K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • predict what will happen next in a story.
  • act out a scene from the story, experimenting with different roles.
  • discuss/evaluate scene and outcome.
  • relate the problem of the main character to problems faced by some members of our society.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

90 Minutes


The short story entitled “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes


Phase I: Warm up the group

  1. Ask students if they’ve heard about instances of school students stealing from their peers, particularly “status” items like expensive sneakers or electronic devices. Discuss this as a concept — don’t ask for specific incidents. Why would a student steal something like an iPod or a trendy shoe? Students may note that it can be difficult not to have what others have.
  2. Tell students, “We are going to read a story today entitled ‘Thank You, M’am;’ by Langston Hughes. It is about a boy who wants things that he doesn’t have. We will also discuss possible endings for the story.”
    • About the story: “Thank You, M’am” is the story of an adolescent named Roger who attempts to steal a lady’s pocketbook. Mrs. Louella Bates Washington Jones, the lady from whom Roger tries to steal, does the unexpected. She kicks him “right in his blue-jeaned sitter” and shakes him “until his teeth rattle.” Mrs. Jones takes Roger to her home where she talks to him about “wanting things he could not get.”
  3. After reading the story, focus the discussion on what might happen next if the story were to continue.
    • What do you think Roger might do next?
    • Do you think Mrs. Jones successfully taught Roger a lesson about stealing?
    • Do you think that Mrs. Jones has influenced Roger’s life in a positive way?
    • Do you think that Roger might lead a “straight” life in the future

Phase II: Selecting the participants

Ask students to describe the characters from the story and tell what they are like, how they feel, and what they might do next. Make sure that the students understand that Roger and Mrs. Jones are the main characters; people on the street who witnessed the attempted theft are minor characters. Have students volunteer for the roles of the characters for a role-playing activity.

Phase III: Creating the line of action

Set the stage. The role players will outline the scene, but they don’t prepare dialogue. A section of the classroom becomes the street where Roger attempts to steal from Mrs. Jones. Another corner of the classroom becomes the home of Mrs. Jones, where she talks to Roger, attempting to teach him that stealing is wrong. The student playing Roger decides where in the action he wants to begin.

Phase IV: Preparing the observers

Assign new jobs to students: Someone will evaluate the role playing, one will comment on the effectiveness of the behavior of the role players, and another will define the feelings of the persons being portrayed. Students volunteer for the tasks, or the teacher assigns them.

Phase V: The enactment

The students portray their roles, responding realistically to each other. The players/roles can be changed.

Phase VI: Discussion and evaluation

After the enactment has been completed, have a class discussion, using your own questions or some of the following questions:

  1. How do you think Roger feels when Mrs. Jones says that she, too, had once wanted things that she could not have?
  2. What do you think Roger thinks when Mrs. Jones leaves her purse out in the open where he could easily snatch it if he wanted to?
  3. What is going on in Mrs. Jones’ mind when she gives Roger money?
  4. What does Roger mean when he says that he “did not trust the woman not to trust him”?
  5. Why do you think Roger could only utter a “thank you” before Mrs. Jones closes the door?

Phase VII: Share experience and generalize

Lead a discussion in which students relate Roger’s problem to real situations and current social problems. Ask students to write in their journals about a time they had an experience similar to Roger’s, where they wanted something they could not have. How did that make them feel? How did they act? Ask the students if they know of anyone like Mrs. Jones who decided to overlook their flaws and see the best in them. How did that make them feel? Did it change their feelings or behavior?


Teacher/peer evaluation of discussion/role playing


This lesson works best with gifted/talented students, but all students could benefit from it.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 8
          • 8.RL.3 Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 1: The learner will use language to express individual perspectives through analysis of personal, social, cultural, and historical issues.
    • Objective 1.04: Reflect on learning experiences by:
      • evaluating how personal perspectives are influenced by society, cultural differences, and historical issues.
      • appraising changes in self throughout the learning process.
      • evaluating personal circumstances and background that shape interaction with text.
  • Goal 4: The learner will continue to refine critical thinking skills and create criteria to evaluate print and non-print materials.
    • Objective 4.01: Analyze the purpose of the author or creator and the impact of that purpose by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard, and/or viewed.
      • evaluating any bias, apparent or hidden messages, emotional factors, and/or propaganda techniques.
      • evaluating the underlying assumptions of the author/creator.
      • evaluate the effects of the author's craft on the reader/viewer/listener.
  • Goal 5: The learner will respond to various literary genres using interpretive and evaluative processes.
    • Objective 5.01: Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive literacy program by:
      • using effective reading strategies to match type of text.
      • reading self-selected literature and other materials of interest to the individual.
      • reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher.
      • assuming a leadership role in student-teacher reading conferences.
      • leading small group discussions.
      • taking an active role in whole class seminars.
      • analyzing the effects of elements such as plot, theme, charaterization, style, mood, and tone.
      • discussing the effects of such literary devices as figurative language, dialogue, flashback, allusion, irony, and symbolism.
      • analyzing and evaluating themes and central ideas in literature and other texts in relation to personal and societal issues.
      • extending understanding by creating products for different purposes, different audiences, and within various contexts.
      • analyzing and evaluating the relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts, and/or experiences.