Paideia Seminar Lesson Plan
Text: “Woofing” by Zora Neale Hurston
Grade/Subject: Adult / Racial Justice
Ideas, Values: Creativity, Dialect, Language, Memory & Imagination, Poetry
Date of Origin: 10/22/2022
Discuss with participants the following definition of dialect: “particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.” In particular, discuss what sort of power and/or limitations a dialect has when spoken in various settings.
Distribute the text and ask the participants to discuss what they think this play might be about based on the title. Assign parts and read the play aloud while participants highlight all unfamiliar vocabulary.
Share as appropriate: Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) was an African-American novelist and folklorist who was born in Alabama but lived most of her life in Florida. Among many other things, she was a librarian for the Library of Congress. She is best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).
Note that a number of Hurston’s plays and dramatic sketches were deposited in the Library of Congress during her lifetime and were later “discovered” after her death by a librarian. “Woofing” is a short play, the only copy of which resides in the Library.
Note that with this text, vocabulary is everything. Many of the dialect terms will be lost on a modern audience, even those familiar with various forms of Black American dialect. Go over the text of the play page by page and discuss what the meaning of unfamiliar terms may be, based on the context. Note that in the analytical read, one of the goals will be to prepare an annotated text that captures as much of this as possible.
Have participants read the text for a second time (either aloud or silently) in groups of 3–5 participants and discuss the meaning of dialect terms and how they affect the tone of the play. Allow time for each individual participant to annotate his or her copy of the text, to include the meaning.
Define and state the purpose for the seminar.
“A Paideia seminar is a collaborative, intellectual dialogue about a text, facilitated with open ended questions.
“The main purpose of seminar is to arrive at a fuller understanding of the textual ideas and values, of ourselves, and of each other.”
Describe the responsibilities of facilitator and participants.
“I am primarily responsible for asking challenging, open-ended questions, and I will take a variety of notes to keep up with the talk turns and flow of ideas. I will help move the discussion along in a productive direction by asking follow-up questions based on my notes.
“I am asking you to think, listen and speak candidly about your thoughts, reactions and ideas. You can help each other do this by using each other’s names.
“You do not need to raise your hands in order to speak, rather, the discussion is collaborative in that you try to stay focused on the main speaker and wait your turn to talk.
“You should try to both agree and disagree in a courteous, thoughtful manner. For example, you might say, ‘I disagree with Joanna because…,’ focusing on the ideas involved not the individuals.”
Have participants set a personal goal.
“Now, please reflect on how you normally participate in a discussion as a group. What goal can you set for yourself that will help the flow and meaning of the seminar?
“Please consider the list of personal participation goals – either on the Speaking and Listening Checklist or on the board.”
- To speak at least three times
- To refer to the text
- To ask a question
- To speak out of uncertainty
- To build on others’ comments
“Is there one that is relevant for you? Please choose one goal from the list or that you feel is best and commit to achieving it during the discussion we are about to have … write down (or circle) your personal goal.”
Agree on a group goal.
For this seminar, I will suggest our group goal. (Select and display for all to see.)
Opening (identify main ideas from the text):
- What title would you give this play if you were preparing it for production? (round-robin response)
- Why did you choose that title? Refer to the text. (spontaneous discussion)
Core (analyze textual details):
- Based on the text, what do you think is more important to the characters, playing or working?
- What sort of language comes from playing? What sort from working?
- What role does music play in “Woofing”? How is singing related to speaking?
- Do you think these characters are demeaned by the dialect they speak? In Hurston’s eyes? In your eyes?
- Is this play more about what the characters are doing or what they are saying? What are they saying beneath the literal meaning of the words?
Closing (personalize and apply the ideas):
- What’s the most important thing you learned about language during our discussion of “Woofing”?
- Do you speak a dialect? If so, what have you learned from our discussion about your own dialect?
“Thank you for your focused and thoughtful participation in our seminar.”
Have participants do a written self-assessment of their personal goal.
“As part of the post-seminar process, I would first like to ask you to take a few minutes to reflect on your relative success in meeting the personal process goal you set prior to beginning the discussion. Please review the goal you set for yourself and reflect in writing to what extent you met the goal. In addition, note why you think you performed as you did.” (Pause for reflection.)
Do a group assessment of the social and intellectual goals of the seminar.
“Now I would like us to talk together about how we did in relation to the group goal we set for ourselves (insert your group goal). On a scale of one to five, five being perfect, how would you say we did? Why?” (Pause for discussion.)
“Now, would someone be willing to (volunteer to) share your personal self-assessment and reflection?”
Note reminders for the next seminar.
Post Seminar Content:
Note that to fulfill the post-seminar content task as outlined below, you will need to contact the Library of Congress for permission to stage a Readers Theater production of “Woofing.”
Transition to Writing:
Have participants make a list in writing of the things they learned about language in general, Note Hurston’s professional expertise as a folklorist, which fed her fascination with spoken dialect.
After reading and discussing Zora Neale Hurston’s “Woofing,” work together as a group to mount a Readers Theater production of the play for middle or high school students.
Share a common definition of Readers Theater (for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Readers_theater ) and ask participants to discuss together how to present Hurston’s play as an effective drama in voices. Note Hurston’s professional expertise as a folklorist, which fed her fascination with spoken dialect. Discuss as a group why “spoken” theater is an appropriate means for presenting a study of dialect.
Structure the Writing:
Assign parts for reading the play; remember to assign a “narrator” to read the action descriptions, etc.
Do a first read-through of the script and discuss how best to pronounce the dialect portions.
Rehearse the production (including who will sit or stand where, etc.). Videotape the production and review the video together. Discuss how to improve the production.
Hold a second rehearsal and discuss any further revisions you want to make to the presentation.
Present the play via Readers Theater to one or more middle- or high-school classes. After the production, discuss with the students the nature of dialect. Include in the discussion the power of dialect as well as its possible limitations. Note common misconceptions about dialect.
This Paideia Lesson Plan was created by:
Name: Terry Roberts
Organization: National Paideia Center
*Text is attached if open sourced.
*Text is cited if it needs to be procured.