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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.


Lesson Summary


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

Why is this an important concept?

Being aware of the social and cultural background in which a literarywork was created provides deeper understanding of the author, thehistorical period in which it was created, and the big ideas andchanges important to that time. This understanding also supports theawareness needed for readers to make relevant connections to their ownlives and culture.

Grade Level:


Suggested Time

(3-4) 50-minute periods

Media Resources


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. Tellstudents that after watching three video segments they will write an essaydescribing how African American life and attitudes changed during theHarlem 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 aboutAfrican American history in the period directly preceding the HarlemRenaissance.

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

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

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

4. Next, ask students to recall the words used to describe AfricanAmericans during the Harlem Renaissance: 'urban, urbane, andsophisticated'. Ask students to record these definitions and ideas ontheir handout.

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

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

Day Two
1. Tell students they are going to learn about historical figuresof the Harlem Renaissance, focusing on Arturo Schomburg and LangstonHughes and the contributions they made to the culture and attitude ofthe "New Negro," a term used to describe the change in AfricanAmericans during the Renaissance period.

2. Ask students to pay attention to what motivated ArturoSchomburg, Langston Hughes and others to express new ideas. Play thesecond 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 studentsto 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 aboutthe descriptions Langston Hughes uses in the poem and whether the ideasexpressed in the poem can be seen as an example of a change inattitude. 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 andguide students to write a paragraph that addresses the topic in thesection.
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 anessay summarizing the most significant changes that occurred in theattitudes 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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