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Lesson Plan on "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson

By Peter Boysen

This lesson plan is designed for grades 7-8 and takes your students through this chilling tale about an unwanted victory.

Getting Into "The Lottery"

To get your students going, have a writing prompt ready to go at the beginning of class that asks them what they would do if they won a lottery jackpot. Give them about ten minutes to write, and then ask some of them what they would do with it. Then, if you have some time, tell them some cautionary tales about people who have found winning the lottery to be somewhat different than they had originally thought.

Quick Plot Summary of "The Lottery"

June 27 is the day upon which this village celebrates the annual lottery. Everyone in town is eligible -- in fact, everyone has to participate. Every head of household draws a slip of paper from a black box, one of which has a black spot drawn on it. After everyone has drawn, Bill Hutchinson finds that the spot is on his paper. Now, everyone in Bill's family has to draw, and Bill's wife Tessie (who, ironically, almost forgot that it was lottery day) ends up drawing the black spot. Instead of winning a cash prize, though, she ends up being stoned to death by the rest of the village.

Irony Activity

If you have a regular-level class, you will want to read this story aloud, or play an audio recording of the story. In a Pre-AP/honors class, you could assign this for homework, but you'd definitely want to do a quick review at the beginning of class before starting this activity.

It's important that everyone in the class know what the "prize" of the lottery is before starting this activity. Have students draw a vertical line down the middle of a sheet of paper, making two columns. The left column will contain examples of irony, and the right column will contain an explanation of what makes that example ironic.

One of the first items in the left column might be from the setting: the flowers are "blossoming profusely and the grass [is] richly green." This is ironic because no one would expect something awful to happen on a day like this: the imagery sets the reader up to expect happy events. Have students work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to identify examples of irony throughout the story. Once they are done, point out to them any examples they may have missed.

Detailed Activity

Hand out blank pieces of printer/copy paper, and gather some buckets of crayons and colored pencils. Have the students draw a picture of Mr. Summers, standing at the box, calling out names. This shouldn't be a quick stick-figure work of art, either: the story gives extensive detail about Mr. Summers and about the box itself. It is made of wood, and has been painted black, and repainted; it is starting to show its age. It rests on a stool. Mr. Summers has on a "clean white shirt and blue jeans," and his hand sits "carelessly" on the box.

Once students have finished, ask them what is wrong with the picture. The fact that someone who is an executioner could wear the color of innocence (white) and act so casually while standing next to an object that is sure to bring death to someone -- even possibly him -- makes this story even more grotesque.