A Lesson Before Dying: Biography

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Prepare your class for a unit on A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines with an excellent set of materials. The first lesson of ten comes with an audio guide about the work as well as an interview of Gaines in a 30-minute video. Young readers listen to the audio guide to learn about the context and themes of the novel, then split into groups to read three essays. They write about their own favorite books, and discuss how the messages and themes can transcend regional boundaries. For homework, kids read the first four chapters of the book and consider why Gaines would open the novel that way.

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CCSS: Adaptable
Instructional Ideas
  • Accompanying video would be a great addition to an introductory lesson
  • Variety and depth of activities could work in a long block period class, or could be spread out over several shorter class periods
Classroom Considerations
  • This resource is only available on an unencrypted HTTP website. It should be fine for general use, but don’t use it to share any personally identifiable information
  • Audio guide features several fascinating speakers, including Burl Cain (warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary), Sister Helen Prejean (advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in America), several television and stage actors who have starred in adaptations of the book, and the author himself.
  • Essays focus on a biography of Gaines, the historical context for the novel, and a thematic introduction
  • All additional resources are attached, both as URLs and in a zip file
  • None
Common Core