Generating Text Dependent Questions and Examining Metaphor in Death and the King's Horseman

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SWBAT create text dependent questions and interpret figurative language by evaluating Act I of Death and the King's Horseman.

Big Idea

Students will develop text-dependent questions and break down the extended metaphors that lead to death and bring honor into the next life.

Let's Get Started: Quick Review of the Introduction

5 minutes

In the last class, we read an article about Wole Soyinka's motives for writing Death and the King's Horseman. Today, I open with question, "What real-life event is this play about?"  The response is a British district officer stops the horseman of a dead Yoruba chief from killing himself. 

Next, I ask what genre of literature is based on real events Answer: historical fiction. 

Now I want to transition from The Guardian article to the play. However I want them to see the connection between the author's perspective on Yoruba culture, colonialism, the actual historical event, and the structure of the play.  How does Soyinka's perspective impact the structure of plot and the language of the play specifically the tone (RL 9-10. 5)?

Additionally, I want the student to develop their own assessment questions over the play based on Soyinka's claim that Death and the King's Horseman is not a clash of cultures.  By this point in the year, students should be able to develop questions about the play, so I want to assess their ability to do so as a summative task. 




Building Knowledge: Designing Questions About the Text

40 minutes

It is time to get serious with the text.  We have completed a talking to the text activity yesterday in class. The most important conclusion from that activity is that Wole Soyinka does not want the play to be seen as just a "clash of cultures."  Now I want the students to make inferences about the play based on the article and their prior knowledge from reading Things Fall Apart. 

I write on the board: It is not a "clash of cultures." I ask a student to read the paragraph out loud from the text when Soyinka explains that "clash of cultures" as a theme for the play "encourages analytical laziness." We definitely don't want to be lazy.

I pose the question, Based on what you know about colonial West Africa and what you read in this article, what are some inferences you can make about the play? As students throw out ideas I write them on the board.  As they begin to run out of steam, I ask them if they can combine any of these ideas into a clear inferences (RL 9-10. 1). I give them about five minutes to work in their groups (SL.9-10.1). 

Next, I call on people to share their group's inferences. Ultimately we create a list of five inferences that support, "Death and the King's Horseman is not a clash of cultures." These inferences will be the basis for their analysis of the cultural elements of the play.  Students will have to put themselves in the position of the Yoruba in order find evidence to support their inference (RL 9-10 6).  They will be able to go beyond saying well their cultures are different and delve into the complexities of colonial power structures. 

  • Everyone is acting with the best of intentions. 
  • It is 50 to 60 years into the British occupation (colonial period).
  • More Africans have converted to Christianity.
  • More young people (Africans) have a British Education. 
  • British have solidified their government's control of Africa.  

My goal for this last literary unit is for the students to develop their own assessment (RL 9-10. 2). I ask them how they would prove and/or support their inferences?  They should say with evidence from the text.  The follow up question is, how do you find the evidence?  We have been working with questioning on and off all year.  So, one of them should answer, turn the inferences into questions and then use the text to answer them. 

I give them another seven to ten minutes to work on questions. Students take the inferences listed above and turn them into questions.  Then we color code them on the board. I write the questions that are connected to the same inference in the same color.   I color code them so that students can see where questions on the same inference may be combined to form one question or determine if the inference needs more than one question to prove it. 

The overarching question is: "Why is Death and the King's Horseman not a clash of cultures?" These are the types of questions that should be on the board that students should develop from their inferences: 

  • Everyone is acting with the best of intentions. 
  • What are their (British and Yoruba) intentions?
  • How are their intentions different?
  • It is 50 to 60 years into the British occupation (colonial period).
  • How well do the Yoruba accept the British?
  • What is the purpose of the British occupation?
  • After 50 years, what is the relationship between the Yoruba and the British?
  • More Africans have converted to Christianity.
  • Why or what makes the Africans convert to Christianity?
  • What kind of conflicts exist between the Yoruba religion and Christianity?
  • More young people (Africans) have a British Education. 
  • Why would an African choose a British education?
  • What are the advantages of a British education?
  • British have solidified their government's control of Africa.  
  • What is the structure of the British government?

I also have a place for questions they create that don't necessarily fit an inference but are of interest to the class. These questions are also written on the board. 

Questions like:

  • How does music and dance impact the plot?
  • Why was ritual suicide necessary?
  • How does the king die?
  • Why did the British interfere with the ritual?
  •  How are the Yoruba and the British unequal? 

I don't want to forget to make a cultural comparison, so I ask the students to make a chart that shows the British and the Yoruba cultural elements.  We can fill it in as the play progresses.  






Building Knowledge: Deconstructing Figurative Language

40 minutes

it is time to start reading the play.  Before we begin reading, I ask, "Why is it important to read the italicized sections of the play?"  I want to spend a little time talking about the format of a play.  I want them to recognize that they need to know the stage directions, notes to characters, and other descriptors will help them understand the nuances of the play.

We review the characters in the play and choose people to read parts.  The play begins with a dialogue between a praise singer and Elsin, the King's horseman.  They are on their way to the market.  The language of act one is highly stylized.  Both the praise singer and Elsin use poetic language. Their dialogue is full of figurative language.  It will take awhile for the students to be comfortable reading it. We have discussed the importance of language play and proverbs in West African ethnic groups.  Now the students have to grapple with deconstructing not only the figurative language (RL 9-10.4) but the cultural references in their speech (RL 9-10.6)

As the two men enter the market, the praise singer uses the metaphor of a chicken with 100 mothers. This metaphor is a set up for a song about death that Elsin is about to sing in the market.  The song is called the Not I Bird. The song is long and functions as an extended metaphor in the text. If I just say, what is the metaphor in this song, it would overwhelming. So I chunk it into stanzas and I ask a small group to be responsible to the interpretation of one stanza.  Then we can put the entire song together once the different parts have been analyzed.  As we read each stanza I assign the interpretation of the stanza to a pair or trio of students (SL 9-10. 1).

After we have read through the song.I give them about five minutes to discuss their section of the poem. They have to identify the figurative language and explain the message of that stanza of the song to the class (RL 9-10.4).  They soon realize the Not I Bird is trying to cheat death.  Which leads to the questions, 1. Who is the Not I Bird? and 2. What does the Not I Bird foreshadow?

The Not I Bird is Elsin who is afraid to die. It foreshadows that Elsin may not die in his ritual suicide. 

Wrap Up: Finding Cultural Markers

5 minutes

After finishing the Not I Bird song, I ask how does the language of this section of the play represent and or distinguish Yoruba culture? The students' ticket out the door is to identify as aspect of Yorba culture presented in the first section of the play.  Answers could be: proverbs, women run the market, praise singers, song and/or dance, time counted by market days, etc (RL 9-10.4).