Answering Text-Dependent Questions to Understand Life in Harlem During the Harlem Renaissance

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SWBAT comprehend an informational text about the Harlem Renaissance by using context clues to determine vocabulary definitions and by answering text dependent questions on a reading guide.

Big Idea

Before they begin to read the works of the Harlem Renaissance writers, students must understand what life was like in Harlem at the time.


10 minutes

Think Pair Share

For the activator I want to bring focus to the topic of today which is on the challenging living conditions for some African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. To do so, I ask students if they have ever (or still do) shared their home with other people who are or are not related to them.  I then ask them to share their thoughts with a partner, if they feel comfortable doing so.  After a minute of discussion I ask for volunteers to share their experiences with the class as required in the common core standard SL.9-10.4.

As an entry point into the informational text we will read today about the Harlem Renaissance, I will then asked my students what would be some reasons people would want or need to share an apartment or house together?  I facilitate a short group discussion.

Note: The Think Pair Share task today requires a certain level of trust and a deep sense of classroom community. If you are hesitant about including that part of the activator in your lesson, perhaps you could begin this lesson by asking your students the second activator question.

Building Knowledge

20 minutes

To help students with sentence fluency and comprehension it is helpful if they have an understanding of unfamiliar vocabulary words before reading a text.  

Determining the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text as required by the standard RI.910.4 can take some time.  When I first began teaching, I used to go through every chapter of the novel that we were going to read and make lists of all the vocabulary words I thought my students would have trouble with, so that I could pre-teach them. I then began to ask myself, "How will I teach all these words, and still have class time for all the other things we need to do?"  I realized there is no one best way to teach high school aged students vocabulary, but there are some guidelines like not focusing on words out of context and not spending a lot of time on reviewing words that they may already know.

Teaching Vocabulary 

Before reading Rent Parties by Frank Byrd in order to establish background knowledge of the life and struggles of some African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance,  I explain that the author provided a brief history of the setting of Harlem and an explanation of how these things called rent parties came about in the informational text we are about to read.

Then, I ask students to use the "skimming" strategy when reading the essay and pick words that they aren't familiar with.  I then pick five words from their feedback to review Rent Parties vocabulary words.  Using my docucamera, I write the word on a piece of paper projecting it on a screen and use the word in a sentence while asking students to tell me what they think it means from context clues in the sentence I used. I then ask them to read the sentence in the essay and find a clue that may give them the meaning of the vocabulary word.  After a short reporting out, I write the correct definition on paper and ask them to do the same in their journals and to include the sentence from text.  I repeat this process for the remainder of the words.

Student Learning Activity

35 minutes

I remind students that they answered questions from reading short excerpts of Rent Parties during a previous lesson when discussing Elements of Harlem Life During the 1920.  I also remind my students that poetry and all writing comes from one's feelings and thoughts of their life experiences, and that the Harlem Renaissance writers were deeply influenced by the society and setting in which they lived. Therefore, today we are focusing on one aspect of society -- living conditions, in order to better understand the motivations and background behind some of the writings and writers that we will study in this unit. 

Before reading the interview, I show them a short 2 minute video clip from the 1941 movie, Ain't misbehaven.  It's a reenactment of a house rent party in full swing, complete with dancers, drinking, and neighbors who call the police.

I then ask students to begin reading Rent Parties by Frank Byrd, an interview about the author's experience with Rent Parties. I want my students to read this text in particular because it is a new genre for them (interview) and also because it gives a clear, first-hand account of what one aspect of life was like during the Harlem Renaissaince.

 As my students read the essay, individually or in pairs, they write answers the questions, W.9-10.10, on the RENT PARTIES analysis questions citing evidence from the text as required in standard RI.9-10.1 as well as exposing some of the central themes of the adversity the black tenants experienced and how it evolved into positive social events, RI.9-10.2.  The questions I ask are scaffold with a balance of basic comprehension questions and higher order thinking questions which require critical thinking.  

As they are reading I circulate among them asking questions, student reading Rent Parties, that will help them analyze the text and increase comprehension of the central idea RI.9-10.2.   

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Ticket to Leave

Before they leave the class, each student tells a partner one thing they learned about Rent Parties during the Harlem Renaissance  as required in standard SL.9-10.1.  As they share with a partner I circulate among them listening for their answers and offer words of encouragement for sharing.  I then select a few students to report out.