A Raisin in the Sun unit plan cover

A Raisin in the Sun Unit Plan

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For me, teaching A Raisin in the Sun is a perennial joy.  I can think of no other piece of literature that has been more engaging for my students.  This is the A Raisin in the Sun unit plan that I follow.  I hope it will aid you in your planning.

A Raisin in the Sun Unit Plan overview:

  • Preparing to Read: “The American Dream”
  • Reading 1: Setting the Stage (word choice and symbolism)
  • Reading 2: “It’s Life, Mama!” (characterization and motivation)
  • Reading 3: The Plot Thickens (structure and purpose)
  • Reading 4: Symbols and Themes
  • Assessing Learning
  • Extending Learning

Reading Schedule

  1. Act I, scene 1
  2. Act I, scene 2 – Act II, scene 1
  3. Act II, scene 2 – Act II, scene 3
  4. Act III

A Raisin in the sun unit plan Drama performance

Before implementing your A Raisin in the Sun unit plan…

Address sensitive content.

Before following your A Raisin in the Sun Unit plan, prepare the students to navigate the sensitive topics and language of the play.  Make sure your expectations are clear.  Students should know the ground rules for discussing sensitive content and what to do if they are feeling upset.

A Raisin in the Sun content advisory:

  • Abortion
  • Racism and internalized racism
  • Sexism
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Religious arguments (atheism)
  • Language: racist words, homophobic words, sexist words, and swear words
A Raisin in the Sun unit plan learning support
Photo by U.S. Department of Education

Plan for learning support.

A Raisin in the Sun is very accessible for resistant and/or developing readers.  Nevertheless, you should have a strategy for learning support.  Explain the support that students can find on their own, through you, or through learning support teachers. These may include…

  • Chapter summaries
  • Support services
  • Video
  • Audiobooks
  • Reading groups
  • Modified assessments

Having reliable reading data for your students before starting is key to planning support.  I generally provide chapter or scene summaries for identified students in advance (making sure to explain that these are to be read in addition to the assignment).

Preview the unit and goals.

Students should have a clear understanding of how your A Raisin in the Sun unit plan will unfold.  They should know the reading schedule, how the lessons will work, and how they will be assessed.

If you plan to include dramatic readings, explain how roles will be assigned, directions given, etc.  I use a Dramatic Reading with Purpose handout to add structure.

It is important that my students understand my use of A Raisin in the Sun reading quizzes.  When students arrive to the class having read with fidelity, they are able to fully engage in the lesson.

A Raisin in the Sun Reading Quizzes

 

I also want to tell students about the final assessment task(s)Is there anything students might do as they read to make things easier later?  For example, if they will be writing a symbol and theme essay, students might pick a symbolic element now and “cheat” by taking notes as they read:

Certainly Possibly
  • Light
  • Plants
  • Food
  • The check
  • Beneatha’s hair
  • Mrs. Johnson
  • Mr. Lindner
  • Killing the rat
  • Joseph Asagai
  • George Murchison
  • The Green Hat club
  • Music (Nigerian, Jazz / blues, and hymns)
  • Clybourne Park

ANALYZING THE TEXT PAGE


The American dream lessons

Preparing to Read: “The American Dream”

I like to have students explore the concept of “The American Dream” before reading the play.  They might compare non-fictions texts, analyze the use of the term in media, and apply these ideas to the historical context of A Raisin in the Sun.

I also want to engage students by asking them to offer their views and interpretations of The American Dream.

“The American Dream” Videos

Have students explore, analyze, and present on videos related to the concept of The American Dream.

Primary Sources and Context

Students use primary sources related to A Raisin in the Sun to contextualize the drama. These might include political cartoons, archival film footage, advertisements from the 50s and 60s, etc.

  • Neighborhood integration 
  • Lorraine Hansberry’s life 
  • The Women’s Movement (1950s and 1960s)
  • The Civil Rights Movement (employment)
  • The Civil Rights Movement (housing)
  • Decolonization in Africa
  • The growth Pan-Africanism and/or Afrocentrism
  • Chicago after the Great Migration

assignments primary sources


Reading 1: Setting the Stage

After the first reading, I want students to think about how Hansberry sets the stage of the drama.  This includes how she uses word choice, introduces the main conflict, and begins to develop symbolsI do not want to wait until we finish the play to get students thinking about symbolism. 

Practice with Symbolism

Have students explore the differences between visual symbols and literary symbols.  Use the students knowledge of symbols in popular culture to your advantage.

Examples of literary symbols in popular culture:

  • The bat in Batman Begins represents the fear Bruce Wayne wants to instill but also (and secretly) his own trauma and fear.  It represents his control of his fears.
  • The Scarlet Carson rose in V for Vendetta represents the protagonist’s slowly cultivated revenge, his memories of beauty, and, in one scene, his mercy.
  • The mockingjay in the Hunger Games represents the power of the oppressors, the fragility of the rebellion, and the heroine herself.  The mockingjay is a genetic creation of the government that the resistance ingeniously uses to defend themselves. The government has created both the bird and the heroine that will defeat them.

A Raisin in the Sun Unit plan symbolism

It is advisable to have students read a symbolism short story (“The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Grandfather”, “The Scarlet Ibis”, etc.) to hone the analysis skills that will be applied to A Raisin in the Sun.

Analyzing Hansberry’s Word Choice

Each student group must choose one of these tasks:

  1. Sketch the set design based on the stage directions.  Include annotations on your sketch that cite key evidence.  Choose citations that help set the mood and/or sense of time and place and provide explanation.
  2. Create a table analyzing Hansberry’s word choice in the dialogue (the lines that the characters deliver).  Use word choice terms.
  3. Create a table analyzing Hansberry’s word choice in the directions (everything that is not an actual line).  Use word choice terms.

ANALYZING THE TEXT HANDOUT

“…the carpet has fought back by showing its weariness…” (23) The apartment and furnishings are described as weary, tired, undistinguished, worn, etc. The apartment is given human traits and fights to show how run-down it is. The mood created is of low energy and discouragement.
“Brother is a flip.” (49) Beneatha calls Walter a “flip,” which must be informal slang used at that time and place (Chicago in the 50s).  The implication is that Beneatha is trendy since Mama doesn’t know the term. Her tone is disrespectful in a playful way.

Elements of word choice

  • Figurative language (metaphor, personification, simile, hyperbole, understatement, idiom, etc.)
  • Connotations (the feelings and thoughts associated with particular words; for example, “father” has a different feeling than “daddy”)
  • Sound devices (rhythm, rhyme, onomatopoeia, etc.)
  • Sense of time and place (dialogue, dialect, allusions, and references)
  • Tone (the narrator’s attitude toward the subject – including the level of formality)
  • Mood (how the words create feelings in the reader)

A Raisin in the Sun unit plan character values
Photo by The Huntington

Reading 2: “It’s Life, Mama!”

After the second reading, I want students to analyze textual evidence in order to form conclusions on characterization, motivations, and points of view.  I have them start by writing about their own values and then ask them to analyze the characters respective values and points of view.

Key values represented by the characters:

  • Dignity
  • Familial love
  • Religion
  • Romantic love
  • Raising children
  • Helping others
  • Money
  • Respect
  • Sense of self
  • Heritage
  • Enlightenment (knowledge)
  • Self-actualization

This is also a good point to think about Hansberry’s word choices in including allusions and references.  The allusions and references help clue us in to the characters’ respective values.


A Raisin in the Sun unit plot structure
Photo by The Huntington

Reading 3: The Plot Thickens

The play advances towards its climax and alludes to the rising action of the Civil Rights Movement.  I want students to study the structure of the play and its effects as well as the ideological conflicts of the Civil Rights Movement. Families like the Youngers must debate how best to move forward just as leaders like Booker T. Washington, Dubois, Garvey, King, X, and others offer their arguments on moving forward.

Mapping and Analyzing the Plot (so far)

Group activity

  1. Student groups create a plot map (PDF) for the main plot of the play so far. (Poster-sized is ideal.)  Explanations should use key structure terms.
  2. Figure out a way to represent Beneatha’s plot with the main plot map.
  3. Suggest an additional sub-plot that would fit in to the story. (Imagine that the play is becoming a TV series and needs additional stories that cohere with the existing elements.) Explain how the new plot adds to the narrative and connects to the elements.

Advancing in the Face of Prejudice

I like to use this reading to segue into analyzing and producing argument.  Mama and Mrs. Johnson’s differing opinions on Booker T. Washington introduces students to the debates raging within the Civil Rights Movement.

Students read informational texts by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois (PDF) in order to compare points of view, argument, and rhetorical devices.


Symbol study

Reading 4: Symbols and Themes

After the final reading of the A Raisin in the Sun unit plan, students are ready to put the pieces of their learning about craft, structure, characterization, and symbol/theme development together.

Symbol and Theme Presentations

Now that students have thought about symbols in pop culture, symbols in short stories, and taken notes on symbolic elements in A Raisin in the Sun, it is time for them to present their mastery.  I expect them to choose one symbolic element from the play, analyze it in depth, and explain its role in theme development.

Theme topics

Powerful Monologues (word choice)

This task can be receptive, creative, or both.  Students might analyze the most powerful word choice excerpts from the play and/or create their own masterpiece of word choice.

“Three hundred years later the African Prince rose up out of the seas and swept the maiden back across the middle passage over which her ancestors had come…I will show you our mountains and our stars; and give you cool drinks from gourds and teach you the old songs and the ways of our people – and, in time, we will pretend that – (Very softly) – you have only been away for a day…”

Powerful word choice:

  • Figurative language (metaphor, personification, simile, hyperbole, idiom, etc.)
  • Connotations (the feelings and thoughts associated with particular words; for example, “father” has a different feeling than “daddy”)
  • Sound devices (rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.)
  • Sense of time and place (dialogue, dialect, allusions, and references)
  • Tone (the attitude toward the subject – including the level of formality)
  • Mood (how the words create feelings)

Studying word choice in a A Raisin in the Sun

Assessing Learning

There a many options in concluding your A Raisin the Sun unit plan. The usual suspects include essays on symbolism, theme development, characterization, historical context, structure, craft, etc.  The important thing is that you decide which elements and standards you are emphasizing before starting the unit.

I usually include some form of final test with selected comprehension questions, ELA standards questions, short response prompts, and one extended response prompt.

A Raisin in the Sun unit plan assessment
For my A Raisin in the Sun exam banks, click here.

Extending Learning

If time allows, enable students to extend their learning and express their creativity.  These activities are standards-based but may not directly connect to the main standards of the unit.

Protest Speech (social justice)

  • W1A: Writing Argument (organizing)
  • SL6: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas (adapting speech)

In A Raisin in the Sun, the Youngers defy social norms and injustice by moving into a “white neighborhood.” They take a great risk to protest the status quo and break the color barrier of Clybourne Park.

You will write and deliver a speech on a social injustice.  Make sure to communicate a clear claim and an action that you want the audience to take.  Your speech could be for a past context (like the Civil Rights Era) or the present day.

You will be graded on how well you structure your speech (argumentative writing) and craft your message for public speaking.

Identify your message:

  • What social issue are you addressing? 
  • What is your claim? 
  • What is your call to action? (What action do you want the audience to take?)

Craft your public speaking:

Public speaking allows you to combine formal argument and a more creative style.  You can use devices that would be inappropriate in an argumentative essay to win over the audience.  Think about reasons that convince your audience through ethos, logos, and pathos (ethics, logic, and emotion).

Effective rhetoric / speech devices:

  • Sound devices (repetition/slogans, rhyming, rhythm, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.)
  • Anecdotes / stories
  • Audience participation (call and response, encouraging interaction, etc.)
  • Demonstration / performance
  • Symbolism
  • Famous / popular examples
  • Allusion
  • Logical reasons
  • Ethical reasons (based on a sense of right and wrong)
  • Emotional reasons (making the audience feel angry, sad, etc.)

ORGANIZING YOUR SPEECH


A Raisin in the Sun Unit plan

Related post: 10 Great A Raisin in the Sun Assignments

Related post: Engaging A Raisin in the Sun Activities

Related post: A Raisin in the Sun Discussion Questions (by scene)

Conclusion

I have had wonderful success with this A Raisin in the Sun unit plan.  I would strongly encourage any teacher considering teaching the play to do so.  Check out my complete A Raisin in the Sun Unit and Teacher Guide for access to complete lessons, reading quizzes, handouts, assignment pages, exam banks, and more (PDF and docx files).

A Raisin in the Sun Unit Plan review:

  • Preparing to Read: “The American Dream”
  • Reading 1: Setting the Stage (word choice and symbolism)
  • Reading 2: “It’s Life, Mama!” (characterization and motivation)
  • Reading 3: The Plot Thickens (structure and purpose)
  • Reading 4: Symbols and Themes
  • Assessing Learning
  • Extending Learning