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Lesson Plan

What Did They Say? Dialect in The Color Purple

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What Did They Say? Dialect in The Color Purple

Grades 9 – 12
Estimated Time Three 40- to 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Chantrise D. Sims

Decatur, Georgia


International Literacy Association


Materials and Technology






  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Harvest Books, 2003)

  • Computer with external speakers

  • Overhead projector (optional)

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1. Read The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Break it up into reading assignments for your students. At the beginning of the lesson, students should have read at least 50 pages of the book.

2. In this lesson, students will work in literature circles, which are designed to get students talking about a text in a less formal and intimidating environment. Literature circles are small groups where students meet to talk about books they have read. Discussion is guided by specific reading strategies that you assign but is student directed. These groups are especially valuable for students who rarely speak during whole-class discussions; these students often blossom in a group discussion with only three or four of their peers.

You may choose to use literature circles regularly in your classroom, or simply to use them while reading The Color Purple. If this lesson is the first time you will be using literature circles, you will need to assign groups of four to five students each.

3. Another tool students will use in this lesson is a double-entry journal. In these journals, students divide each page into two columns, writing summaries or quotations on the left side and their own personal reflections on these passages on the right.

Have students begin their journals when they start reading The Color Purple. When you introduce the journals, you may want to provide some examples or even model your own journal entry so that students understand what is expected of them. You might also provide students with some questions to serve as prompts, such as:

  • Why do you think the book is titled The Color Purple?

  • What do you think the color purple symbolizes? (This is a good prereading/postreading question.)

  • Compare the father's treatment of Celie to that of her sister Nettie. Why are they treated so differently?

  • How does the journal-entry format of the book help or hinder your understanding of the text?
4. Read "Incorporating Dialect Study into the Language Arts Class" and "Teaching About Dialects." These articles will give you some excellent background information about dialects and their place in a language arts classroom.

5. Visit the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) website. Download five or six dialect samples to the hard drive on the computer you will use for classroom demonstration. When choosing recordings, vary the locations, ages, races, gender, and educational background of the participants. There is a written listing for each recording that will give you all of this information; you will want to print these listings off and keep a list of file names so you know which information goes with which sound file. Downloading the files may take you some time, depending on the speed of your connection.

While you are on the IDEA website, print off copies of "The Rainbow Passage" and "Comma Gets a Cure." These are the text passages that participants read in the dialect samples. Make copies of the printouts for each student in the class or make a transparency to use with an overhead projector.

6. Once you have the dialect files downloaded, test them. Make sure the computer speakers work and are loud enough for the entire class to hear clearly.

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