Stereotypical and Iconic Images Depicted in Drama: Baseball and the N-Word in Fences, Act 1 Scene 1

16 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT analyze the context of Fences Act I Scene 1 by identifying the impact of the social and stereotypical images reflecting the time period and the author's intention for including these references in the text.

Big Idea

How do the images of America's favorite past time and racial stereotypes impact the disempowered?

Introduction: Discussing the Context of the N-Word

The use of the n-word and how it affects us

Choosing to discuss context prior to reading a play or any piece of literature is an excellent pre-reading strategy to prepare readers for the concepts and ideas they will encounter as they read. It is a great way to outline a purpose for reading too.

I have chosen to discuss the stereotypical images within the text prior to my students and I encountering them while reading because I want my students to understand the issues surrounding August Wilson's decision to have his protagonist (Troy Maxson) use the n-word in his conversations with his best friend, Bono, and his son, Cory. The n-word is never to be used lightly or in a cavalier fashion, in my opinion, and since my students will be encountering the word frequently throughout the text, we should discuss it in an intelligent and thoughtful manner


10 minutes

For this part of the lesson, my students will be writing a journal entry responding to a quotation from Babe Ruth. They will writing a response, giving their position on the opinion Babe Ruth presents about baseball. This activity is aligned to W.6.1., though we are working to meet W.9-10.1a. They will write their claims and provide reason or evidence to support it. This task is aligned to W.9-10.10 as well.

I chose a quotation from Babe Ruth for today's lesson because most of my students are not baseball fans. Therefore, many of them are not aware of the great pioneers of baseball who lived in the earlier part of the twentieth century though some of them are familiar with Jackie Robinson because of the middle school initiative in New York City Public Schools funded by the Jackie Robinson Foundation. I wanted to get them to have a thought about the sport from the perspective of one of the sport's giants especially since "the house that Babe Ruth built" a.k.a. Yankee Stadium is a stone's throw away from our school! Also, Babe Ruth and baseball itself are prominently mentioned in the play, Fences, so having some prior knowledge about baseball and Babe Ruth is essential for understanding the character of Troy Maxon in Fences.

I chose this quotation because within the quotation Babe Ruth presents a claim about baseball and he provides evidence and an explanation to support his claim. So, in exploring this quotation, my students will be able to see how people establish their opinions and provide supports for their opinions accordingly.

The quotation below was taken from a speech Babe Ruth made at Yankee Stadium on April 27, 1947. In his speech, he said, "You know, this baseball game of ours comes up from the youth. That means the boys. And after you're a boy and grow up to play ball, then you come to the boys you see representing clubs today in your national pastime. The only real game in the world, I think, is baseball. As a rule, people think that if you give boys a football or a baseball or something like that, they naturally become athletes right away. But you can't do that in baseball.  You got to start from way down, at the bottom, when the boys are six or seven years of age. You can't wait until they're 14 or 15.   You got to let it grow up with you, if you're the boy. And if you try hard enough, you're bound to come out on top, just as these boys here have come to the top now.  There have been so many lovely things said about me today that I'm glad to have had the opportunity to thank everybody."

After reading the statement, my students will identify the main points Babe Ruth made. Then, they will identify his opinion about baseball. They will decide to agree/disagree with Babe Ruth's opinion and they will respond by using the C.E.E. format - Claim, Evidence and Explanation - to set up their response.

I am including samples of student responses for this task: Student#1, Student#2, Student#3  and Student#4.




10 minutes

For this part of the lesson, my students and I will continue to develop our speaking and listening skills, moving from W.7.1c toward W.9-10.1c. We will start with the discussion starters from the discussion ticket. Students will  respond to C.E.E. paragraph shared by their peers using discussion starters.

AGREE: I agree with __________ because...

DISAGREE: I disagree with __________because...

ASK A QUESTION: I would like to ask _______ a question about her opinion. ______________?

EXPLAIN: ___________, can you explain what you meant when you said__________?

ADD TO SOMEONE'S IDEAS: I would like to add the following to ________'s idea. __________


Engagement (Jigsaw Activity)

15 minutes

For this part of the lesson, my students will engage in a jigsaw activity that allows them to explore racially charged words and phrases and to see how they feel about these words and phrases. They will discuss the words and phrases with their peers in groups and they will share their findings with the class. Each team is responsible for a different activity, so during the share each group will gain different insights form each other.

This activity is aligned to W.6.1 because each students will write a claim and provide reason or evidence to support it. This activity is aligned to SL.7.1 because students will ask questions and make comments about someone else's idea and this activity is aligned to SL.6.1d because students will respond to specific questions with explanation and details to support your point.


       Jigsaw Activities for the Groups:

Activity #1: Students work in groups of three to four people to discuss the words in the wordle RACIAL EPITHETS. They will discuss the words by considering the following questions:

1. Is it ever appropriate to use words like nigger, coon, boy, or gal?

2. When is it inappropriate to use these words?

3. What do the words in this wordle have in common? How are they different?


Activity #2: Students will work in groups of three to four to examine quotations from Who can say the n-word? They will discuss the quotations considering the following questions:

1. Explain the comment in your own words

2. How do you feel about these comments regarding the n-word? Explain in your own words


Activity #3: Students will work in groups of three to four to examine the image of a black man eating a watermelon, Scrub_Me_Mama_watermelon. They will discuss the image considering the following questions:

1. What are your thoughts about the picture?

2. Should a black person be shown in this way? Why? Why not? Explain.


I am including samples of student work for Activity #1 and Activity #3: Student#1A, Student#1B. and Student#3A.






Shared Reading

30 minutes

For this part of the lesson, students will consider the context of the play (1950s, baseball, and the use of racially charged language), and how all of these affects the mood of the play (RL.9-10.4) and character development (RL.9-10.3). Students will be reading Act 1, scene 1 aloud and we will be responding to the context questions as we read. In addition to the RL standards parenthetically cited above, this task is aligned to W.9-10.10 because students will be participating in writing activities support their understanding of how the n-word is being used in the text, and they will be expressing their feelings about it.

For this part of the lesson, I have students volunteer for each speaking role including the reading of the stage directions. Then, I inform the class that we will be asking for volunteers daily with the goal of having every student reading for at least one role. 

I am choosing to focusing on  Act 1 Scene 1 (Page 1-10) only because we are focusing on August Wilson's use of the n-word at the beginning of the play, and I want my students to really take a few minutes to absorb the impact of the n-word at the beginning of the play.

I am including samples of student work for this task: Student#1 and Student#2.



Writing + Closure

15 minutes

Students will either complete the post-reading activity or the exit ticket. Both activities require students to reflect on the lesson and to determine what they learned about the use of the n-word in the text as well as what they have learned about the setting as well as the characters so far (W.9-10.10).