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Dual Perspectives (lesson plan)

Abstract

Students will analyze Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday and The Cotton Bowl by Hank Willis Thomas within the context of the legacy of slavery and racism in the Jim Crow South. Students will build on their experience analyzing different points of view to create a poem in two voices.

Lesson by A+ Schools of NC

NC Standards Correlations
Visual Arts
P.CX.1.1
Music
B.CR.1.1, B.CR.1.2
American History
AH1.H.1.3, AH1.H.4, AH2.H.1.3
English Language Arts
RL.9-10.7

Artwork Related to this Lesson

  • The Cotton Bowl

    The Cotton Bowl, by Hank Willis Thomas

    The Cotton Bowl is from the series “Strange Fruit,” which is a “visual and conceptual explanation of...

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Student Learning Objectives

  1. Analyze a work of art and identify multiple perspectives, artistic decisions, and how they relate to the main idea portrayed.
  2. Analyze a piece of music and identify artistic purpose and decisions.
  3. Create a work of creative writing that demonstrates two perspectives.
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Activities

Introduction

  • Teachers will go over the Essential Questions with the students. 
  • To support the conversations students will have about racism in the lesson, teachers will review the following resource from Teaching Tolerance and consider incorporating select activities with their students. 
  • Teachers will lead a conversation to activate prior knowledge and establish relevance with students. Teachers will share the following quote by Chance the Rapper: “The problem is that my generation was pacified into believing that racism existed only in our history books.” Tell students: Turn to your shoulder partner and discuss what you think this quote means. Do you think racism still exists or not? Discuss for 2 minutes.

Connections through Art, Music, and Poetry

  1. Show The Cotton Bowl and ask the students to look closely at the two parallel sides of the image. What is similar? What is different? What does each figure see, think, and feel? Play the video of the Hank Willis Thomas discussing the use of truth and power in his work. Note that the artist is a contemporary, Black, American male. How does this video add to the students’ thoughts on what the people in the work of art are thinking/feeling/seeing?
  2. Play the song Strange Fruit. Instruct the students to listen and read the lyrics. Ask students:
    • How do you think the song goes with the work of art by Hank Willis Thomas?
    • What time period(s) in history do you think each work (the song and the art) are based on?
    • What does the term “lynching” mean?
  3. Share background information with students: Strange Fruit is one of the most well-known songs from the Civil Rights era. The song references the gruesome lynching of Black Americans that had become commonplace in the South. Lyrics include: “Southern trees bearing strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the roots / Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze / Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” Lynching means to put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.
  4. Tell the students that The Cotton Bowl is part of the artist’s “Strange Fruit” series. Show this image of another work from the Strange Fruit series. Ask students: Why do you think the artist included both of these works of art in a series called Strange Fruit? How do they relate to the song?
  5. Have table groups create a Venn diagram detailing what the athlete and fieldworker in The Cotton Bowl each see, think, and feel. In the center of the Venn diagram, instruct students to write the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives the two figures have in common. From this Venn diagram, have partners create a poem in two voices alternating lines from the two perspectives. Encourage students to use parallel structure with their construction.
  6. Students will read their poems to a partner group alternating readers: one student will voice the perspective of the athlete and the other will voice the perspective of the fieldworker. Ask for volunteers to read their poems to the whole class. Discuss how the creative writing showcases details from the artwork.

Closing

The students will read their poetry. Each will have a note card and choose one student’s work to comment on. Questions for students to consider as their listen to their peer’s poetry:

  1. What details are used to give each figure’s perspective?
  2. Where do you see parallel structure?
  3. What does the poetry make you see/think/wonder?

 

Written by A+ Fellow Karen Morris

Assessments

  • Venn diagram: The teacher will know if the student can find similarities and differences in two perspectives.
  • Poem in Two Voices: The teacher will know if the student can put the various perspectives into language, and can look for what is emphasized in each.

Lesson Resources

Background Knowledge for the Teacher:

  • The Cotton Bowl is a digital photo from Hank Willis Thomas’s “Strange Fruit” series. The Cotton Bowl features the iconic images of a football player crouching on the yard line and the mirror image of an indentured servant crouching to pick cotton. The visual parallel makes the connection between the role of the servant and the role of the black male athlete, with the artist asking the viewer to reconsider a common historical trope and look at its relationship to the present moment in a new light.
  • Strange Fruit is one of the most well-known songs from the Civil Rights era. The song references the gruesome lynching of Black Americans that had become commonplace in the South. Lyrics include “Southern trees bearing strange fruit/ Blood on the leaves and blood at the roots/ Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/ Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” Lynching means to put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.
  • Parallel Structure: Parallel structure means using the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance. 
  • Poem in Two Voices: Poems for two voices demonstrate two points of view within the same situation. Here is a link to examples and a worksheet that can be used to create a poem in two voices.
  • Teaching Tolerance has excellent resources for teaching about racism and other difficult topics.

Materials:

  • 5×7 notecards
  • Paper for making Venn diagrams and writing poetry
  • Copies of the lyrics of Strange Fruit (or project them)
  • Optional: worksheet for creating Poem in Two Voices

Related Content

Partner Organization A+ Schools of NC