Influential Africans

20 minutes

As the students walk into class, they hear my Angelique Kidjo playlist.  

Angelique Kidjo is a singer from Ouidah, Benin (I did my Peace Corps training in this city). She records in French, English and Fon.  Her music is distinct yet accessible and enjoyable for students.  If you don't know Angelique, please add her songs to your own soundtrack now -- you are missing out. 

Next, I ask my students to get out their homework.  First they compare their maps of Africa that they completed for homework. I walk around the room to see their maps.  Next, I ask for a volunteer to identify the three most common languages spoken in Nigeria? (Housa, Yourba, and Igbo).  

The students are sitting in seven groups, they had to research seven different Africans for homework.  Each group has to consolidate their answers (SL 9-10. 1a).  I tell them to make sure they identify what country s/he is from and what is his/her contribution to the history of that country and/or the world? 

Finally, each group picks a speaker to share their findings with the class (SL 9-10.4). They share information on: 

All of the men and women on this list have influenced change in their countries and often around the world.  They show a positive and successful view of people in Africa. 

Building Knowledge: Chinua Achebe a Remembrance

40 minutes

As we transition to the next section, I pass out the obituary for Chinua Achebe that appeared in the New York Times.  This activity marks a return to informational text (RI.9-10.10).  As the students read, I ask them to underline the biographical information and put a star next to information in the obituary that talks about Chinua Achebe's motivation to write.  I also warn them that some sections of the text may be both biographical and motivational.  It is possible that they will have to make an inference on how his life experiences influenced his writing.  

Additionally, the language style of the NYT is more formal than our local paper and I know that my students have limited experience with reading about Nigeria, so I remind them to use context clues to figure out the meaning of words or phrases that are unfamiliar to them (L 9-10 4a).

We read the first few paragraphs of the obituary together.  I ask for volunteers to identify segments that they would underline or star.  I also ask clarifying questions of a few key words or phrases I think my student may not completely understand.  We look at the surrounding context to make a determination of the meaning.  Once I determine that they are confident in their ability to engage the text, I tell the to work independently (RI.9-10.1).


Building Knowledge: What is the Purpose in Writing? Is There Only One?

25 minutes

Now that the students have finished reading and annotating the text for biographical information and motivations for writing, I ask for a brief overview of Achebe's life based on what they read in the obituary.  

I call on one student with the expectation that other student chime in if they believe a relevant details has been missed.  Once my volunteer has stopped talking, then I ask, is there any else someone wants to add.  

Next, we move on to the motivations or purpose for writing.  My interpretation of the reading informational text standard 6 for 9th and 10 grade is that students need to evaluate the rationale for why people write about certain topics and what strategies do writer's use to present these topics.  In other words, what factors contribute to writer's gravitating towards certain issues and writing styles? So, my students will try to identify and analyze connections between events and people that influenced Chinua Achebe and the manifestations of these influences in his novel "Things Fall Apart." 

I ask students to compile a master list of motivations for writing. Once they have complete the list, I tell them that we are going to share our lists (SL 9-10.1a).  They need to listen to the each group's list and either question the relevance of a motivation or add to their own list.  As we go around the class, we create a master list.  I have one of my student aids write the list on the dry erase board as we go.  

The list will change as each group adds on a motivation or revises a motivation from another group. I will go around the room until all of the groups are satisfied with the list of Chinua Achebe's seven purposes for writing

Finally, I give each group a giant post-it.  Each group adopts one of the motivations and writes it on the top of their post-it.  They are responsible for finding examples to support their group's purpose as they read "Things Fall Apart."

Wrap up: Beginning Things Fall Apart

5 minutes

I pass out copies of "Things Fall Apart."  For homework, students will read, Chapter 1-3 and answer the following questions using evidence from the text (RL 9-10.1 and 3). 

Okonkwo:  Family Man?  Consider Okonkwo’s attitude toward his father, his feelings about his wives and children and his personal ambition. 
1.   What is your general impression of Okonkwo (family man, community member, friend)?  Be specific: son, father, husband, and friend?
2.  Who is the narrator?   The narrator claims that Okonkwo is ruled by his fear of his own weakness and failure.  In what way do these fears play out in Okonkwo’s  life and his treatment of others?
Read the last paragraph of chapter 1.  How is the last sentence an example of foreshadowing?