Close Reading A Lesson Before Dying

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SWBAT read for subtle inferences and tone by reading and discussing together.

Big Idea

One word can change meaning--close reading A Lesson Before Dying.

Do Now: Close Reading of a Quote

10 minutes

To start our day, I ask students to analyze, or close read, the following quote:

“Vivian had met and married a dark-skinned boy while attending Xavier University in New Orleans. She had not told her people about the wedding, because she knew that they would be opposed to it” (Gaines, 111).

What is significant? What do we learn about Vivian?

Students share their thoughts:

  • Vivian is independent--she chose to marry a man even though her family would oppose it.
  • Vivian might be light-skinned since her husband was specifically mentioned as dark-skinned and not "okay" by family standards.
  • (my favorite) Racism was internalized--Vivian, her family, or Grant, since he's telling us the story, notice darker skin color and think differently about it.

The final observation leads us into a discussion of internalized -isms, or how discrimination impacts those who suffer from it. We've discussed how wrong it is before; considering the deeper ramifications just serves to fuel the fire for my students.

Theme Update

15 minutes

With students engaged from our close reading warm-up, I ask them to look for textual proof to update one of our thematic projects, the Manhood Today assignment. I ask, how is manhood (or womanhood) developing in the text? Find textual evidence for your inferential claims.

Students meet with their original groups to find text support. After 8 minutes, we come back together to share our findings.

Read-Write-Share Chapter 16

25 minutes

To continue our work with analysis, we move into a read-write-share (we read a section together, pause for written reflection of the section, and then discuss, a great tool for supporting struggling readers and maintaining class engagement) for chapter 16 of A Lesson Before Dying. I ask students to focus on tone. Students observe:

  • Grant seems irritable from the start--he's "slapping" his leg with a ruler.
  • "Silence" is uncomfortable, not a sign of happy solitude.
  • "Hog" remains hurtful as Jefferson continues to act like one.
  • "Teacher" means help, as Lou uses it to justify why Grant needs to help Emma by teaching Jefferson


As preparation for our next class, I ask students to read chapters 17-18 of A Lesson Before Dying.