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Lesson Plan

Unlocking the Underlying Symbolism and Themes of a Dramatic Work

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Unlocking the Underlying Symbolism and Themes of a Dramatic Work

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

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



This lesson invites students to explore the things relevant to a character from Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun, such as Mama's plant, to unlock the drama's underlying symbolism and themes. Students explore character traits and participate in active learning as they work with the play. Students use an interactive drama map to explore character and conflict, and then write and share character-item poems.

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Drama Map: Students use this online tool to complete and print out character map, conflict map, resolution map, or setting map graphic organizers.

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In "Dialogue with a Text," Robert Probst explains, "If we accept the idea that literature ought to be significant, that readers have to assimilate it and work with it, that transforming it into knowledge is more significant than memorizing the definitions of technical terms, then we need to find some ways of bringing readers and text together, and of forcing upon readers the responsibility for making meaning of text." The best activities, then, encourage students to make their own meaning out of what they read and to discover for themselves the beauty of great literature. In practice, this lesson allows students to choose objects and ideas on their own. Without fail, given this chance, students choose the significant symbols and themes in the play and are able to explore their meaning with little prompting or direction.

Further Reading

 Robert E. Probst. "Dialogue with a Text." English Journal 77.1 (1988): 32-38.


This lesson plan was adapted from: Steutermann, Mary Ann. 1996.  "Sneaking Students into Symbolism and Theme," from Ideas Plus Book 14. pp. 30-31. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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