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The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School

Cultural Studies: Ishmael Reed and Graciela Limón Lesson Plans

This section includes summaries of the lessons featured in the video programs. The lessons explore the literature through a cultural studies approach.

Lesson Plan 1: Cultural Studies: Ishmael Reed
Betty Tillman Samb uses a cultural studies approach in her literature class by comparing trickster figures in Ishmael Reed’s “Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man” and “High John de Conquer,” from Zora Neale Hurston’s The Sanctified Church. Using literature circles, students read magazine articles and stories that help to make clear the meaning of “Railroad Bill.”

Lesson Plan 2: Cultural Studies: Graciela Limón
Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens uses a cultural studies approach to help students understand Graciela Limón’s novel Erased Faces about the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico.

Lesson Plan 1

Author: Ishmael Reed
Title of work: “Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man”

Overview
Betty Tillman Samb uses a cultural studies approach in her literature class by comparing trickster figures in Ishmael Reed’s “Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man” and “High John de Conquer,” from Zora Neale Hurston’s The Sanctified Church. Using literature circles, students read magazine articles and stories that help to make clear the meaning of “Railroad Bill.”

Preparation
To prepare for the lesson, view The Expanding Canon video program 5, Part I. Online, review the Session 5 theory overview, strategies, information about the authors and literature, resources, and the downloadable print guide. Read Ishmael Reed’s poem, “Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man,” “High John de Conquer,” from Zora Neale Hurston’s The Sanctified Church. Find related texts or ask students to find articles/essays/poems about racism, and trickster tales. Read these in advance of the lesson.

Materials
Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • copies of Ishmael Reed’s poem “Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man,” a copy of “High John de Conquer,” from Zora Neale Hurston’s The Sanctified Church, texts similar to the type Samb uses in her lesson — articles/essays/poems about racism, and trickster tales. Featured poem and selected articles are available in the print guide
  • a screen or monitor on which to show a clip from the video program 5, Part I either on a vhs tape or from the Web (optional)

Standards
Standards for the English Language Arts

Summary
1. Betty Tillman Samb begins by introducing her students to the trickster figure High John the Conqueror. Then she reads aloud Zora Neale Hurston’s short piece, “High John de Conquer,” from The Sanctified Church, summarizing and making predictions throughout her reading.

2. Samb asks her students to read “Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man” together. During and after the reading, Samb encourages her students to summarize what they have read and make predictions about what’s to come, asking questions such as:

  • What is the poet talking about?
  • Who is Railroad Bill?
  • During what time in history does the poem take place? Does the poem stick with just one particular time period?
  • What evidence can you give, citing from the poem, that this is no one particular time period?
  • What does the poem say about the Watts situation? What was Watts?

3. Samb then asks her students to develop questions to ask Ishmael Reed.

4. Author Ishmael Reed visits Samb’s classroom. (At this point, teachers may show students a clip from The Expanding Canon video program 5, Part I featuring Ishmael Reed.) In addition to reading the poem, Reed answers students’ questions about his poetry, the character of Railroad Bill, and history.

5. After Reed talks with the class, Samb divides the students into seven groups to form literature circles. She assigns each group a different reading relevant to “Railroad Bill” — articles/essays/poems about racism, and trickster tales — including “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby,” by Joel Chandler Harris; “We Wear the Mask,” by Paul Laurence Dunbar; “Brer Rabbit Escapes Again, or Brer Fox Bites Off More Than He Can Chew,” by Yusef Salaam; “The Hungry Spider and the Turtle,” an Ashanti trickster tale; and articles from the San Francisco Examiner: “Distorted Views of Minorities Lives On,” “Whites Oppose Discrimination But Cling to Stereotypes,” and “San Francisco Is Not Color Blind, Choking Black Man Finds.” Teachers can provide these texts or ask students to bring them into class as a research activity. Samb asks the groups to read the pieces, analyze them, and report back to the class. Students take on different roles in the groups: One student is a discussion director, one a connector, and one a summarizer.

Lesson Plan 2

Author: Graciela Limón
Title of work: Erased Faces

Overview
Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens uses a cultural studies approach to help students understand Graciela Limón’s novel Erased Faces about the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. To provide students with a window into the culture of Chiapas, she shares with them the bilingual picture book The Story of Colors /La Historia de los Colores, by Subcomandante Marcos. The focus is to enable students to understand how the texts are related. She also brings the author into the classroom, providing students with the opportunity to ask Limón questions that shed light on the meaning of her work.

Preparation
To prepare for the lesson, view The Expanding Canon video program 5, Part II. Online, review the Session 5 theory overview, strategies, information about the authors and literature, resources, and the downloadable print guide. Read Graciela Limón’s novel Erased Faces and review the following excerpts for use in the classroom: pages 35-43, 54-62, 102-112. Read The Story of Colors/ La Historia de los Colores, by Subcomandante Marcos.

Materials
Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • Graciela Limón’s novel Erased Faces
  • The Story of Colors/ La Historia de los Colores, by Subcomandante Marcos.
  • a screen or monitor on which to show a clip from the video program 5, Part II, either on a vhs tape or from the Web (optional)

Standards
Standards for the English Language Arts

Summary

In advance of the lesson, Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens asks students to read three chapters (pages 35-43, 54-62, 102-112) from Erased Faces. Houtchens asks the students to use a coding technique, marking passages that they find interesting, new information they’ve learned, and sections about which they have questions.

1. Houtchens begins the lesson by asking students questions about the reading, such as:

  • Where does the story take place?

2. Houtchens explains that she is going to read a folktale that will help students to explore the issues of Chiapas: The Story of Colors/ La Historia de los Colores. A student reads aloud in Spanish while Houtchens reads in English. After the reading, students discuss the benefits of hearing the story in both languages.

3. In small groups, the students discuss how they coded the excerpts from Erased Faces.

4. Houtchens then prompts students to explain the connection of the picture book to the chapters they read in Erased Faces.

5. Author Graciela Limón visits the classroom and discusses how and why she wrote Erased Faces. (At this point, teachers may show students a clip from The Expanding Canon video program 5, Part II, featuring Graciela Limón.) Students ask questions about the book, focusing on the oppression of women.

Series Directory

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School

Credits

Produced by Thirteen/WNET. 2003.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-676-6