High School English Language Arts (ELA) Lesson Plan, Grades 9-12
This lesson (for ELA, grades 9-12) uses a clip from the documentary Bessie Eldreth: Stories and Songs of a Blue Ridge Life to engage students in an analysis of gender roles for women and power in a domestic setting in Boone, North Carolina (in the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian region). It can be used with discussions of and lessons on gender and power in texts such as: A Doll’s House (Ibsen), Things Fall Apart (Achebe), Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare), The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne), The Crucible (Miller), The Awakening (Chopin), etc. This lesson is also appropriate for honors, AP, and IB classes.
Students will: • analyze the gendered power dynamics between an Appalachian woman, Bessie Eldreth, and her husband • create a concept map to illustrate their analysis of the power dynamics in a text • support their analysis with textual evidence
Teachers may wish to include additional learning outcomes dependent on how this lesson fits into a larger unit based on a classroom text.
Curriculum Alignment: Common Core State Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Teacher Planning Time Required 30-40 minutes
Materials • Computer with internet access connected to a multimedia projector • Access to Bessie Eldreth: Stories and Songs of a Blue Ridge Life on the Folkstreams website (http://www.folkstreams.net/) o The lesson involves a clip from approximately 17:45- 22:40 • For power maps, either a white board/chalk board and markers/chalk or: o Chart paper, poster board, or other large sheets of paper o Markers or colored pencils
Handouts 1. Bessie Eldreth handout (for students) 2. Power map example (to project only)
1. Introduce the lesson by telling students they will be discussing gender and power in a video clip and in the larger text they’re reading, particularly in relation to women.
2. Ask students to think of women in their local society in general. What power do they have? What power is kept from them? Ideas may include: women can work outside the home; women are expected to take on the majority of childcare responsibilities; women sometimes feel unsafe alone at night, etc. The idea is to get students brainstorming about how women have or are denied power in their everyday life as tied to their gender.
3. Tell students they will watch a short clip from a documentary about Bessie Eldreth, a woman from Boone, North Carolina (a town in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western part of the state) who gained recognition for her singing of traditional and religious songs and for her pithy stories about her life experiences in rural communities.
a. Bessie was born in 1913. She was filmed in the 1990s talking about her memories going back to the 1930s. In the clip we’re watching today, Bessie shares stories about her life that tell us about her relationship with her husband and children, thoughts on marriage, and what brings her joy. In the clip, she is being interviewed at Appalachian State University by a folklorist while college students listen.
4. Play the video between 17:45- 22:40. It should begin after Bessie has finished talking about her canning, and end with “But now he would not, if he seen any danger, I'd always face it. Now he wouldn't get out, he wouldn't go. He'd stay back,” as indicated in the transcript on the student handout.
5. Either discuss the questions on the handout as a class, or divide students into groups, giving each group a question. If the latter option is chosen, facilitate a class discussion after the groups have had a chance to discuss. The questions are:
a. Who has power in Bessie’s stories with her husband? How is this connected to gender and gender roles?
b. How does Bessie negotiate power dynamics in her home?
c. Why do you think Bessie tells the story of the horse and Clyde? What are the power dynamics in this story?
d. How would you describe the power dynamics in the room when Bessie is telling her stories to her audience? How does this compare and contrast to the power dynamics between her and her husband?
6. Next, tell students that they will be making power maps. Decide if you want to have students make a power map about Bessie’s story, or if you would prefer they create one from a classroom text. Explain that the power map is a visual way to describe the power relationships and structures in a text. You may want to use the example power map (at the end of the document), though be sure students know that their map does not need to look like the example.
7. Project these instructions on the board for the students:
a. Make a chart/illustration/diagram to show how the power relationships/structures work between characters in the text
b. It can look however you want, these relationships are complicated and don’t necessarily fit a pyramid structure.
c. Find a quote that supports your power map design decisions.
d. Be prepared to:
i. Share your map
ii. Explain your design choices
iii. Talk about how this power structure relates to broader themes in the video or classroom text (can be themes that you have discussed in class or written about)
8. Divide students into small groups. The maps can be created on notebook paper, although larger paper or a whiteboard/chalkboard is preferable as more space allows for more creativity.
9. Once the groups are finished, have each share and explain their map,
10. Suggested discussion questions to finish the lesson:
a. How is the power map indicative of the bigger picture/themes in the novel/video?
b. How does power play out through structures of class and gender?
c. What was the author/filmmaker trying to say about gender [or other categories as appropriate to the text] through their portrayal of these relationships?
Teachers should evaluate students’ power maps based on the following criteria:
1. Design: Does the concept map visually represent the power dynamics in the text? Did the students make design choices intentionally, or were they doing what seemed easiest? In other words, did the design have a purpose tied to the power relationships and their analysis of these relationships?
2. Analysis: When the students explained their design choices, were they drawing on their analysis of the text? Did students carefully consider the power relationships amongst the characters/institutions in the text? Did students consider multiple ways power worked on and through the characters and/or institutions in the text?
3. Textual support: Did the quote chosen from the text support their power map, or was it a superficial choice? Did the quote support the power relationships, or did it only show that there were power struggles?
Depending on how this lesson fits into a larger unit, teachers may have additional criteria such as including certain characters or pivotal scenes.
STUDENT HANDOUT: GENDER AND POWER: DOMESTIC LIFE FOR AN APPALACHIAN WOMAN Bessie Eldreth: Stories and Songs of a Blue Ridge Life [documentary]
The film: This is a documentary about Bessie Eldreth, a singer and storyteller from Boone, NC. Boone is a town in a mountainous and mostly rural part of the state. Local people are proud of their traditional culture, although the town is also home to a university and is an increasingly popular location for summer vacations. In the clip we’re watching today, Bessie shares stories about her life that give us insight into her relationship with her husband and children, thoughts on marriage, and what brings her joy. Bessie was born in 1913. She was filmed in the 1990s talking about her memories going back to the 1930s.
While you watch: Think about how Bessie’s story relates to gender dynamics and power.
Bessie: The happiest days of my life were the little over 15 years I was at home. And the 18 year that I've been a widow. That's saying something isn't it? But really it is! It's been the happiest years of my life. ‘Til I could do things what I wanted to do. Not fussed at, scolded, or one thing or another. Some things gets old, doesn't it? It really does. It does make sense it makes a lot of sense. There was a song my mom used to sing a lot, 'Single Girl'. Every once in awhile we get talking about, people get talking about different things, and I'd say mom used to sing "I wouldn't marry at all at all, I wouldn't marry at all." She sang,
I wouldn't marry a man that's rich He'd get drunk and fall in the ditch I wouldn't marry at all, at all, I wouldn't marry at all. I wouldn't marry a man that's poor, All he'd do is sit in the door, I wouldn't marry at all, at all, I wouldn't marry at all.
No he didn't like it if he heard me sing, he'd just get plumb aggravated.
Interviewer: This was your husband?
Bessie: [nods] And I'd be in the kitchen, taping me a song you know, and he'd come in and throw forks and spoons in the sink and rattle them and make all kinds of noise. ‘Til I'd have to turn the tape recorder off. Now it’s truth young’uns, he would.[scene changes]
My husband came out and he said, "I guess that horse has got out," says "I guess he's killed Clyde." That's one of the little boys, he's about three. He said "I guess he's killed Clyde, all the other children has escaped and he's missing."
And I started to run out and he said, "You're not going out, that horse will kill you." And he was, he was afraid of the horse, he wouldn't get out. And I started, and he started to hold me, and I said "I'm going to get Clyde."
And I took out of that house and up the road just as hard as I could go. Well I met that horse a-coming. And I just throwed up my hands and screamed, and when I done that it scared the horse, you know. And it wheeled around the other way, just like that. And just as hard as it could come and its mane, you know how the tail runs, and it come on down the road. And I went on after Clyde and I met Clyde toddling along. About as far as from here to the wall over there. And I grabbed him up in my arms and I seen the horse coming back. And we had an awful rogue-ish cow, mean to jump the fence you know, and we had our garden fenced high you know, to keep it from getting in the garden. And I saw that horse coming and I thought well, I guess me and this little boy's had it.
But when I seen that horse, it was getting so close on me, I'll never know how I went over that fence. But when I landed in that garden, I went over that fence with that little boy under one arm, and landed on my knees in the garden on the other side and I skinned my knees all over. When I went in, you know over the fence. And when I looked up that horse was standing on its hind feet, just as straight up as it could be, looking up over the fence at me. And went on down, I went on through the garden and went down to the house, to where I could get in the house, you know.
And my husband he said, "Where'd that horse go?" He wasn't going to get out to see. And he said, "If it had killed that young’un I would have shot that horse coming back down the road." He said "I'd shot the horse."
But now he would not, if he seen any danger, I'd always face it. Now he wouldn't get out, he wouldn't go. He'd stay back.
1. Who has power in Bessie’s stories with her husband? How is this connected to gender and gender roles?
2. How does Bessie negotiate power dynamics in her home?
3. Why do you think Bessie tells the story of the horse and Clyde? What are the power dynamics in this story?
4. How would you describe the power dynamics in the room when Bessie is telling her stories to her audience? How does this compare and contrast to the power dynamics between her and her husband?
EXAMPLE POWER MAP
- Watch Bessie Eldreth
- Interview with the filmmaker Patricia Sawin
- Interview with the filmmaker Elva Bishop
- Interview with the filmmaker Cece Conway
- Further Reading on Appalachia
- Archival Collections of Watauga County Singers and Storytellers
- Further Reading on Ashe and Watauga Counties
- Information on Ashe and Watauga Counties
- Further Reading on Bessie Eldreth
- Bessie Eldreth: Stories and Songs of a Blue Ridge Life
- High School English (ELA) Lesson Plan, Grades 9-12