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Identifying the Social and Cultural Context of a Period - The New Negro and the Harlem Renaissance

Students write an essay summarizing the social and cultural changes in African American life and attitudes during the Harlem Renaissance.

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Lesson Summary

Overview

Students watch three video segments to identify the social and cultural context of the period before and during the Harlem Renaissance. Students then write an essay summarizing the social and cultural changes in African American life and attitudes during the Harlem Renaissance.

Why is this an important concept?

Being aware of the social and cultural background in which a literary work was created provides deeper understanding of the author, the historical period in which it was created, and the big ideas and changes important to that time. This understanding also supports the awareness needed for readers to make relevant connections to their own lives and culture.

Grade Level:

6-8

Suggested Time

(3-4) 50-minute periods

Media Resources

Materials

The Lesson

Part I: Learning Activity

Day One

1. Check for prior knowledge by asking students if they arefamiliar with a historical period called the Harlem Renaissance. Tell students that after watching three video segments they will write an essay describing how African American life and attitudes changed during the Harlem Renaissance. Begin by asking the following:

  • Why did the Harlem Renaissance come about?
  • Why was this period special?
  • What were some of the changes in life and attitude that occurred at this time?

As an introduction, it may be helpful to pre-teach a lesson about African American history in the period directly preceding the Harlem Renaissance.

Note: You may choose to visit The Learning Page of the Library of Congress which houses an archive of photos, audio recordings, documents and other archival materials or go to a Timeline of African American History, 1881-1900, for the period preceding the Harlem Renaissance.

2. Distribute paper or post-it notes. While watching a short segment, ask students to listen for and write the words historian Barry Lewis uses to describe African Americans in the late 19th century and the words he uses to describe African Americans who arrived in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance thirty years later. Also ask students to write the words Professor Kate Rushen uses to describe African Americans before and during the Harlem Renaissance period. Play the first segment, "Finding Their Voice," several times for comprehension and note-taking.

3. Next, ask students to recall the words used to describe African Americans in the late 19th century: 'rural, sharecropper, illiterate,uneducated' and write them on the board. Guide students to use the knowledge they gained from the pre-lesson to help define these words and terms. Distribute the Defining Terms handout and ask students to record the definitions.

4. Next, ask students to recall the words used to describe African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance: 'urban, urbane, and sophisticated'. Ask students to record these definitions and ideas on their handout.

5. Ask students to propose how African Americans might have begun to think of themselves differently during the Renaissance and why.

6. Continuing with the handout, ask students to summarize in two or three sentences the changes that occurred in African American life and attitudes between the late 19th century and the Harlem Renaissance.

Day Two
1. Tell students they are going to learn about historical figures of the Harlem Renaissance, focusing on Arturo Schomburg and Langston Hughes and the contributions they made to the culture and attitude of the "New Negro," a term used to describe the change in African Americans during the Renaissance period.

2. Ask students to pay attention to what motivated Arturo Schomburg, Langston Hughes and others to express new ideas. Play the second segment, "The New Negro."

3. In small groups, ask students to discuss their ideas and complete The New Negro Graphic Organizer handout. You may choose to enhance the learning by asking students to use the Internet or other forms of research to complete the handout.

4. Continue working in small groups. Distribute The Negro Speaks of Rivers handout. While watching the segment, ask students to think about the descriptions Langston Hughes uses in the poem and whether the ideas expressed in the poem can be seen as an example of a change in attitude. Play the third segment, "A Negro Speaks of Rivers." Afterwards, discuss what Hughes expressed. Ask students to complete the handout.

For Students Who Need Additional Help:

Select one section of the Finding Their Voice Essay handout and guide students to write a paragraph that addresses the topic in the section.
Depending upon the section selected, play the appropriate segment(s) for student comprehension.
Review the Finding Their Voice Rubric with students so they understand how they will be assessed.

Part II: Assessment

1. Students should refer to the three completed handouts to write an essay summarizing the most significant changes that occurred in the attitudes and lives of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance.

2. Distribute the Finding Their Voice Essay handout. Discuss the focus for each paragraph before asking students to write.

3. Use the Finding Their Voice rubric to assess student essays.

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