Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 1: “The Glass Menagerie” as Expressionist Theatre

Created March 31, 2015


The Lesson


Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams at 20th anniversary of The Glass Menagerie opening.

Credit: Fernandez, Orlando, photographer, 1965.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC.

Tennessee Williams’ classic play, The Glass Menagerie (1944), was an extension of the expressionism that came out of Europe in the early 20th century. In essence, expressionism interprets the world through the artist’s internal, subjective lens, not as an objective reflection of reality.

This lesson is one part of a three lesson unit about The Glass Menagerie. Lesson 1 will engage students in the first steps of literary analysis—i.e., description—by asking them to identify what contributes to The Glass Menagerie as expressionist theatre and toward what apparent ends. This first lesson in the unit will prepare them for the unit’s second lesson, in which they will analyze the effects of those techniques they observe in action here.

Teachers may link to the full unit with Guiding Questions, College and Career Readiness standards and Background. Lesson 1 aligns with CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Learning Objectives

  • To identify and explicate Williams’ use of expressionist techniques by citing strong and thorough textual evidence from both The Glass Menagerie and informational texts

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. “The Glass Menagerie” as Expressionist Theatre

Students should first read the play in its entirety.

As a class read and discuss the short article, “Modern Theatre in Context: Expressionism, from Canada Research Chair in Performance and Culture,” to identify the following theatrical techniques that come out of Expressionism:

  • Internal experience that is subjective, not objective or real;
  • Fragmented characters that are often social or spiritual archetypes;
  • Abstract space/time that is suggestive and symbolic, not explicitly stated;
  • Atmospheric lighting that is expressive of emotion;
  • Spatial devices that are suggestive and symbolic not explicitly stated (i.e., staircases);
  • Acting style that includes expressive movements and loud utterances.

Then have students work both individually and in pairs or triads on Worksheet 1 to solidify their understanding of relevant vocabulary and identify where expressionism is at work in the play. Have them return to the worksheet at intervals throughout the class discussion, offering evidence from the play in their answers.

Have students should work individually on Worksheet 1 in order to ensure that everyone becomes comfortable with the terminology. Have students work in pairs or triads to continue their work collaboratively. (A teacher version of Worksheet 1 is available with suggested answers.)

Once all groups have completed or are near completion of the worksheet, gather everyone for a whole-class discussion.

First, ask for volunteers to share their definition of an expressionist technique in their own words and provide an example from the play. Then, ask to hear from anyone who thinks the example might illustrate a different expressionist technique.

Next, ask students to return to their pairs or triads to choose their favorite (or most interesting, most provocative, etc.) example (from column 3 on the worksheet). They should prepare to explain toward what end they think that example goes.

Finally, come back together as a class to give each group an opportunity to discuss their examples and explain any initial reasoning with feedback from you and their peers. Encourage students to take notes on their worksheets as discussion generates new insights or understandings.


In order to assess whether students are beginning to understand what Expressionism is, have them individually produce as many expressionist instances in the play as they can in a fully bulleted list.

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Drama
  • Literature and Language Arts
  • Critical thinking
  • Essay writing
  • Literary analysis
  • Textual analysis
  • Writing skills
  • Diane Moroff (New York, NY)


Activity Worksheets