Three classroom activities for this unit can take place during reading and writing workshop and are highly adaptable to any classroom. Students will also have the option of using audio supports as they read the novel. Audio is available for free online making for easy access for teachers and students. Pacing incorporates on average three chapters per day which will most likely be assigned as homework. Reading and writing workshop activities are designed to take place before, during, and after reading and can be used in any order. Pacing for activities is according to classroom discretion.
As a reference point for students, background knowledge is needed to understand the conditions underpinning the novel as the era in which the novel is set predates the movement. Students need to understand familiar historical figures, and civil rights organizations did not exist during this time. The initiating activity uses a timeline picture walk as a primary source, and as a framework to introduce the structural and institutionalized oppression underpinning the conflict and plot in the novel. The purpose of this activity is to “enhance students' ability to use mental images to represent and elaborate on knowledge.”xxi
From this activity, students will categorize the facts and their opinions to make reasoned judgements about the novel’s historical content, and extend class discussion about how those issues exist today. To help guide their thinking, students will analyze the living conditions of the Jim Crow era by examining wordless pictures before reading. They will write questions based on their observations and discuss in small groups. From this entry point, students be given a timeline picture walk to learn about historical events targeting critical points in history like Jim Crow, Reconstruction, the 14th and 15 Amendment, and Plessy vs. Ferguson. The timeline will help students chronologically organize historical events and the accompanying pictures will help bring context to the events as students analyze to draw conclusions. Teacher resources from History.com’s civil rights page, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, and Library of Congress’ Segregation Exhibit and Culture are recommended sites with historically accurate information containing accessible timeline picture walks.
Extension Activity I:
During this extension activity, students will engage in conversations examining the connotative meaning of the word “movement.” Through this activity, students will understand that word “movement” can have multiple perspectives and influences meaning. Students will learn that connotation means words can have emotional associations and do not exist in definition alone. Students will be given a graphic organizer where they will create visuals representing the connotative meaning of the word. This activity will help students to conceptualize the fight for civil rights as fluid, not just an static event that started with the denial of a bus seat and ended with the assassination of an iconic leader.
During reading, students will place characters of their choice on the picture walk timeline and discuss their choices in small groups. For example, where might a student place a sharecropper? How does that placement change or remain the same today? Students will also think about modern day figures and compare their characteristics to a character in the novel. Students will consider open-ended questions like what modern day figure best shares similar/different characteristics with your chosen character from the novel and why? Students will record their responses in their didactic journals. Didactic journals help students synthesize their understandings through the practice of conversation by constructing open-ended questions and answers based on what they learn, read, and understand. The journals are meant to help students engage in deep conversations with the text.
During reading, students will create a log of open-ended questioning to create character profiles. Students will mainly focus on the socio-economic and political forces driving the novel’s conflict in order to analyze a character of their choice. Using the picture-walks during reading, students will explore the references to the people, places, and events from key eras pre-dating and leading up to the Civil Rights Movement. Using didactic journals, students will create two-three open-ended questions as they research during the picture walks. Students will engage in academic conversations designed to probe their observations and craft possible responses to questions. Students are encouraged to illustrate any historical relevant information gleaned during their research. Students will follow-up their learning using a modified KWL organizer. KWL traditionally stands for three reading comprehension questions: 1. What do I already know? 2. What do I want to know? and 3. What have I learned? For this unit, students will use the questions 1. What did I believe before reading? 2. What most surprised me? And 3. What understandings did I confirm or change?
Activity 2 Extension:
Character Hypothesis: Static vs Dynamic: Using the picture walks, journals, and KWL, students will formulate their understandings about a character of their choice. This process is ongoing and will develop as students read. Students will form a hypothesis on their analysis by comparing or contrasting a character’s static or dynamic traits germane to story specifics by examining the character's traits according to the text and who they would have been during the Civil Rights era. Students will write about their conclusions drawn in their journals
Students will use a character profile graphic organizer (teacher or student created) to record their understandings using three main headings: 1. Questions: under this heading, students will consider both dialogue and plot to craft questions as they develop their interpretations. Questions will be open-ended like how did Jim Crow laws prevent characters from owning land or hold an elected position within the community? Or how/why did characters engage in civil disobedience to change societal conditions despite Jim Crow laws? 2. Timeline: under this heading, students will create, draw, or describe the daily life of the characters. They will be encouraged to choose the most important events or details that shape the character’s perspective. Here, students may need guidance on avoiding a chapter by chapter summary as the goal is to record significant events instead of small details. Using the pre-work completed on their timelines in the initiating activity is useful in helping to organize student work. 3. Research: under this heading, students will use text details and their timelines to include information needed to accurately portray their character.
Students will create a character soundtrack. There is a growing academic field called Sound Studies focused on the “cultural politics of sound and listening.”xxii Williams who notes, “probing the identity of a literary character in terms of popular songs and popular culture may help students understand their own motivation and identity.”xxiii Through this approach, students will explore this emerging field by interrogating characters through the language of music in order to build tighter context, deeper critical thinking, and stronger character analysis. This activity seeks to put in dialogue the exploration of characters through music and to develop broader understandings about the role of music within the context of liberation from oppressive political norms. Students will study and connect to the historical music of the era. History shows that African American spirituals, gospel, and folk music played a central role during this time- a topic of study that can be a curricular unit unto itself. I argue that the lyrics of this era serves as a secondary source. In fact, the novel’s title Roll of Thunder was derived from an African American spiritual. Buckner et. al assert, “because music was such a vital part of the movement, it can be merged with the ideological history to provide students with a richer understanding of the period.”xxiv Songs of activism, resistance, and perseverance are hallmarks of the novel and connects to Armstrong et. al noting, “Music can be analyzed intellectually within the context of the struggles that informed the Civil Rights Movement, and can summon the emotional and aesthetic energy that was pivotal during that time.”xxv Using song lyrics as secondary sources, students will use selected lyrics as interpretive tools to critically analyze characters. From this activity, student learning is scaffolded into the character analysis essay. During reading, students will take a musical walk cataloging songs apropos to their learning. They will make deeper connections using the resources from the documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution.xxvi This documentary is used as a secondary resource and is expected to be a classroom favorite as students as they will hear songs of the movement sung by popular contemporary artists, while exploring archival footage and listening to interviews. Using their dialectical journals, students will take notes using the open-ended questioning strategies from activities 1-2.
Character Soundtrack: Students will create a 5-song playlist for a character of choice detailing his or her traits, beliefs, and actions spanning the novel’s plot line. Selected songs will include its title, a line from the song, and a rational that best synthesizes the character(s). Students will use their journals to explain song choice and rationale. Students will present their conclusions in peer groups. During this time, students will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each members’ character analysis citing compatible or contrary text based evidence and research in completed from their character profiles completed in Activity 2. Students will integrate their learning from all activities to write a draft essay analyzing a character of their choice.