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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Color Purple

We prefer blue and orange.

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This one's a doozy: you'll have to address themes of sex, abuse, and race. If that has you feeling green around the gills, we can help.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing Celie, the novel’s main character.
  • historical resources about the Civil Rights Movement and Desegregation.
  • pop culture connections featuring Oprah, Whoopi, and Bart (Simpson).

Our teaching guide encourages students to color outside the lines.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Alice Walker is a modern day renaissance woman. Novelist, activist, and poet, Alice Walker is no slouch. Walker sure does wear a lot of hats, but luckily for her these roles all share the same purpose: to give a voice to people who are often unheard in our society. Raised by sharecroppers, Walker knows a lot about poverty and oppression, but she doesn't take it lying down. Walker joined the Civil Rights Movement, and she started writing about the disenfranchised. Celie in The Color Purple is the very definition of oppressed. Beaten down, literarily, Celie finds it difficult to find her way out, but the theme of The Color Purple is about perseverance—a common message in Walker's work. In this one-day lesson students will examine another of Walker's works for similarities in style, theme, and purpose to The Color Purple. 

Materials Needed: 

Step 1: Because of the dialogue and vernacular in The Color Purple, Walker's writing talents can sometimes be difficult to see. Let's point it out to the class by sharing the following quote: "I seen my baby girl. I knowed it was her. She look just like me and my daddy. Like more us than us is ourself" (10.1).

Start a conversation about the poetic choices that Walker made just in this passage alone. If you need a little help use our questions as a start:

  • Does this passage seem well written? Why or why not?
  • Is Alice Walker good at describing things? How can you tell? 
  • Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for writing. Does it seem warranted?

Hint: There is no one right answer for these questions; we just want to start a conversation with the students about Walker's talent as a writer. And of course, we think she is a pretty awesome talent, so do try to steer the class in that direction.

Step 2: After we have proven that Alice Walker has a way with words in fiction, let's prove that she is a woman of many talents. Explore the woman who is Alice Walker by reading Biography's breakdown of her life. Send your class to the website and ask them to find the following:

  • What awards has Alice Walker won? 
  • How important was The Color Purple for Walker's career? 
  • Do you notice any elements of Walker's early life in The Color Purple? Where? 
  • What types of writing is Walker known for? 
  • Besides writing, how does Walker spend her time?

When students finish, take a couple of minutes to have them partner up and share what they discovered. Then ask the pairs to share their new knowledge with the class. Remember, we are trying to show that Walker is a poet as well as a novelist, so make sure that question four is answered well.

Step 3: Poetry is different from novels—mostly in the terms that we use. Luckily Shmoop has this poem thing covered. Our Literature Glossary is a great resource—if we do say so ourselves. Share our poetry definition with the class.

Still got some blank stares in the room? No problem. First let the class explore our metaphor and figurative language definitions to get more of a handle on poems, and then create a Venn diagram on the board with poetry on one side and prose on the other side. As a class, determine what are the differences and similarities between poems and novels.

Step 4: Everyone ready to don their berets and ironic glasses? Now it's time to explore the poems of Alice Walker. Direct the class to Alice Walker's poem "Be Nobody's Darling"  (or just print out copies). You can ask the students to read through the poem a couple of times independently or in small groups, jotting down their thoughts as they go, or you can do a whole-class guided reading of the poem. Shmoop has your back with a handy list of questions to guide your reading and/or post-reading discussion:

  • What figurative language or descriptions in the poem really stood out to you?
  • How would you describe the poem's writing style and voice? 
  • Do you see any similarities in style between the poem and the novel?
  • Try to summarize the poem's meaning in your own words. What is Walker's subject matter here? 
  • Who do you think is the speaker of the poem? How would you describe him/her?
  • What themes or big ideas does Walker address?
  • What language in the poem is especially important in communicating these themes?
  • Do you see any connections between these themes and Walker's life? What about connections to The Color Purple?

Step 5: We've spent a lot of time today comparing and discussing what Walker's poems and stories have in common and what separates them. Let's put all that knowledge to the test.

Ask each student to discuss in a paragraph what is similar and different between The Color Purple and "Be Nobody's Darling." Students can focus on the themes or voice of the poem, and they can use the discussion questions from step four as a guide. No matter what they choose to focus on, each paragraph should do the following:

  • Use correct grammar and punctuation.
  • Have a topic sentence and supporting details.
  • Include cited excerpts from the poem and the novel to prove claims.

When students finish, take some time to share and discuss their conclusions. What can we learn about Walker's writing style by analyzing some of her other work? What light does the poem shed on the novel? How do both works deal with some of Walker's classic themes or accomplish her purpose of giving voice to the oppressed and disenfranchised?

Instructions for Your Students

Great writers, just like great inventors, aren't one trick ponies. We mean, Steve Jobs wouldn't have been "Steve Jobs" if he had stopped with computers. He did tons more. We remember him because he invented the Apple computer, iPhone, iPod, and iPad; Jobs changed technology because he could do more than one thing with it. Alice Walker is like the Steve Jobs of writing. Not just a novelist, Ms. Walker is the writer of poems and short stories as well. She certainly is no one trick pony. In this one-day lesson we will learn all about the many, many talents of writer Alice Walker and how the themes of The Color Purple exist in most of her work and life.

Step 1: Alice Walker didn't make it easy on us. Using complicated dialogue and vernacular in The Color Purple, Walker's writing talents can sometimes be difficult to see. Take a look at the following quote: "I seen my baby girl. I knowed it was her. She look just like me and my daddy. Like more us than us is ourself" (10.1).

Now, let's talk about the poetic choices that Walker made just in this passage alone:

  • Does this passage seem well written? Why or why not? 
  • Is Alice Walker good at describing things? How can you tell? 
  • Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for writing. Does it seem warranted?

Step 2: Remember that whole Steve Jobs analogy? Well, we meant it. You see Alice Walker is a writer, a poet, and an activist. Explore the woman who is Alice Walker by reading Biography's breakdown of her life. While you're there do your best to find the answers to these questions:

  • What awards has Alice Walker won?
  • How important was The Color Purple for Walker's career? 
  • Do you notice any elements of Walker's early life in The Color Purple? Where? 
  • What types of writing is Walker known for? 
  • Besides writing, how does Walker spend her time?

Step 3: Poetry is different from novels—mostly in the terms that we use. Luckily Shmoop has this poem thing covered. Our Literature Glossary is a great resource—if we do say so ourselves; just check out our poetry definition for proof.

Still confused? We don't blame you; poets are a little nuts, but we can help you crack their code. First, explore our metaphor and figurative language definitions to get more of a handle on poems, and then create a Venn diagram on the board with poetry on one side and prose on the other side. As a class, determine what are the differences and similarities between poems and novels.

Step 4: Everyone ready to don their berets and ironic glasses? Now it's time to explore Alice Walker's poem "Be Nobody's Darling." Read through the poem a couple of times independently or in small groups, jotting down your thoughts as you go. If you get stuck, try to answer some of these specific questions:

  • What figurative language or descriptions in the poem really stood out to you?
  • How would you describe the poem's writing style and voice? 
  • Do you see any similarities in style between the poem and the novel?
  • Try to summarize the poem's meaning in your own words. What is Walker's subject matter here? 
  • Who do you think is the speaker of the poem? How would you describe him/her?
  • What themes or big ideas does Walker address?
  • What language in the poem is especially important in communicating these themes?
  • Do you see any connections between these themes and Walker's life? What about connections to The Color Purple?

Step 5: We've spent a lot of time today comparing and discussing what Walker's poems and stories have in common and what separates them… so let's put all that knowledge to the test—only you don't really have to pass a test.

You'll each compose a paragraph (aren't you glad we didn't say "essay?") to discuss the similarities and differences between The Color Purple and "Be Nobody's Darling." You can focus on the themes or voice of the poem, and you can use the discussion questions from step four as a guide. No matter what you choose to focus on, each paragraph should do the following:

  • Use correct grammar and punctuation.
  • Have a topic sentence and supporting details.
  • Include cited excerpts from the poem and the novel to prove claims.

When you finish, we'll take some time to share and discuss your conclusions, so be prepared to speak up. What can we learn about Walker's writing style by analyzing some of her other work? What light does the poem shed on the novel? How do both works deal with some of Walker's classic themes or accomplish her purpose of giving voice to the oppressed and disenfranchised?

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE COLOR PURPLE?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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