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A Lesson Before Dying Activities

Instructor: Tammy Galloway

Tammy teaches business courses at the post-secondary and secondary level and has a master's of business administration in finance.

Teachers, 'A Lesson Before Dying' deals with the sensitive subject of racism, low self-esteem and death. Students will enhance their understanding of what blacks experienced in this dark period in history by exploring segregation and recalling scenes and characters in the book.

A Lesson Before Dying

Teachers, A Lesson Before Dying is about a young black man named Jefferson who was wrongly accused of a crime. His aunt tries to encourage him to let him know he's loved and his life matters. While Jefferson becomes inspired by his aunt's efforts, he eventually is executed. In this lesson, students will explore segregation and discuss important themes, scenes and concepts in the book.

An Experience in Segregation

A Lesson Before Dying occurs between two of the most significant eras in history, after World War II and before the Civil Rights Movement. In this activity, students will experience segregation similarly to many characters in the book.

Materials

  • Four small white poster boards
  • Black markers

Instructions

Ask students to define segregation. Tell them to discuss a time when they've felt left out. After the discussion, tell students segregation during this time did not allow blacks and whites to commingle in restaurants, schools, churches, buses and other places. Tell students this activity will allow them to experience segregation first hand. Divide students into four groups and have them choose a leader. Ask the leaders of each group to follow you to another room and give each of them a poster board. Assign the leader one of the following positions: restaurant manager, school principal, church pastor or bus driver. Have them write their associated slogan on the poster board. Here are some examples:

  • Restaurant manager: Curly-haired people cannot enter, eat somewhere else!
  • School principals: If you wear glasses, you're not welcome at this school!
  • Church pastor: People who wear jeans cannot attend this church!
  • Bus driver: All people wearing blue need to go to the back of the bus!

Now have the restaurant manager walk in the classroom hiding their poster board. Tell the restaurant patrons in the group to go outside the classroom and re-enter, have the restaurant manager stand where all students including the restaurant patrons can see the sign. As the restaurant patrons enter, have the manager read the sign. Make the patrons leave and let the door shut. Allow them to re-enter and sit down. Complete this process for the remainder of the groups. In the bus driver scenario allow the bus riders to go to the back of the class and stand for a minute in complete silence. Tell the rest of the class to turn around and stare at them for one minute without talking. After which, have all students return to their desk and discuss the following questions in their group:

  • How did you feel when you saw the sign and the authoritarian told you what to do?
  • Describe the effects of segregation on blacks in restaurants, schools, churches and transportation. Discus each separately.
  • Describe how this type of segregation affects a race over a significant amount of time?

Allow groups to share their responses with the class.

Themes and Scenes

In this activity, students will choose a theme and write about a corresponding scene in the book.

Materials

  • Index cards
  • Pen or pencil
  • Container

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