Sample Lesson Plan

Dr. Cassander Smith, professor
Creative Re-Write, EN 249/AAST 249-005 (Undergraduate survey course)

Assignment sheet 

Project Overview: For this major writing project, I am asking you to employ your critical thinking and reading skills to re-write a passage from the short story “Theresa, a Haytien Tale” from the perspective (in the voice) of another writer we have discussed this semester.

Task: This assignment has two parts:

Part I Think back to the Aesop fable about the lion and the man and how the lion is represented in a stone statue as weaker than man. Indeed, the man’s hands are around the lion’s throat. Importantly, the statue is rendered from the perspective of the man. The lion dismisses the statue, saying, “If we lions knew how to erect statues, you would see the man placed under the paw of the lion.” Here, I am asking you to comb back through the many authors we’ve read this semester. Think about the writing strategies those writers used to help build a body of African American literature. Consider, for example, Langston Hughes’s use of blues and jazz rhythms to write poetry. Recall Wheatley’s use of a neoclassical style in her poetry. Recall Frederick Douglass’s use of imagery or Harriet Jacobs’s reliance on sentimentality and hyperbole. What about Charles Chesnutt and Zora Neale Hurston’s use of dialect? Your job is to pick a writer whose style of writing you think you can imitate. Then, you should retell “Theresa, A Haytien Tale,” as written in the style of your chosen writer.

Do not attempt to re-write the entire short story. You can pick a scene, a central moment of action where there is a beginning, middle, and end. For example, you could re-write the beginning of the story when Paulina initially decides to run away. Or you can reimagine the final scene, and expand it, where Theresa is reunited with her family. Basically, you want to think about how the story might change if written from the perspective of an author we can more readily identify as “African American.” When deciding how to re-write your scene, you want to think about questions such as: How does word choice change if I retell this story from the perspective of a writer during the Black Arts Movement? What themes do I emphasize/de-emphasize if telling this story from the perspective of a former enslaved person, like Douglass or Jacobs? How does the significance of the Haitian Revolution and Theresa’s heroism look different depending on the time period of the writer? In class, we have debated the significance of the author’s identity in determining what is/isn’t African American literature. This project is your chance to think more about that. Your re-write need not be long, anywhere from 2,000 to 5000 words, but it should be complete with a beginning, middle, and end.

Of course, this is a project of speculation. So, you will have to make-up details/facts, which is why this is a creative writing exercise. You are to use your imagination; however, that imagination should be guided by the historical information. The details, while imaginative, must also be plausible based on information found in the original text. For example, if a character in the text is a vegetarian, then you cannot say in your re-write that the character eats bacon and grits for breakfast. OR if you do contradict the original text, you should have a good explanation for doing so, which you can explain in the self-reflective essay that will accompany the re-write.

Part II The re-write should be accompanied by a 1000-word self-reflective essay in which you explain and justify the imaginative choices you made in your re-write. The self-reflective essay should make

some kind of effort to walk me through the analytical process you went through in making particular choices when crafting your re-write. The essay should address questions such as: Why/how does perspective matter? That is, how do the contours of the story change when told from the perspective of a different author? What might this new perspective tell us about the original story? What new information/perspective does your re-write provide about the nature of African American literature? How does the re-write rely on information from the original text? What kinds of difficulties did you encounter in doing the re-write and what might be the limitations of engaging in this kind of speculative work? Is it useful or useless? The most important question of all is this: How does your re-write of ‘Theresa, A Haytien Tale’ challenge or confirm common definitions of African American literature? Keep in mind that this is a formal essay, which means it should include an intro/thesis, a body, and a conclusion. Essentially, it is your opportunity to sell me on the value of your re-write.

Goal: You primary goal in this exercise is to offer us a new way of reading and thinking about the body of literature we have labeled African American literature.

Paper Guidelines: The re-write should be 2,000 to 5,000 words – more or less. I am not concerned about the length so much as the quality of analysis. The re-write can be done in any genre – journal/diary, poem, short story, travel narrative. In other words, you need not follow the generic form of the original text. One caveat: Don’t go the route of writing a poem because you think it will be easier. It takes more time to produce a well-crafted three-stanza poem than it does to write a 20 page short story. If you submit poetry, I will grade it based on common poetic aesthetics, i.e. tone, diction, imagery, rhythm, structure, content. The self-reflective essay should be at least 1000 words and should be structured like a formal essay. Please type using Times 12-point, with one-inch margins. Make sure you title your re-write.

Evaluation: I will grade your assignment based on the rubric below. Basically, I’m looking for thorough and involved analysis in your re-writes. How well does the re-write illustrate that you thought about the original text beyond the surface? How well does the re-write offer useful and plausible possibilities for new approaches to African American literature? How well does the self-reflective essay talk us through your creative choices? I will take into account your level of creativity and analysis, as well as the more mechanical elements (grammar, punctuation, style). Creative Craft Self-Reflection Originality/Plausibility Mechanics
A Creative piece masterfully utilizes specific techniques of the craft of creative writing, i.e. imagery, characterization, point of view, setting, etc. appropriate to the chosen genre, i.e., poetry, fiction, drama, letter, autobiography. The self-reflective essay offers a thorough, specific discussion of the piece’s conception from beginning to end. It addresses most of the questions from the assignment sheet and displays clear evidence of the student’s analysis and synthesis. Creative piece offers a unique take on the original text. It makes use of details from the original text and is written in a style/voice that mirrors that of the student’s chosen African-American author. While adhering to details of the original text, the rewrite clearly illustrates the ways in which a story’s content can differ Grammar, spelling, punctuation are very clean. Paragraph structures in the self-reflective essay are solid. Overall structure of the entire project is logical and clear.

Theresa Lesson Plan

Nicole N. Aljoe, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of English

Northeastern University,Boston, MA

This assignment was the third formal essay the students had written in an “Introduction to Literary Studies” course. In addition to reading “Theresa” and the Foster essay, they also read three critical essays about early African American print culture. The students then used the class discussions and readings as the basis for an essay assignment that explored one of the four main questions/issues that we had dealt with in class: how the story alters our notions of literary history; how it relates to Black Atlantic culture; the details, strategies, and techniques employed by the writer; and the literariness of the text. Part of my thinking in highlighting these questions, in addition to helping the students focus their writing on making synthetic analyses as opposed to summarizing, was also intended to accommodate the different levels of comfort expressed by some of the students with some of the more speculative aspects of our discussion about the canon.


Although the assignment below is pretty standard, what was striking to me was that the eventual essays were some of the liveliest, most engagingly written essays that some of the students had produced. Certainly, this was facilitated by the obviously op-ed inspired style of the essay prompts, but even in the essays that focused on formal analysis of literary details or tropes the students seemed to have been more comfortable, producing lovely fluid writing, and frequently engaging insights.


English 1400: Introduction to Literary Studies

Fall 2014

Literary Analysis of “Theresa, A Haytien Tale”


Due date: 11.01.14 by 11:59pm on Blackboard

Page length:           3-5 pages typewritten, double-spaced, 12pt font


Choose one of the following topics:

  1. In her essay, “’How do you solve a problem like ‘Theresa’?” Francis Smith Foster discusses the benefits of finding the story for literary historians and archivists. As a student and an English major, what do you think about reading and sharing non-canonical stories like “Theresa” in college and/or high school literature classes?
  2. Discuss the ways in which the story “Theresa” either affirms or challenges the ideas suggested in the articles by Leon Jackson, Saidiya Hartman, or Lois Brown.
  3. Do a formal analysis of the plot, character, setting, point of view/narration, symbolism, or style of “Theresa.”
  4. Make an argument for the utility of reading “Theresa” through one or more of the specific literary theories we have discussed in class.




Classroom activity

Michael Dean
Illinois Math and Science Academy

Activity and In-Class Discussion

Students were asked to read the story in advance of our in-class discussion and to make note of passages of that they found notable or confusing. They were also encouraged to investigate the historical context of the story, but this was not explicitly required.

On the day of the class, students were arranged into small groups of three or four and asked to consider the following task:

Each of your groups is a newly formed nation that has fought long and hard to earn its independence.   You want to write a story that describes the importance of your independence and connects your national struggle with a wider audience. As a group, come up with a list of elements or themes that your story would showcase. After you compile your list, we will share your group’s list with the rest of the class, and you will be able to explain your choices.

Each group deliberated for fifteen minutes and afterwards shared their choices, which I wrote on the board. Most groups emphasized particular themes such as a “self-sacrifice” and “individuality” as being necessary for a national story of independence. Other groups focused on other aspects of the story such as setting and the type of characters that should be featured. One group explained that “a national story should feature generals and the people who fought for it.” Another group disagreed and suggested that a story about independence should feature “everyday citizens because a country is not well-represented by a military.” Other students emphasized the need to vilify the enemy of their new nation, and the class quickly came to a strong consensus that any violent revolution needed to be firmly justified if they wanted to earn the approval of a broader audience.

After roughly fifteen minutes of sharing their group work, I shifted the discussion to “Theresa” and asked whether or not the short story matched their blueprint for their conceptualized stories. In responding, students were quick to draw connections between Theresa and her family and the “everyday citizens” mentioned during the group reports. Similarly, students pointed out that the French military was characterized by its violence and cruelty. From these connections, I asked the students to expand on the characterization of Theresa and her family. One student pointed out that the story highlighted the actions of women instead of men, which he found surprising. Another student remarked how Theresa chose her patriotic duty over the love for her family and how that helped the author establish the need for sacrifice in a revolution or act of independence.

Lesson Plan: Alexis McGee and ReAnna Roby

As doctoral students, we—Alexis McGee and ReAnna Roby—see the need to disrupt the skewed perceptions of Black Feminism illustrated in texts, characters, and conversations found in not only our daily lives but also the academy. We see the opportunity to utilize “Theresa, A ___ Haytien Tale,” in English classrooms—more specifically World Literature, Comparative Literature, Women’s Literature—and/or Literacy and Education courses housed in Black Studies or emphasizing Black Studies as a way to document a change in Feminist perspectives. Continue reading “Lesson Plan: Alexis McGee and ReAnna Roby”