This A Raisin in the Sun unit plan addresses key literary and contextual elements of Hansberry’s masterpiece as students move through the play. The lessons provide a wide variety of activities and resources to meet your goals in teaching A Raisin in the Sun.
A Raisin in the Sun Unit Overview:
Pre-reading: “I Have a Dream…” Deferred
Act I: Talking the Talk
Act II: “It’s Life, Mama!”
Act III: Strong Words
Follow-up: To Be Young, Gifted, and Black
Project: A Symbol in the Sun
A Raisin in the Sun Lessons: Pre-reading
Introduction and Anticipation Guide
Prepare students for the drama with an introductory slideshow. Introduce central theme subjects and encourage reflection with an anticipation guide.
“We will study Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece A Raisin in the Sun. Studying a play is like studying a novel in that it is a narrative with characters, conflicts, themes, and the rest. It is unlike a novel in that it is meant to be performed; we will have to think about stage directions, actors’ choices, and the structure of acts and scenes.”
The American Dream
Explore the meanings and relevance of the “American Dream” through selected works. Assign clips and readings to cooperative groups and have students present perspectives and interpretations.
“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?”
- “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
- “Why the American Dream is a Myth” (4:44) from Adam Ruins Everything
- “Is the American Dream Real?” (3:32) from Vlogbrothers
- “Is the American Dream Still Alive” (7:29) from CBS Sunday Morning
- “What the man behind the ‘American Dream’ really meant” (6 pages) by T. Widmer
- “Is There an American Dream for Black Children?” (6 pages) by Sean McElwee
- “Restoring the American Dream” (5 pages) 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
“I Have a Dream…” Deferred
Compare two famous texts focused on the dreams of African Americans — a speech and a poem. Collaborative groups analyze the themes and how they are developed.
“Race prejudice is not exclusive to the United States, but America’s history of racism is unlike any other country. This legacy means that the concept of the “American Dream” holds special significance for many African Americans.”
(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.)
Choral reading: “I Have a Dream…” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Shared reading: “Harlem” by Langston Hughes
A Raisin in the Sun Lesson Plans: Act I
Drama Read-through: Act I, Scene 1
Get students thinking like directors and performers before delivering a read-through.
“If you were directing the first scene of A Raisin in the Sun, what directions might you give to the performers and/or designers (sets, costumes, lighting, etc.)?”
“We will perform a read-through of the A Raisin in the Sun Act I, Scene 1. We need performers for the roles of Walter Lee, Ruth, Beneatha, Mama, and Travis. Complete the first part of the handout prior to the read-through. Be ready to share ideas.”
A Raisin in the Sun Discussion & Analysis #1
This A Raisin in the Sun unit includes one discussion and analysis set for each act of the play.
SUGGESTION: Assign each cooperative group one easy question (top set), one rigorous question (lower set), and one excerpt for analysis (back page.) Complete the lesson by having groups share their thoughts with the class.Discussions and Excerpts 1 - A Raisin in the Sun lesson handout
Setting the Stage with Words
Get students analyzing Hansberry’s craft as they identify and explain key textual evidence.
“We know how to explain a fashion designer’s style or a musician’s style, but what do we mean by an author’s style? What elements make up a writer’s style?”
“There are many aspects to an author’s style, but one key element of an author’s style is word choice. Word choice includes…”
- Figurative language: metaphor, personification, simile, hyperbole, understatement, idiom…
- Imagery / sensory language: how the words help the reader imagine with the senses.
- Word Connotations: a word’s feelings and associations (e.g., “daddy” vs. “father”).
- Sound devices: repetition, rhythm, rhyme, onomatopoeia, alliteration, etc.
- Sense of time and place: dialogue, dialect, allusions, and references.
- Tone: the narrator or speaker’s attitude toward the subject (including the level of formality).
- Mood: the feeling the author creates for the reader.
“We will examine Hansberry’s word choice by analyzing her language in both the lines and the stage directions. Work with your group to analyze six prime examples of Hansberry’s word choice. Select THREE examples from the stage directions and THREE examples from the dialogue. Be ready to compare the differences in the language.”
Talking the Talk – Dialogue and Dialect
Students discuss the effects of dialogue and dialect before writing a skit emphasizing these elements. Close by making connections to Hansberry’s style.
“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.”
“Write a simple skit that demonstrates effective dialogue AND a specific dialect.”
When It’s NOT an Apple (Symbolism)
Prepare students to analyze symbolism in A Raisin in the Sun. Use a short story to review and practice interpretive skills.
“Visual symbols can represent abstract thoughts and powerful feelings, but literary symbols can have multiple, complex, or even opposing meanings. Whether you are talking about the story of The Garden of Eden or Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, an apple might be more than an apple.”
Short story suggestions:
- “Marigolds” by Eugenia W. Collier (5 pages)—easy
- “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe (4 pages)—easy
- “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett (7 pages)—moderate
- “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (12 pages)—challenging
A Raisin in the Sun Lessons: Act II
1950s Chicago, USA (Historical Context)
Students collaborate to research ONE historical context topic related to A Raisin in the Sun. This is a brief, informal research task.
“Lorraine Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun in 1957; the play opened on Broadway in 1959. Think about the historical context of this work. What was going on in America and around the world at that time? (Details from the play might help you answer.)”
Booker T. and W.E.B.
Help students contextualize the disagreement between Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Younger regarding the goals and methods of Booker T. Washington.
“Lena Younger and Mrs. Johnson argue about the views of Booker T. Washington. In order to understand their disagreement, we will study words from the man himself and a response from one of his main critics, W.E.B. Du Bois.”
“We will read excerpts from “The Atlanta Compromise” and Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others as a class.”
Poetry Connection: “Booker T. and W.E.B.” by Dudley Randall
- How does Randall structure this poem?
- Who is the speaker?
- What is the speaker’s tone?
- What poetry elements does Randall employ?
- What is the intended theme or feeling?
“It’s Life, Mama!” (Characterization)
Students use evidence from the play (dialogue and stage directions) to draw conclusions about the characters’ points of view and values.
“What are your personal values? In your view, what are the most important aspects of life? How do you think you came to hold these values?”
“To what extent can a person’s values change over time? Explain your view.”
“Which character’s values are most like your own? Which character holds values unlike your own? Explain.”
Extension activity: “This I Believe” Personal Essay
We will be participating in a writing project that began in 1951. Personal essays are, well, personal. You do not need to use outside research, a formal tone, or a particular structure. Here are some examples to give you the idea:
A Raisin in the Sun Lessons: Act III
Drama Read-through: Act III (CONTENT WARNING)
“If you were adapting A Raisin in the Sun into a film, what changes might you make? What might you add or remove? Think about characters, plot events, locations, manipulation of time (flashback, montage, etc.), cinematography / camera movement, and soundtrack.”
A Symbol in the Sun
Students hunt symbols using key evidence to detect the meanings attached to ONE symbol in A Raisin in the Sun.
These known associates may help students make connections and broaden the search.
- Plants – Window, sun, raisin, light, Mama, yard, garden…
- Light – Window, sun, plant, yard, garden…
- The check – Big Walter, flesh, insurance, money, Willie Harris, ledger…
- Beneatha’s hair – Natural style, unstraightened, heritage, mutilation, assimilation…
- Food – Bread, eggs, Alaiyo, coffee, milk…
- Fire – Flaming Spear, volcano, sun, light, Prometheus…
- Rugs / furnishings – Doilies, cleaned, worn places, carpet, apartment…
- Johnson – Newspaper, Ku Klux Klan, Booker T. Washington, Kitchen cleanser…
“In case you had not noticed, there are no raisins in the play. Think back to our study of the Langston Hughes poem that includes “Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?” What connections can you make between the title of the play and today’s discussion?”
Strong Words Monologue
This A Raisin in the Sun lesson plan asks students to examine the word choice in one powerful excerpt/monologue by identifying the key elements. They will also compose an original monologue focused on strong word choice.
“What makes language powerful? How does a writer or speaker make an impact with their words? Let’s watch a couple of performances and think about that. Of course, the actors’ choices, lighting, soundtrack, and the rest are important, but it starts with the words.”
Structure and Tension
Students use the “Structure and Effects” handout to analyze how Hansberry creates tension, mystery, and surprise.
- Effects of structure: Tension / anticipation, mystery, and surprise.
- Dramatic irony: When we know information that a character needs. This creates tension. For example, we know that the killer is in the basement, but the next victim does not.
- Manipulation of time: When an author tells events out of order, changes the pace, or skips over the passage of time.
- Pacing: How the telling of the events speeds up or slows down.
- Flashback: A manipulation of time that goes back to a particular moment.
- Foreshadowing: Clues that hint at what will happen in the story.
- Ambiguity: When the meaning or outcome is left unclear or mysterious. For example, when your creepy neighbor says that he wants to “have you for dinner.”
A Raisin in the Sun Lesson Plans: Follow-up
Tracing Hansberry’s Themes
Shine a spotlight on Hansberry’s theme development. The class will Identify how she uses characterization (traits and motivations), dialogue, and symbolism to develop and deliver her message.
“In your expert opinion, what is the most important theme to Lorraine Hansberry? How do you know? How does she put this message in the spotlight?”
To Be Young, Gifted and Black
Learn more about Lorraine Hansberry from her own words. Some of her writings were published after her death in an informal autobiography entitled To Be Young, Gifted and Black.
Lorraine Hansberry in her own words:
This A Raisin in the Sun lesson plan asks students to apply their mastery of literary symbolism to unfamiliar poetry. They will analyze a famous poem and write original poems that include a symbol.
RELATED POST: A Raisin in the Sun Projects and Essays
Complete your A Raisin in the Sun unit with projects that meet your goals:
- Symbols in the Sun (presentation)
- Hansberry’s Themes
- Historical Context (research report)
- Primary Source Gallery
- Characters and Points of View
- Author’s Style: Word Choice
- Setting the Stage (design contest)
- An Unfamiliar Symbol
- “It’s Life, Mama!” (personality test)
- 1961 Film (viewing guide and critique)
- The American Dream (debate)
- Feminist Perspective (debate)
- Comparing Literature (presentation)
- One Scene for Stage or Screen (performance)
- The Lost Scene (creative writing)
- Forms of Racism
- Cutting a Character (argument)
- Original Artwork
Thanks for checking out A Raisin in the Sun Unit Plan!
If you have found these A Raisin in the Sun lesson plans helpful, consider using the complete resource. The A Raisin in the Sun unit and teaching guide aligns to the Common Core standards and includes a wide variety of teaching materials, activities, assessments, and handouts.
The A Raisin in the Sun teaching unit bundle includes:
NOTE: These resources are intended for teaching A Raisin in the Sun on the high school level, but I have used the unit with an advanced 8th grade class.