"The Color Purple": Four Teaching Ideas for High School English
Use the following teaching ideas as a guide or for inspiration. They provide students opportunities to read, analyze, discuss, compare, view, research, and work with their peers, tasks which, when combined, will make their experience reading Alice Walker’s classic novel a memorable one.
-The learner will monitor development of the protagonist and compare her to minor characters.
-The learner will read and analyze a poem to compare with themes from the novel.
-The learner will define literary criticism, collaborate with a group to analyze the novel from one school of criticism, and present the information to the class.
-The learner will practice writing a letter, research a famous collection of letters, and discuss the use of the epistolary structure of the novel
-The learner will watch the movie version of the novel, analyze the mood and compare it with the novel, and discuss the omission of scenes from the novel in the movie version.
-The learner will create their own movie version of the novel.
Ideas for Procedures
Procedures for lesson plans for The Color Purple invite students to consider a variety of perspectives within the novel and about the novel. These reading activities will keep students asking questions and creating their own connections and observations about the novel.
Activity 1— Students will work in groups to compare the main character, Celie, with other female characters in the novel, mainly Nettie, Shug Avery, Sofia, and Squeak. They may use a modified Venn diagram to monitor the similarities and differences amongst the characters. Afterwards, groups will take turns explaining their analysis to the class.
Activity 2—Students will read Robert Frost’s poem, “Design.” Teacher will ask students how Frost’s poem relates to Celie’s plight, themes within the novel, and the title of the novel.
Activity 3—Teacher will explain the purpose for literary criticism in literature. The teacher will decide which criticisms to use in class and assign one school of criticism per collaborative learning group. Students will then define the main points of that type of criticism. Students will then analyze the novel according to their school of literary criticism. Choices include:
- Jungian Criticism
- Marxist Criticism
- Freudian Criticism
- Reader-Response Criticism
- New Historicism Criticism
- Feminist Criticism
- Metaphorical Criticism
- Biographical Criticism
- Sociological Criticism
- Political Criticism
Afterwards, students will provide a presentation explaining their form of criticism and how they analyzed the novel, The Color Purple, based on their literary school of criticism.
Activity 4—Students will watch Steven Spielberg’s 1985 movie version of The Color Purple. (*This viewing might require a letter home to parents as there are a few explicit scenes within the movie.) Afterwards, the class will hold a discussion on the following topics:
- Why did the screenplay from Spielberg's version eliminate certain parts of the novel from the movie version?
- How did the movie version compare to the novel overall?
- How did Spielberg use music and sound to create mood? How was mood established in the novel?
- Ask students to consider themes such as violence, feminism, love, and religion in the movie. Open the floor to comments and observations on these themes.
Ideas for Assessment Activities
Assessment 1—Write a letter to God, your teacher, or someone fictional. In your letter, write about your experience reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.
Assessment 2—Celie’s story is delivered through letters to God and to her sister, Nettie. Open a discussion with the following questions:
- What if Walker had used the customary narrative form to tell this story?
- Why are letters so important?
- What might an outside reader learn from an epistolary study?
Students will research three to five letters from one historic figure. Ideas include presidents and heads of state, well-known authors, and celebrities. After reading the letters, ask students to consider responses for the following questions:
- What conclusions might you formulate based on what is not said in writing?
- Even though Walker’s novel is fictional, how does the epistolary structure work to capture the reader’s interest?
Students may either present their research in class in the form of a report with a PowerPoint guide or write about their research in an informative essay.
Assessment 3— Students will work in groups to recreate scenes from the novel in a video format. The teacher will chunk the novel into sections and provide each student group with a set of letters to choose from for their assignment. Groups will select scenes with vivid description to use for their movie recreation. While filming, one person will narrate the scene while other students act it out. When all of the movies are finished, combine the filmed depictions on movie-making software; provide a soundtrack, and slides describing the scene. The scenes will be viewed in order from the beginning to the end of the novel. Teachers might also choose to modify this activity by filming all the scenes from another character’s point of view or from the perspective of a school of literary criticism.
Frost, Robert. “Design.” Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions, 2nd ed. Comp. Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994. 89-90.
Spielberg, Steven. The Color Purple. Perf. Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg. Amblin Entertainment, 1985.
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Pocket Books: New York, 1982.
For information on Schools of Literary Criticism: