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Lesson Plan

Facilitating Student-Led Seminar Discussions with The Piano Lesson

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Facilitating Student-Led Seminar Discussions with The Piano Lesson

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Scott Filkins

Scott Filkins

Champaign, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



From Theory to Practice



August Wilson's play The Piano Lesson readily invites students to ask a number of questionsóbig and
smallóabout the characters, setting, conflict, and symbols in the work. After reading the first act,
students learn how to create effective discussion questions and then put them to use in student-led
seminar discussions after act 1 and again at the end of the play.

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In advocating for an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning about literature, Mark Ensrud
suggests that mundane questions about due dates and classroom procedures are "hardly the kinds of
questions we teachers hope for" (79). To develop students' ability to ask questions that facilitate studentled
seminar discussions, Ensrud shares this framework with students: "Opening questions begin a
discussion and invite a reexamination of the text. Closed-ended questions seek particular information,
while open-ended questions invite authentic inquiry. And core questions attempt to get at the meaning
of a text" (80). The ability to conceive of questions of these four types forms the basis for an introduction
to inquiry-based student-led seminars about literature.

Further Reading

Ensrud, Mark. "Getting at What They Want to Know: Using Students' Questions to Direct Class Discussion."† From Inquiry and the Literary Text: Constructing Discussions in the English Classroom. James Holden and John S. Schmit, eds. NCTE, 2002: 79-86.

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