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Lesson Plan

Narrative Structure and Perspectives in Toni Morrison's Beloved

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Narrative Structure and Perspectives in Toni Morrison's Beloved

Grades 11 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Charles Weinberg

Champaign, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One: Representing Book One of Beloved through Images

Session Two: A Gallery Walk

Session Three: Subjectivity and Representation in Beloved


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • represent a section of the novel visually, using an organizational method of their choice.

  • present and discuss their visual interpretations.

  • analyze three connected sections of the novel, focusing on the relationships between language and meaning.

  • synthesize their understanding of the three sections in a brief written response.

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Session One: Representing Book One of Beloved through Images

  1. Begin the session by asking students to share their initial reactions to the complex structure of Book 1.  This can be done either verbally or as a quick-write in the first few minutes of class. 

  2. On the chalkboard or overhead, record students' observations on how the story is told.   Students typically note that the plot shifts quickly between past and present; the author frequently uses what seem to be "digressions" from the main storyline; and they, as a result, feel a sense of confusion.  

  3. Take this opportunity to share with students an excerpt from the forward to Beloved, in which Morrison states:

    I wanted the reader to be kidnapped, thrown ruthlessly into an alien environment as the first step into a shared experience with the book's population—just as the characters were snatched from one place to another, from any place to any other, without preparation or defense. (xviii)

  4. Use Morrison's statement of intent to assure students that their sense of confusion is both purposeful and correctable through the activities in this lesson.

  5. Inform students that their first task for responding to Book 1 will be to give the text a sense of organization by representing the key events of Book 1 solely through images.  Emphasize to the students that the objective here is not to produce "works of art," but instead to review major events and the means by which Morrison organizes them.  Because the success of this activity stems from the generation and exploration of the variety of means of representing Book 1, teachers should resist the urge to provide examples or instructions with too much detail.

  6. Give students time to begin the process of re-representing by asking them to form groups and distributing paper and markers. (Alternatively, for the sake of time and student ease, students may represent the main events of Book 1 through found images on the Web or in magazines).

  7. Students should refer to their texts as necessary, but direct quotations or citations are not necessary for this activity. 

  8. Confer with each group as it prepares its representation.  If students seem to be having trouble, guide them by suggesting that their representations can focus on the literal, the abstract, the figurative/symbolic, the chronology, or a pivotal scene.

  9. Students need to complete the representation by the end of the session for presentation and discussion in the next session.

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Session Two: A Gallery Walk

  1. Prior to the session, display the different groups' posters on the walls of the classroom. 

  2. Begin the session by providing students the Gallery Walk Focus Questions.  Go over the questions with students to establish expectations for the activity.

  3. As groups view each other's depictions of Book 1, students should use the Focus Questions to compare what has been emphasized and what has been omitted between their own posters and those of their classmates.  

  4. After students have had time to complete the gallery walk of their classmates' work, have them return to their seats for presentations.

  5. Ask for a group to volunteer to share its poster to the class first. The group should explain the rationale behind artistic decisions and answer questions from the other groups. 

  6. As part of the presentation process, the teacher should facilitate discussion, emphasizing differences among the various posters and asking why each group prioritized certain events at the expense of omitting others.  In preparation for Session Three, the teacher should pay special attention to the representation (or perhaps even omission in some instances) of the infanticide that Sethe commits.

  7. Have the other groups present until every group has had a turn. 

  8. Close the session by thanking students for their work.

  9. Ask students to prepare for a discussion of the infanticide in the next session by reviewing the three representations from the text (Schoolteacher's is found on pages 175-177; Stamp Paid's, 183-185; Sethe's, 192-193).

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Session Three: Subjectivity and Representation in Beloved

Suggestion for differentiation: If you feel students may not be ready for the level of abstract thinking required for the activity in Session Three, consider engaging students in this additional activity that approaches the same concept from a more concrete perspective.

  1. After reviewing the discussion from the previous session on ways in which values and priorities shape how a story is represented, tell students they will be looking closely at the three different depictions of the infanticide Sethe commits (Schoolteacher's, Stamp Paid's, and Sethe's own account).  

  2. Place an overhead of Schoolteacher's depiction on the projector and model a close reading.  If students are already well-versed at close reading, serve as facilitator.  Use the Teacher's Guide to Passages from Beloved to focus the elements of language you call to students' attention. 

  3. Beyond paying close attention to the author's stylistic decisions in each passage, you will also want to ask the class why each character views the scene the way he or she does.  Specifically, ask what preconceived biases does the description reaffirm? (Schoolteacher sees dehumanization; Stamp Paid sees culpability; Sethe sees an act of love. See the Teacher's Guide to Passages from Beloved for additional details.) 

  4. Assign pairs of students to engage in a close reading of one of the other two passages.  Students should be encouraged to annotate the text as they perform their close readings.

  5. Each pair should be teamed with a pair that performed a close reading of the other passage to form a group of four students who have analyzed both sections of text.  Instruct each pair to take notes on their groupmates' close readings.

  6. Using the 3-Circle Venn Diagram for Beloved, allow students to compare and contrast elements of language such as detail, word choice, figurative language, and so forth, as they contribute to tone and overall representations in the three excerpts.  Have the students print four copies of their finished diagram.

  7. As homework for the next session, have students write paragraph responses to connect values and identity with the ways in which a narrator recounts an event.

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  • Students are often interested in exploring the historical basis for Sethe's character—Margaret Garner. Historical texts provide a similar opportunity to compare the different ways Garner was viewed by her contemporaries—a modern day Medea, a cause celebre for the abolitionist movement, or a criminal guilty of destruction of her owner's property.

  • The ideas in this assignment are rich enough to merit extension into a longer paper at the conclusion of the novel.

  • Apply similar close reading techniques to the two scenes in which Sethe leaves her home to face the community—the first after killing her daughter, the second after the ghost leaves.

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  • Observe students as they work in groups to represent Book 1.  Provide guidance to those that seem to need additional support.

  • Use the Written Assignment Rubric to provide feedback to students regarding their written responses.

  • Use these Reflection Questions to encourage students, either in class discussion or in writing, to reflect on how the activities in this lesson helped build confidence out of their initial confusion.

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