You may love Hansberry’s masterpiece A Raisin in the Sun, but how will you make your unit engage the students? Undoubtedly, the play is engaging, but here are some A Raisin in the Sun activities that will get students considering, analyzing, discussing, creating, and reflecting.
10 A Raisin in the Sun Activities Preview:
- American Dream Editorial
- Symbolism Show-and-tell
- Dramatic Reading with a Purpose
- Personal Values
- Add a Parallel Plot
- Set the Stage for Symbolism
- Considering Heritage
- Word Choice Monologues
- Debating A Raisin in the Sun‘s Value
- American Dream Scenes
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 1: American Dream Editorial
Explore the concept of the American Dream as a class. Students will be writing an editorial of their views on the concept. Have the students analyze works like the “I Have a Dream” speech or excerpts from The Epic of America (in which James Truslow Adams coined the phrase in 1931).
Encourage students to ask people in their lives about the meaning and connotations of the term. I also use videos to get students thinking about what the American Dream idea means to different people today.
American Dream video connections:
- Where Does the American Dream Live” video (14:45) from Retro Report: This is an engaging video focusing on race and opportunity. Clear connections to the play (1950s Chicago). Content Advisory: “black bastards” (1:45)
- “Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream” preview video (0:36) from Independent Lens: Short promo asserting that “The American Dream” has been hijacked.
- “Is the American Dream Still Alive” video (7:29) from CBS Sunday Morning: Economic point of view focusing on the struggling middle class.
- “The American Dream in 2016” video (4:41) from the New Yorker: People use an art exhibit to reflect on their views of The American Dream.
- “American Dream” MKTO music video (3:46) from Disney: Focusing on personal expression as the new dream.
- “The American Dream” (1:50) speech by Michelle Obama
- “We will bring back the Great American Dream” speech from Donald Trump
After students have explored the concept of the American Dream, ask them to write an editorial expressing their thoughts on the American Dream today. Is the term a deception? Is the American Dream alive and well? What is the future of the American Dream?
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 2: Symbolism Show-and-tell
There are many ways to get students thinking about literary symbolism as they read A Raisin in the Sun. You can review symbolism from other texts they have read, read a short story that includes symbolism (I like “The Grandfather” by Gary Soto because it is short and keeps with the plants/family motif), or use a visual symbol slide-show as a stepping stone to talk about literary symbols.
Another idea is to engage students on a personal level by conducting a symbolism show-and-tell. Ask students to pick a real item from their lives and teach about it as a literary symbol. They may be able to bring the item or simply use a photo, drawing, or description.
Encourage them to explore multiple and even conflicting meanings. Explain that saying, “I brought a video game controller and it represents my love of video games,” is not going to cut it. Does the game controller represent a thoughtful gift? Time with loved ones? The thrill of competition? An emotional outlet? An indictment of the value of formal education and a general disregard for homework? Guilt over their failure as a family member who fails to do their chores?
Maybe the game controller represents all of these things at the same time, just as the check in A Raisin in the Sun represents hope, opportunity, love, despair, loss, and greed.
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 3: Dramatic Reading with a Purpose
Many of my students have a clear flair for the dramatic. It is truly entertaining to watch their interpretations of the characters (as long as they are familiar with the scene), but how can this activity go beyond a simple re-reading? To make the dramatic reading more meaningful (especially for those in the class who do not have a part on a given day), include direction, analysis, and reflection.
Before the roles are assigned, ask the students to chart who is in the scene, their motivations in the scene, and one key line or action that needs to be delivered in a certain way for each of the actors. Tell the students that they will be giving constructive notes on the performance.
Students record their notes during the reading in order to write the reflection. Remind them to be constructive and supportive of their peers.
After the reading, the students write a reflection on the performance and its strengths and weaknesses. This could be the closing reflection for the lesson.
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 4: Personal Values
Hansberry quickly reveals the character’s values and their points of view on life. Just like any family, there are some values and points of view that unite them and some that create discord.
Start by having the students think about the values that are most important to them personally. Have them brainstorm of a personal list of what they feel is important in life. Then have them try to rank their values in order.
Have them do the same task for the characters in A Raisin in the Sun. You may want to have them include citations from the text to support their conclusions. Ask them to speculate on why the character has adopted this value or point of view. I like to assign one character to each cooperative group and have them present their findings.
Finally, ask the students to reflect on which values and points of view unite the family and which create conflict.
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 5: Add a Parallel Plot
Review narrative structure regarding parallel plots (or subplots) and how they are both distinct and connected to the main plot of a narrative. Ask students to think about how the inclusion of parallel plots and subplots can add meaning and interest. Ask the students to identify examples from well-known narratives.
Explore Beneatha’s romantic choice (George, Joseph, or none of the above) as a parallel plot. What does this element add to A Raisin in the Sun as a whole? How would the play be changed if this parallel plot was excluded?
“I know it and I don’t mind it sometimes…I want you to cut it out, see – The moody stuff, I mean, I don’t like it. You’re a nice-looking girl…all over. That’s all you need, honey, forget the atmosphere. Guys aren’t going to go for the atmosphere…” (96)
It is easy to imagine Hansberry hearing this speech in her real life from men who valued her as an object and “not a poet.” This parallel plot adds a great deal of meaning, including the fact that the resolution is ambiguous. The audience does not know if Beneath will move to Africa with Joseph.
Have the students write a parallel plot or sub-plot to be added to a new adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun. (I like to do this in collaborative groups.) They may want to insert a new scene focusing on Travis trying to make money carrying groceries or Mama dealing with the realtor. Students should explain what the additional plot adds and how the new plot relates to Hansberry’s themes.
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 6: Set the Stage for Symbolism
Have students play the role of set designers. They must have a visual of set as described by Hansberry’s stage directions and an analysis of the symbols shown. They can make changes to the original set design so long as they can explain their creative choices and include several symbolic elements. The visual must be accompanied by an explanation of the symbolism demonstrated in their design.
Referring to the text is key in this A Raisin in the Sun activity as they create their design and write their analysis of the symbolic elements.
“That was a long time ago. Now the once loved pattern of the couch upholstery has to fight to show itself from under acres of crocheted doilies and couch covers which have themselves finally come to be more important than the upholstery.” (23)
“The sole natural light the family may enjoy in the course of a day is only that which fights its way through this little window.” (24)
“She crosses through the room, goes to the window, opens it, and brings in a feeble little plant growing doggedly in a small port on the windowsill...” (39)
Set symbols worthy of inclusion and analysis:
- The furniture
- The carpet
- The window / lighting
- Food / the kitchen / maybe even a carton for Walter’s eggs / empty beer bottles
- Big Walter’s picture
- The check / mailbox
- Beneatha’s items (guitar, camera, African clothes and records, etc.)
- Walter’s chauffeur hat, gloves, etc.
- Mama’s plant
- A Bible / religious items
I like to have students add a completely new symbol to the set. Perhaps the director wants the audience to be reminded of something contextual that is not explicitly mentioned in the play. For example, perhaps Big Walter’s tool belt still hangs where he left it after working himself to death.
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 7: Considering Heritage
Heritage and identity can be sensitive subjects in many classrooms. Think carefully about how you can use this connection while making all students feel comfortable and included.
Beneatha, like the young people in your classroom, are exploring the meaning of identity. Part of her exploration focuses on her African heritage. Use this frame of reference to help students connect to the play.
Ask students to share what role heritage plays in their identity. If it is immaterial, ask them to explain why they hold this view. If it is an important part of their identity, ask them to explain its value. You may even want to give students an opportunity to share-out a symbol, narrative, concept, or feature of their heritage in which they find personal meaning.
Ask the students to reflect on which character’s views on heritage most closely resemble their own? Have them explain their answer. (I hope that no one shares George’s views, but it is possible.)
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 8: Word Choice Monologues
Discuss how an important element of Hansberry’s craft is her word choice. She uses words with powerful figures and connotations to set the tone and dialect and idioms to create a sense of time and place.
Act III demonstrates especially powerful word choice when Joseph and Beneatha argue their views on life and when Walter demonstrates how he will demean himself for Lindner.
“…And perhaps I shall hold office and this is what I’m trying to tell you, Alaiyo: Perhaps the things I believe now for my country will be wrong and outmoded, and I will not understand and do terrible things to have things my way or merely to keep my power. Don’t you see that there will be young men and women – not British soldiers then, but my own black countrymen – to step out of the shadows some evening and slit my then useless throat?” (136)
“I’m going to look that son-of-a-bXXXh in the eyes and say – (He falters) – and say, ‘All right Mr. Lindner – (He falters even more) – that’s your neighborhood out there! You got the right to keep it like you want! You got the right to have it like you want! Just write the check and – the house is yours.’ And – and I am going to say – (His voice almost breaks) ‘And you – you people just put the money in my hand and you won’t have to live next to this bunch of stinking n——s!…’… ‘Captain, Mistuh, Bossman (Groveling and grinning and wringing his hand in profoundly anguished imitation of the slow-witted movie stereotype) A-hee-hee-hee! Oh, yassuh boss!…'”
Ask the students to use these examples to inspire an original monologue. They portrayal can be based on real life or purely fictional. They may want to preface their monologue with an explanation of the speaker and the situation. For example, perhaps they write a monologue for a teenager in their own neighborhood (dialect and expressions that they know well) who has just had an emotional break-up.
They will be assessed on their use of powerful and effective word choice.
- Time and Place (dialect, slang, and idioms)
- Tone (word connotations, figurative meanings, allusions)
Students should include of an analysis of their word choice to explain how they established a sense of time and place and a clear tone. They should use key word choice terms in their explanation: figurative language (idiom, metaphor, hyperbole, etc.), allusion, dialect, tone, and connotation.
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 9: Debating A Raisin in the Sun‘s Value
I do not like to tell my students, “We are reading this text because I know how great it is and you must agree with me.” I would rather say, “This has been an influential text and you must think critically on its value and make up your own mind.” Have a classroom debate regarding the inclusion of this play in the curriculum.
What are main reasons why students should read A Raisin in the Sun today? What are the main reasons why A Raisin in the Sun is not valuable or relevant today?
Agree, disagree, or qualify the statement: Students in secondary schools should continue to study A Raisin in the Sun.
Have the students prepare a formal argument (claim, reasons and evidence, and addressing counter-arguments) to present their views. Decide to what degree you want students to include research.
A Raisin in the Sun Activity 10: American Dream Scenes
Organize cooperative groups in order for students to create a one-scene play focused on the theme topic of The American Dream. Tell students that it will be challenging to establish a complete narrative in one scene, but remind them that TV commercials can show complete narratives in thirty seconds. What theme do they want to express on this topic?
This one-scene play should represent a complete narrative. Each should have a clear theme, setting, conflict, plot, points of view, and other narrative elements. Think about having them include a brief explanation of their creative choices that uses key terminology (point of view, character motivation, word choice, etc.)
I like to have the groups perform these scenes as the audience records feedback on a simple form (group name, main theme, plot overview, and constructive feedback). This increases engagement and enables reflection and discussion.
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Thanks for visiting 10 Engaging A Raisin in the Sun Activities
I hope that you will find a least one of these A Raisin in the Sun activity ideas helpful. Teaching this play with the inclusion of some engaging activities can take student understanding and engagement to the next level.
10 A Raisin in the Sun Activities summary:
- American Dream editorial
- Symbolism show-and-tell
- Dramatic reading with a purpose
- Personal values
- Add a parallel plot
- Set the stage for symbolism
- Considering heritage
- Word choice monologues
- Debating A Raisin in the Sun‘s value
- American Dream scenes