BlackPast.Org Sample Lesson Plan

Nicodemus roadside marker, Kansas, August 2010
Courtesy Quintard Taylor Collection

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Common Core Standards

Purpose: These lessons are designed as an introduction to a larger unit on the Harlem Renaissance.


By the end of these lessons students will be able to do the following:

  1. Identify imagery, metaphor, and tone in the various poems and texts they will have read
  2. Identify subjects in their own lives relating to the poems they will have read
  3. Share personal stories to demonstrate common experiences among themselves in order to build a safe learning community
  4. Use as a resource for historical and biographical information about the events, movements, poets, authors, artists and historical events associated with the poetry.

Day One: 55 minute period.

Daily Objective:

1. Students will learn how to connect personal themes to the texts being studied.

2. Students will build trust/community by sharing their writing.


1. Journal response: Students will write for 3 min. about each of the following subjects: identity, journey, action, oppression, violence, sadness, and hope

a. Teacher will uncover (using overhead or by writing on board) each subject individually. After writing, students share with person next to them. Teacher then opens up conversation to whole class.

2. Final reflection: What did you learn about yourself, these subjects and your fellow students after today’s activity?

3. Homework: hand out W.E. B. Dubois excerpt below and list of tone words (adjectives). Students mark the text (annotate). They do this by asking questions and making comments while also looking for images that stand out and tone words.

From Souls of Black Folk, Our Spiritual Strivings, Chapter I

Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddeness that I was different from the others; or like [them perhaps] in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows….

After the Egyptian and Indian, Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, –a world which yields him no ture self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness— an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

Day Two: 55 minute period

Daily Objective:

1. Students will learn how to do a close reading of texts to determine subjects and tone.


  1. Students will listen to first two minutes of Paul Robeson singing “Ol’ Man River”. Reflection:
    1. Why did you listen to this, and what do you think of it?
    2. Are there any similarities between Robeson and Dubois?
    3. Write: 5 min. Discuss: 10 min.

2. Have students share their Dubois annotations with the person sitting next to him/her (5 min).

3. Open discussion to whole class. (15 min)

a. Discuss annotations: questions, comments and tone words.

b. In pairs, have students pick a tone word and then find the moment in the text that shows this. Depending on the level of comfort, students could volunteer or be asked to bring the text up to the overhead and defend their choice of tone by showing where in text their proof is.

Tone Words

4. Reflection: Did these activities help you better understand tone in literature? Discuss

HW: handout a copy of “We Wear the Mask.” Students pose questions and make comments and also annotate for tone words.

Day 3: 110 minutes


Daily Objective:
Students will learn to read closely and identify similarities and differences in tone between texts.


  1. Students will share their “Mask” annotations with the person next to them. 3-5 minutes.
  2. In pairs, students will choose words they believe reveal the poem’s tone.
  3. Students write a minimum one-page response to the question. In what ways are the tones similar or different between the two pieces? Use at least one quote from the poem and two from the Dubois piece. 15-20 min.
  4. Discuss as a whole class. 15 min.
  5. Journal prompt: Is the subject of masks relevant to high school students? Why or why not? Discuss. 10 min.
  6. Mask Project: Using “We Wear the Mask” as a guide, students will create masks that represent what they consciously want to reveal and what they consciously try to hide. Because this is very personal, students should be free to make a mask about themselves or about the high school experience in general.
    1. Make a T-Chart. The T-chart is used to list what is revealed and what is hidden.
    2. Choose at least three from each side.
      1. Make a symbol for each aspect.
      2. Design the shape of the mask
      3. Choose colors
      4. Make a rough draft of mask on plain paper.
  1. HW: students finish rough draft of mask

Day 4: 55 min.

Daily Objective:
Students will learn to identify similarities between themselves and the texts they’ve read and to share this information with their peers in order to build a safe learning community.


  1. Students will use the period to make their masks. Teacher should make plain paper, colored markers and pencils available.

Day 5: 55 min.

Daily objective: Students will learn to identify tone in their peer’s work.


  1. Students will place their masks on the desks. Next to each mask is a sheet of lined paper. In a silent gallery walk, students will walk around the room and look at the finished masks and on the blank paper, each other student will write a comment and sign their name. 20 min.
  2. The teacher will then give each student the name of another student. The first student will then go back to the mask of the student whose name he/she has been given. The task is now to study the mask more closely to determine what the tone is.
  3. Once a tone has been chosen, the student explains what evidence he or gets from the mask to prove why the chosen tone is correct.
  4. Discuss results

Paul Robeson, “Ole Man River” on YouTube

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “We Wear The Mask”

Additional Resources:

Paul Robeson 

W.E.B. DuBois

Paul Laurence Dunbar 

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks (New York: Dover Publications, 1903)

Adam Gish
Garfield High School, Seattle, Washington