Western Influences on Chinua Achebe: The Second Coming and Things Fall Apart (Day 1 of 2)

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SWBAT analyze how Chinua Achebe draws on the poem “The Second Coming” By W.B. Yeats for inspiration for Things Fall Apart.

Big Idea

Students will examine the western poem "The Second Coming" to find clues about the African "Things Fall Apart."

Let's Get Started: Accessing Prior Knowledge to Define Vocabuary

10 minutes

Today, we will begin by reorganizing the groups to add variety and encourage students to interact with others in the class.  As students walk in, I give them a handout on The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats.  The goal is for students to define vocabulary in context (L 9-10.4c). I also want them access their prior knowledge by answering the the two questions on the first slide of The Second Coming powerpoint.

The questions are:

  • What do you think "the second coming" is referring to? (RL 9-10.9)
  • What Do you know about WWI?

After the students answer independently, I call on a couple of students to share their answers.  I try to align this "Things Fall Apart" unit with when they cover WWI in their World History class.  It is is hit or miss, so I write the responses to the second question on the smartboard so the students who need the information can take notes.


Building Knowledge: Using Context to Define Words

15 minutes

Now we read the poem.  The students have a copy of The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats and I also have it on the smartboard.  I read the poem once at my normal reading pace.  I tell the students to just listen to the poem and try to get the gist of its overall meaning.  

Next, I read the poem a second time at a slow pace.  The students underline the lines of the poem that contain one of the vocabulary words.  Before we begin to discuss the overall message of the poem, I want to make sure they comprehend the words.  I review the term context clues (L 9-10. 4a) and tell them to discuss as a group the possible meanings  of the vocabulary.  

I assign groups to write their definitions on the board.  I assign different groups to get a dictionary or use their phone to find the actual definition of the words. One of the students writes the dictionary definition on the board next to the context definition. As a class we discuss how close our definitions are to the dictionary.  

Next, I ask if there are any other words in the poem that they do not understand.  I repeat the same process with those words until the class is comfortable with the vocabulary. 

Building Knowledge: What is the Second Coming?

20 minutes

 Now, it is time to dive into this widening gyre of a poem.  I have five questions on the The Second Coming powerpoint to help guide the analysis of the poem. Each group will answer one question and then share their response with the class.  We have hopefully already discussed the opening couplet of the poem while we were working on vocabulary.

I lead with WWI and the key line of the poem in relationship to the novel, "Things fall apart." These questions align to the RL.9-10.1 and RL.9-10.4 standards. 

1.  “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
       Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
       The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 
       The ceremony of innocence is drowned;”
Armed with the knowledge that this poem was written shortly after the conclusion of what was then termed "the Great War" -- 1st World War -- what does the poet mean in these four lines? (Note: I assign this question to the group who seemed to know the most about WWI or were the most interested.)

The next questions are:

2.  Why do you think the speaker says that “the best lack conviction” while the worst “are full of passionate intensity?”
3. Why does the poet claim that "the ceremony of innocence is drowned"? 
4.  “Surely some revelation is at hand;
       Surely the Second Coming is at hand.”
What is meant by a "revelation"?
5.  “Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
       A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
       A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,” 
What do we call this beast with a lion's body and the head of a man?
6. “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
      Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
What is the significance of "Bethlehem"? 

Each group has to dissect the question and respond thoughtfully to the different perspectives of their new group members.  Eventually they have to summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and explain their answers to the class (SL.9-10.1d).

Wrap Up: Final Questions and Homework

5 minutes

As the last group wraps up their answers, I ask if anyone has a question about the poem.  Next, I assign their homework.  They have to answer questions 1 to 4 on The Second Coming handout for the next class, and we will continue our analysis of this poem then.