I taught A Raisin in the Sun to my Junior English class to wrap up their The Shape of America year long theme with the central idea of this quarter being: The Pursuit of Happiness and the essential question being: what happens when our dreams are deferred?
I had never taught Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun before this quarter and I have to say that it has become my favorite play to teach. Here are my two reasons: 1) It actually has a happy ending, unlike most of the American Literature I taught this year (The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, The Crucible) and 2) It lends itself to activities that get the students thinking about their goals, dreams, and their own pursuit of happiness.
One of the activities I did with the students was to create their own plant that represented their goals and dreams for a happy life. Just like Mama in the play, they were to “tend” to this plant throughout the duration of Act I and II of the play. When I introduced the assignment, we talked about how is human nature to dream about the future, and research shows that people who set goals for their future are far more successful than those who don’t.
I discussed with them how I felt goal setting is not about setting hard deadlines or writing your future in stone; instead, goal setting is about identifying what needs to be accomplished in your life in order to achieve your dreams, with the flexibility to adjust yourself along the way. Goals are lights at the end of a tunnel; sometimes the lights go out and reappear in a different direction, other times they lead you out and into a new life. No matter what, goals keep you facing forward, they keep your chin up in hard times, and ultimately, they move you forward into your life as an active participant.
With this in mind, my students created their plant. I had them bring in an empty tissue box filled with dry rice or beans, two sheets of tissue paper, and an empty paper-towel roll. I purchased enough pipe cleaners to make the tissue paper flowers and used card-stock that I have in my classroom already.
Here are the directions given to the students:
Task #1:Using card-stock or construction paper, cut out squares/rectangles to fit all four sides of your tissue box neatly; then, write on the top 4th of each square a corresponding goal for the criteria listed below:
- Side 1: Goal for your senior year
- Side 2: Goal for the next five years
- Side 3: Goal for your career/family
- Side 4: Goal for your own pursuit of happiness (American Dream)
Task #2: Coming into class periodically throughout the reading of Act I and II of A Raisin in the Sun, you will draw a ‘chance’ card. That card will either be a benefit or a disadvantage to one of your goals. You will document your success/tragedy AND your response on the corresponding goal side of the tissue box. Highlight your response in a color of your choice.
Task #3: At the end of Raisin in the Sun, and after your goals have weathered their ‘storms,’ you are going to look for patterns in the way you responded to your different chance cards and create your own personal credo using the handout given to you. You will then construct your plant in your tissue box.
The paper towel will be your stem, your leaves will be made out of construction paper and will have your personal credos on them, and your flower is something appealing to you reminding you of the beauty of life, made out of tissue paper at the top.
Every few days my students would come into class have draw a ‘chance’ card that would affect their goals on their plant. They would have to “tend” to their plant and determine how they would respond when their “dreams were deferred.” My awesome PLC helped to create several ‘chance’ cards for the students to pick up. They included many topics that truly could happen to their goals in the future. Here are a same of a few:
You are having troubles at home as you begin to exert more independence.
|Next 5 years
You have begun training for the career you have always dreamed of, but as you start taking the courses you realize you are not interested in this career at all.
You are laid off from your job and other people depend on your salary.
|Pursuit of Happiness
You travel to a different country and decide you want to move there.
The students enjoyed seeing what life might throw at them as they picked these cards at random.
Once we were through Act III of the play, I read an excerpt from Robert Fulghum entitled “All I Really Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” After we read this piece, we discussed the different between a precept that has driven our behaviors from a small child and a personal credo that must drive how we want to live as an adult – something to keep in mind as we weather our storms. I even gave them my personal credos as a sample (see below). The students put their credos on green leaves a taped them to the stem of their plant.
- Work first, play second, and play hard
- Early is on time and on time is late
- Be kind to everyone, even if they suck
- Be kind to yourself, you are enough
- Get yourself together
- A bad day doesn’t equal a bad life
- Less is more – simplify
- Surround yourself with people who get it
- Sometimes you must be quiet and just listen
- Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate
- Worrying does nothing, love does everything
- Drink the coffee, do the things
- Have impromptu dance parties in the living room
- Be better than yesterday
The end result of this plant project was amazing and the tie back to Mama taking her plant with her at the end of the play and my students taking their plants home was a great way to wrap up the school year…and my classroom was certainty in “full bloom” for Spring.