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Lesson Plan

Comparing Portrayals of Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Photography and Literature

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Comparing Portrayals of Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Photography and Literature

Grades 6 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Kathy Kottaras

Pasadena, California

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four

Session Five

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • write journal entries in which they evaluate Jim’s personality, Frederick Douglass’ personality, and quotations about truth and misrepresentation by Mark Twain.
  • learn about the historical and cultural context of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as it related to the development of photography.
  • describe photographs of slaves in an on-line gallery.
  • organize the descriptions of Jim, the photographs and Frederick Douglass by using the Venn Diagram, 3 Circles.
  • complete a pre-writing activity in which they organize the similarities and differences between the photographs and either Jim or Frederick Douglass using a Compare & Contrast Map.
  • write an essay in which they compare and contrast the photographs with either Jim or Frederick Douglass, argue that one piece is a more reliable depiction of slavery, and argue to what extent truth can be depicted in art.

 

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Session One

  1. Begin by having the students respond to the following in writing in their journals:
    • List 5 words to describe Jim’s personality.  What impression do you have of him? 
    • What do you think is his opinion of Huck Finn?  
    • Do you think he is a believable character?  Why or why not?
    • Mark Twain wrote:  “Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except that it ain't so.”
 (Notebook, 1898)  Do you agree or disagree with Mark Twain?  Explain.  Do you think that the truth always prevails, even in fiction?  What problems do you think a writer faces when trying to reflect reality?  Does this quotations change your opinion of Mark Twain’s depictions of Jim?  Why or why not?
  2. As a class, review students’ journal responses to describe Jim, and have students record all the adjectives on their own paper.  Then, lead a discussion about Mark Twain’s quotation (above).

  3. Provide students with an overview of the historical context of the novel by using the PowerPoint presentation.

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Session Two

  1. Have students open the links to the online gallery, “The Face of Slavery & Other African-American Photographs.”  Have all students click on the first photo, "Slave Boy Brought to Waterbury from Bucks Hill by Aunt Ella Johnson's Second Husband (Whelan)" circa 1855 and/or bring it up on the LCD projector.  Ask students to describe the photograph, using the following questions to catalyze their responses in their journals:
    • Describe the boy’s face.  What emotions can you describe?
    • Describe what the boy is wearing.
    • How old do you think the boy is?
    • Describe how the boy is sitting.
    • What colors are used in the photo?  Ask students to share their responses to the photograph.  Discuss any similarities between this photograph and their responses to Jim’s personality.
    • Lead a class discussion where you ask students to share their responses to the photograph.  Discuss any similarities between this photograph and their responses to Jim’s personality.
  2. Divide students into 8 groups, one for each of the remaining photographs in the online gallery.  Ask the students to describe the photograph and record their responses, using the following questions to guide them:
    • Describe the setting of the photograph.
    • Describe the expressions on the slaves’ faces.
    • Describe what the slaves are wearing.
    • Describe how the slaves are sitting or standing.
    • Describe the colors used in the photograph.
    • Does the photograph seem natural or staged?  Why do you think this?
    • Read the provided history of the photograph.  What essential information do you need to remember?  How does this history change your response to the photograph?
  3. Before they leave, have students share one surprising or enlightening finding that they group discovered about the photograph.
  4. For homework, students will read Chapter 1 of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

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Session Three

  1. Begin by having the students respond to the following in writing:
    • List 5 words to describe Frederick Douglass’ personality. 
    • What impression do you have of him? 
    • What surprised you most about his memories of slavery? 
    • What was the most memorable or striking moment from this chapter?
  2. Introduce students to the Interactive Venn Diagram, 3 Circles and the Compare & Contrast Map.  Give groups a choice of which interactive to complete to compare Jim in Huckleberry Finn and/or Frederick Douglass to the photographs of slaves.
  3. Students use the remainder of the session to complete their Venn Diagrams or their Compare & Contrast Map.  Remind students to print their work when they are finished, as it will not save.
  4. Before they leave, have each group share one way in which Frederick Douglass’ memories were different from the photograph they analyzed.

 

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Session Four

  1. Using an LCD projector, show the entire class one of Twain's quotes.  Discuss the quote as a class and then have the students respond to the following questions in their journals:
    • To what extent do you agree with Twain’s criticisms of photography?
    • How does this quotation by Mark Twain enhance or complicate our understanding of the photographs in the online gallery?
  2. Hand out the Essay Assignment and Rubric, and explain expectations.
  3. Have students open link to the Comparison and Contrast Guide, and go over the guidelines of a Compare and Contrast Essay (using the essay assignment and rubric as a guide).
  4. Allow for a reasonable amount of time before Session Five.  Students will need class time to complete their essays, or they may be done for homework before moving on to Session Five.

 

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Session Five

  1. On the day the students return with their completed essays, students will have individual conferences with the teacher to discuss and assess their essays using the provided rubric.

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EXTENSIONS

  • Have students choose a contemporary social issue, such as homelessness, pollution, poverty, racism, etc. to photograph.  Students use their own cameras to create a “photo essay,” as it relates to their local community.  The students write an introduction explaining their message about the issue.
  • Have students review a recent copy of a news magazine Newsweek or visit a news site that provides collections of photo essays, such as Life, Time or U.S. News & World Report. Have students choose one photo essay, print them out, and compile photographs to create a collage of contemporary issues as viewed via art. Students can write a paragraph for each photograph, arguing to what extent is a reliable source or merely a misrepresentation of the news story.
  • Students research contemporary forms of slavery, using Mini Singh’s webpage as a starting point.   Also, students analyze photographs of child trafficking in Benin and Gabon at Antislavery.org and discuss how the photographs of the victims contribute to a better understanding about such contemporary forms of slavery.

 

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

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