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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


Student Objectives

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Increase their knowledge of dialect by listening to and describing a variety of different dialect examples, as well as discussing why dialects exist, how they are formed, and why they vary

  • Practice synthesizing information by connecting what they have learned about dialects to The Color Purple

  • Develop discussion skills in both large- and small-group settings

  • Practice evaluative writing that also demonstrates comprehension of discussed concepts

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Session 1

1. Hand out (or show on an overhead projector) the text of either "The Rainbow Passage" or "Comma Gets a Cure," depending on which recordings you have chosen.

2. Play at least four or five of the recordings that you have selected. At the end of each one, ask students to think about and jot their responses to the following questions:

  • What can you tell about the reader by the way he or she speaks?

  • Where is the reader from?

  • Is the reader educated or uneducated?

  • How old is the reader?

  • What is the reader's race? How can you tell?
3. Once all of the recordings have been played, ask students to share their responses. Ask students to explain why they made the assumptions they did. Your goal in this discussion is to show students what types of inferences are often made about a person based on the way he or she speaks. Questions to consider include:

  • Why do dialects exist? Why do they vary?

  • What can you tell about a person by the way he or she speaks?

  • What influences dialects? Why do they vary depending on the region? the state? the neighborhood?

  • What are the benefits of speaking in dialect? What are the drawbacks?
4. Ask students to come up with a definition for the word dialect and write their ideas on the board. You want to work toward a group definition that reads something like, "A dialect is a variety of a language that is spoken by a group in a particular area or of a social group or class. It can have different pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammatical structures."

5. For homework, ask students to record a few examples of dialect they find particularly challenging from The Color Purple in their double-entry journals and to focus their responses on what makes these examples so difficult to understand.

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Session 2

1. Review the definition of the word dialect that you developed in Session 1.

2. Have students sit together in their literature circles, bringing their copies of The Color Purple and their double-entry journals with them. If this is the first time they are meeting, you will want to give them some guidelines about their participation, including taking notes on what is said (they will need to use these notes for homework), contributing to the discussion, and listening carefully when others are speaking.

3. Tell students that they will be discussing the following list of questions (you may want to have them written on the board):

  • Why do they think The Color Purple is written in dialect?

  • What type of dialect is it written in?

  • How does dialect help your understanding of the characters? How does it hinder it?

  • What, if anything, does dialect reveal about the characters who speak it?

  • What does it reveal about the characters who do not speak it?

  • What passages did they record in their double-entry journals? What did they find challenging about these passages?
Tell students that one participant in each group should record the group's observations, but that each student should also take notes in his or her double-entry journal.

4. While students are talking, circulate among the groups and observe participation, noting whether students are asking thoughtful questions, listening well, responding carefully, referring to the text and using it to support claims, and reflecting on their reading.

5. When there are five minutes left, ask students to fill out exit slips on the day's activities. Exit slips are a way of informally assessing students at the end of an activity. They can be in any format but usually consist of questions such as, "What did I learn during today's class?" and "What do I still have questions about?" Students can complete their exit sheets on notebook paper.

6. For homework, ask students to reflect on their group work by writing in their double- entry journals. The notes from their literature circle discussion should be on the left side and their responses to what was discussed should be on the right.

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Session 3

Bring the class back together for a discussion of dialect in The Color Purple. Have students share the answers they came up with in their literature circles and ask them if there are any concepts they still do not understand. Ask them what they have learned about dialects and how this knowledge affects the way they approach the text. This is also an excellent opportunity for students to share the passages they picked out as being difficult and discuss any problems they are having with the text.

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  • Observe student participation and comprehension during the discussion of dialect. Do they listen carefully to the downloaded samples? Do they share their observations? Do they understand the definition of the word dialect? Are they contributing to the discussion about the origins of dialect?

  • Use your anecdotal notes from Session 2 and the student exit sheets to assess student performance in the literature circles. Are students engaged in the discussion? Are all students actively participating? Do their comments show a growing understanding of the text? Do students draw connections between the discussion in Session 1 and their interpretations of the text in Session 2?

  • Collect the notes from each literature circle group. Do the notes show signs of critical and analytical thinking? Are the brainstormed answers superficial or do they show signs of sophisticated insights and reflections?

  • Assess student comprehension in the double-entry journals using a Check+, Check, Check– system as follows:
    • (Check+) Entry is well thought out and thorough. The writing is strongly reflective. Many interesting items are included in the left column and connections with prior learning or personal life are demonstrated in the right column.

    • (Check) Some reflection is evident in the entry. There are a few items of interest in the left column. Some personal or prior learning connections are included in the right column.

    • (Check–) Little to no attempt has been made to complete the assignment. There are minimal entries in the left column and few or no reflections in the right column.

    Compare the entries from before the literature discussion group with the entries that immediately follow.

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