Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece A Raisin in the Sun engages students as much as any text I have ever taught. Nevertheless, it pays dividends to introduce the play thoughtfully and thoroughly. Here are my favorite A Raisin in the Sun pre-reading activities, questions, and worksheets.
Post Overview: A Raisin in the Sun Pre-reading
- Introduction PowerPoint
- Anticipation Guide
- The American Dream
- “I Have a Dream” Deferred
- Historical Context / Primary Sources
- Symbolism Practice (short story edition)
- Key Excerpts Preview (and making predictions)
- Performance Preview
- Forms of Racism
- Dialogue and Dialect
An introductory slideshow efficiently covers a great deal of background information, but making one takes precious time. Luckily, I made one for you.
A Raisin in the Sun Introduction PowerPoint supports students by providing context, previewing the drama, and introducing learning goals. Use the content warning slide to address your expectations for discussions of sensitive topics.
Pre-reading Worksheet: Anticipation Guide
Rather than having students answer A Raisin in the Sun pre-reading questions, I prefer using an anticipation guide. The students respond strongly to the assertive tone of the statements. Students can complete the handout on their own, but I prefer to use the worksheet to guide group discussions.
The A Raisin in the Sun anticipation guide prepares students to engage with the key issues and themes of the drama. Students consider and express their views on the “American dream,” ancestral heritage, assimilation, money, personal values, prejudice, self-respect, and the importance of hope.
Pre-reading Lesson: The American Dream
You may have heard the expression the “American Dream.” What do you think that means? What are the connotations (feelings or associations) of this term? Does it mean different things to different people? What does it mean to you personally?
- “The American Dream” (1:50) by Michelle Obama
- “Living the American Dream, 1950s Suburban Life” (2:49) from thekinolibrary
- “Immigrant Perspectives: The American Dream” (3:00) from GeekWire
- “Living the American Dream” (8:43) from NFL Films
- “Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream” (0:36) Independent Lens
- “Why the American Dream is a Myth” (4:44) from Adam Ruins Everything
- “American Dream” (3:46) music video from MKTO
- “Is the American Dream Still Alive” (7:29) from CBS Sunday Morning
- “The American Dream in 2016” (4:41) from the New Yorker
Read in groups to jigsaw articles focused on this idea of the “American Dream.” Use the informational notes page and be ready to share your group’s interpretation with the class. (Note: You could also have the whole class read the same article.)
“American Dream” readings:
- “What the man behind the ‘American Dream’ really meant” (6 pages) by Ted Widmer
- “Is There an American Dream for Black Children?” (6 pages) by Sean McElwee
- “Restoring the American Dream” (5 pages) U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty
- “The Transformation of the American Dream” (4 pages) by Robert Shiller
- “Even Americans Can’t Afford the American Dream” (4 pages) by Andrew Soergel
- “The agony over an American dream” (5 pages) by Hugo Bachega
What is your definition of the “American Dream?”
Does the “American Dream” mean anything to you personally?
What is the legacy (long term result) of this concept? Is it a beautiful reality? A pleasant fantasy? A destructive lie?
“I Have a Dream…” Deferred (comparing works)
Race prejudice is not exclusive to the United States, but America’s history of racism is unlike that of any other country. This terrible legacy means that the concept of the “American Dream” holds special significance for many African Americans.
We will compare two famous texts on the dreams of African Americans — a speech and a poem. Analyze the themes (messages) and how they are developed.
Choral reading: “I Have a Dream…” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The paragraphs of “I Have a Dream…” are numbered so that you can assign each student one or more parts in the choral reading. Ask them to jot down their assigned numbers.
Reflect on theme, emphasis, tone, and key elements (e.g., sound devices).
Shared reading: “Harlem” by Langston Hughes
Reflect on theme, emphasis, tone, and key elements (e.g., sound devices).
Historical Context / Primary Source Gallery
In order for students to examine the issues and themes of A Raisin in the Sun fully, they must have a working knowledge of the play’s background and historical context. This can be addressed through…
- The anticipation guide (which gives a broad overview)
- A short research task (shown above)
- A gallery walk where students exhibit relevant primary sources
Related Post: A Raisin in the Sun Unit Plan
Check out the comprehensive unit plan for ideas to take you through teaching A Raisin in the Sun from beginning to end.
Resource Download: A Raisin in the Sun Unit and Materials
Get all the lesson plans, slideshows, activity handouts, project pages, and assessments in one package.
Symbolism Practice (short story edition)
Since Hansberry relies on symbols like the plant, the check, hair styles, etc. in developing her themes, it makes sense to practice symbolism analysis prior to starting the play.
For this A Raisin in the Sun pre-reading lesson, the worksheet shown guides students through the analysis of a main symbol and any related elements (character, point of view, conflict, and theme).
Key Excerpts Preview (predictions)
Have students consider key excerpts without context before reading A Raisin in the Sun. They might make inferences about character, anticipate plot events, identify theme subjects, or recognize elements of the author’s style. The accuracy of any predictions is immaterial; the process of forming predictions is key to active reading.
WALTER (Straightening up from her and looking off) That’s it. There you are. Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs. (Sadly, but gaining in power) Man say: I got to take hold of this here world, baby! And a woman will say: Eat your eggs and go to work. (Passionately now) Man say: I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his woman say … Your eggs is getting cold!
BENEATHA No—I wanted to cure. It used to be so important to me. I wanted to cure. It used to matter. I used to care. I mean about people and how their bodies hurt …
ASAGAI And you’ve stopped caring?
BENEATHA Yes—I think so.
BENEATHA (Bitterly) Because it doesn’t seem deep enough, close enough to what ails mankind! It was a child’s way of seeing things—or an idealist’s.
If you share the first scene to hook students into the drama, I recommend the American Playhouse version. If you continue viewing this production as you progress though the play, you will see that it is more complete than the 1961 film. (Only Walter Lee’s late-night speech to Travis is missing.)
Regarding the 1961 film, the complete unit includes a comparing interpretations project in the form of a viewing guide and a film review assignment.
Forms of Racism
Through the examples in the drama, Hansberry explores how racism takes many forms. Race prejudice can be explicit and explosive or subtle and insidious. Prepare students to consider the forms of racism in the play by drawing on prior knowledge.forms of racism
Step 1: Specific EXAMPLES of Racism:
What does racism look, sound, or feel like? Include how race prejudice presents in everyday life.
Step 2: How can we GROUP examples and identify forms of Racism?
For example, the fact that a hypothetical company rarely hires people of color might go under the category of systemic racism. (Systemic racism: policies and practices that exist throughout a society, institution, or organization that result in a continued harm or disadvantage based on race.)
Pre-reading Lesson: Dialogue and Dialect
Nothing ruins a play or movie quicker than terrible dialogue. What makes dialogue engaging and effective in drama? What can make dialogue objectionable or even ridiculous?
Fun clip: “Star Wars Prequels: Bad Line Compilation” (4 minutes) from Noah Adams
In A Raisin in the Sun Lorraine Hansberry writes dialogue that develops the characters, meets her goals for the scene, and feels authentic. How does she accomplish this?
One element that adds realism and creates a sense of time and place is dialect. Dialect is “a particular form of a language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group.” This includes vocabulary, syntax, usage, and pronunciation. Hansberry composes realistic speech for African Americans in Chicago in the 1950s based on her own experience.
What are some dialects of English? What are the differences? Can you give some specific differences? (E.g., English people say “biscuits” rather than “cookies” and “crisps” rather than “chips.”)
Write a simple skit that demonstrates effective dialogue AND a specific dialect. Your script must…
Follow an extremely basic conflict and plot. For example, two kids argue over the last piece of cake.
Use dialogue that is expositional and effective. Expositional means revealing what the audience needs to know about the characters and/or situation. Try to present information subtly through tone, subtext, or irony (like sarcasm).
Demonstrate a specific dialect. Choose a dialect that you know well (perhaps your own). Note: Language differences may strike us as humorous, but this is not an excuse to mock anyone’s culture.
Deeper Dives: Dialogue and Dialect
- “Mapping How Americans Talk” (4 minutes) from The Atlantic
- “50 People Show Us Their States’ Accents” (6 minutes) from Conde Nast Traveler
- “George Lucas: King of Wooden Dialogue” (9 minutes) from So Uncivilized
- “What Realistic Film Dialogue Sounds Like” (9 minutes; LANGUAGE WARNING)
- “Everyone Has an Accent” (5 pages) essay from Teaching Tolerance
- “Julie Washington’s Quest to Get Schools to Respect African-American English” (6 pages)
- “A Voice Coach Explains How to Teach Yourself a Dialect” (3 pages) from Backstage
Different accents and dialects often seem humorous to the listener. Why is this so? What effect does the use of dialect in the play have on the reader or viewer?
Why do you think dialects of the same language exist? Why do people in England, The United States, Australia, and so on, speak differently?
Thanks for checking out A Raisin in the Sun Pre-reading Activities!
I hope that this post helps you introduce A Raisin in the Sun and start your unit effectively. Some of these lessons are taken from later in the unit, but I felt that they might also serve as A Raisin in the Sun pre-reading activities. To get a better idea of the complete unit, check A Raisin in the Sun Unit Plan.