Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Character in Place: Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” for the Common Core

Created November 15, 2013

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Character in place phoenix

Friedrich Justin Bertuch, Bilderbuch für Kinder.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Sense of place gives equilibrium; extended, it is sense of direction too. Carried off we might be in spirit, and should be, when we are reading or writing something good; but it is the sense of place going with us still that is the ball of golden thread to carry us there and back and in every sense of the word to bring us home.

—Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty, whose life spanned most of the 20th century, represented the world of the deep American South in multiple genres. In stories, novels, and photography, the Pulitzer Prize winner was especially interested in the relationship of place to character. Her art explores the impact of place on the life of the individual depending on race, gender, and economic status, as well as the reverse influence of the individual character on environment. The short story “A Worn Path” is marked by intense and dramatic imagery that illuminates one character’s difficult and triumphant journey through a single day. It opens a complex landscape that evokes both the character’s passage and others’ larger pilgrimages. This lesson invites students to describe and analyze Welty’s use of characterization and setting to communicate the struggle and reward of that journey for Phoenix Jackson—poor, black, and elderly—during the Great Depression.

Guiding Questions

  • How does Welty use characterization and setting to advance meaning in “A Worn Path”?

Learning Objectives

  • To describe and analyze character and setting in a short story
  • To substantiate and extend analysis through graphical representation
  • To write clearly, skillfully, and convincingly about connections between characterization and setting

College and Career Readiness Standards

Anchor

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Individual Grade

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3 Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3 Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Background

The story’s protagonist, Phoenix Jackson, is an aged, impoverished, rural African American woman in pursuit of medicine for her grandson. In the course of a single day, Welty’s character, Phoenix, encounters multiple obstacles in the form of various white people whose treatment of her ranges from patronizing to insensitive. As such, her story depicts the Depression in the United States from the vantage point of a victim insufficiently represented in art—though a victim who, like the mythological phoenix her name evokes, resists annihilation, Phoenix transcends the abuse she experiences.

In praise of the author, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter once wrote, “There is no blurring at the edges, but evidences of an active and disciplined imagination working firmly in a strong line of continuity, the waking faculty of daylight reason recollecting and recording the crazy logic of the dream.” To access critical readings of and biographical information on Welty and her work, consult the Eudora Welty biography page of the EDSITEment-reviewed American Collection Educator’s Site. The Mississippi Writers entry on Welty provides additional information on her Mississippi roots as contextual background for her stories and novels.

Preparation Instructions

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Characterization

Have students describe and analyze Welty’s use of characterization for her main character Phoenix.

With the help of a graphic organizer (Worksheet 1. Characterization), students prepare in small groups for class-wide discussion of characterization in the story by focusing on and fleshing out Welty’s details and their impact on meaning. You might start by doing the first few paragraphs together to model the process and then let students finish the work with their groups. They should fill out columns 1–3 for now. After class discussion, they will complete column 4.

Once students are back together as a group, facilitate a discussion that advances their description to analysis of characterization’s impact by asking such questions as:

  • How would you summarily characterize Phoenix? What key adjectives and adverbs would you use? Where is your textual support?
  • How would you summarily characterize the hunter and any other characters you think are key? Again, where is your textual support?
  • Which of the author’s metaphors stand out for you? Unpack them—what are you invited to see, hear, and feel in and from the imagery?
Formative Assessment

Give students at least 10–15 minutes to fill out column 4 and hand their organizers in to you for review. Your goal is to assess and give them feedback on how successfully they are synthesizing their appreciation of the author’s multiple approaches to characterization through description (i.e., columns 1–3 on the organizer) and analysis (i.e., from class discussion and column 4).

Activity 2. Setting

Have students describe and analyze Welty’s use of setting in the short story “A Worn Path.”

With the help of a graphic organizer (Worksheet 2. Setting), students prepare in small groups for class-wide discussion of setting in the story by focusing on and fleshing out Welty’s details and their impact on meaning. Again, you might start by doing the first few paragraphs together to model the process and then let students finish the work with their groups. They should fill out columns 1–2 for now. After class discussion, they will complete column 3.

Once you’re back together as a group, facilitate a discussion that advances students’ description to analysis of setting’s impact by asking such questions as:

  • How does each setting affect Phoenix? How does each help you to see into her character? Where is your textual support?
  • What details stand out for you? Why? How does Welty make them stand out?
  • How do these different settings affect your appreciation and understanding of the story?
Assessment

Give students at least 10–15 minutes to fill out column 3 and hand worksheets in for review. Assess and give students feedback on how successfully they are synthesizing their observations about the author’s use of setting into an understanding of its impact on meaning within Phoenix’s journey.

Activity 3. Graphic Representation

Have students substantiate and extend their analyses of “A Worn Path” in graphic representations in order to advance their understanding of the impact of characterization and setting on meaning.

Before beginning Activity 3, students should access ReadWriteThink interactive comic vocabulary. This reference will offer them vocabulary to help them more precisely frame their work.

Then present students with these basic ways of combining text and imagery in a graphic panel. From least to most complex:

  • The imagery and text communicate the same thing—e.g., a drawing of Phoenix smiling and a caption reading "Phoenix smiles."
  • The imagery speaks for itself without text—e.g., two juxtaposed frames, one with an unsmiling Phoenix and the next with a smiling Phoenix.
  • The imagery and text provide more information together than each could offer alone—e.g., a picture of Phoenix smiling and a caption reading “She was as happy as she'd ever been.” Meaning can become more complex and layered when either the words or the picture rely on each other—e.g., a picture of Phoenix smiling and a caption reading “She pretended to be happy.”

Students should now review the story and their notes on their completed graphic organizers in order to choose a scene they think especially illuminating of the story’s meaning—i.e., a scene that reveals to them something essential about Phoenix’s character and her pilgrimage.

Have students reread the scene multiple times to help them decide on 4 or 5 different frames they will use to represent their understanding. They should use Worksheet 3. Framing Graphics to help them organize their thoughts.

Summative Assessment

Students write a formal explication of their graphic representations. They explain their work in each frame, justifying with textual citations why they chose the details of character, setting, and dialogue they have used. Explications should be thoughtfully organized, carefully articulated, and integrate citations according to MLA style. They should begin with an introduction that briefly explains why they chose to represent their particular scenes, and they should conclude with an articulation of key aspects of the meaning in the story as a whole as represented by the scene they chose to illustrate. Students should pay attention to their word choices and sentence structures.

Assessment

Students write a formal explication of their graphic representations. They explain their work in each frame, justifying with textual citations why they chose the details of character, setting, and dialogue they have used. Explications should be thoughtfully organized, carefully articulated, and integrate citations according to MLA style. They should begin with an introduction that briefly explains why they chose to represent their particular scenes, and they should conclude with an articulation of key aspects of the meaning in the story as a whole as represented by the scene they chose to illustrate. Students should pay attention to their word choices and sentence structures.

Review Worksheet 4. Summative Assessment Rubric with them before they begin their work. If one of your objectives is to assess how creatively they have structured their graphics—e.g., by alternating between long shots and close-ups to convey different things—you should add an additional criterion.

Extending The Lesson

Additional Resources

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Time Required

3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Short Stories
  • Literature and Language Arts
Skills
  • Creative writing
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Interpretation
  • Literary analysis
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Writing skills
Authors
  • Diane Moroff (New York, NY)