Home, Grief, and Storytelling in Men We Reaped

Students examine the thematic idea of home, the intricate relationship between personal responsibility and public responsibility, and the significance of telling historically untold stories. 

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ELA

Unit 4

10th Grade

Unit Summary


"My entire community suffered from a lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system…even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us we were perpetually less, we distrusted each other…we hated what we saw, without and within." - Jesmyn Ward in Men We Reaped

In Unit 4, students will examine the thematic idea of home, the intricate relationship between personal responsibility and public responsibility, and the significance of telling historically untold stories. During this unit, students will examine the historical and social context of the Gulf South, specifically New Orleans and Delisle, Mississippi, in order to better position themselves for close reading and analysis of Men We Reaped: A Memoir. Additionally, they will dissect Ward’s intricate structure for her memoir, analyzing the impact of telling her story and the stories of the five men she lost in both reverse chronological order and chronological order on the meaning of the overall text, and unpack the significance of home as a place and the act of returning to one’s home. 

This unit starts with a close reading of Hannah Giorgis' "Beyonce’s Black-Intellectual Homecoming" and provides students the opportunity to begin to unpack the idea of home while also examining how an author uses evidence and claims to craft a compelling textual analysis. In the remainder of the first arc of the unit, students read a variety of supplemental texts to explore the specific home that is prominent in Ward’s memoir of the Gulf South. Texts include Barbara Howes' "The Homecoming," excerpts from Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, and the official trailer of Beyonce’s Homecoming. At the end of arc one, students will engage in a Socratic seminar and write an insight piece, putting various authors and texts into conversation with each other and reaching a new conclusion.

The second arc of the unit is a research phase that builds students prerequisite research skills. Students will unpack the end of the unit performance task and create a research question around one of the following issues: 

  • the school to prison pipeline and/or the criminalization of black and brown young people in schools 
  • the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, the war on drugs/substance abuse
  • police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement 
  • homelessness and eviction
  • education and poverty

In this phase, students will define and qualify what makes a strong source, build a research tracker, and write an insight piece that puts various authors and texts into conversation with each other and reaches a new conclusion. 

The third arc of the unit is a study of Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped: A Memoir, a memoir about Ward’s hometown of DeLisle, Mississippi, the stories of five men she lost in the span of four years, and her story of how she processes her grief and gives voice to their life. While reading this memoir, students will track the stories of the five men, noting important details about their lives, the historical and social context of their communities, and their family dynamics and how Ward’s intentional choices around structure impact the stories she tells. Additionally, students will zoom out analyzing the development of Ward’s argument about the relationship between personal responsibility and public responsibility as it relates to their deaths.

In the fourth and final arc of the unit, students will engage in a summative unit seminar on Ward’s Men We Reaped and prepare for the unit performance task that asks students to investigate multiple perspectives of an issue in an individual research report and present solutions to said issue in a team presentation. Please note that this task is modeled after AP Seminar Performance Task 1.

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Unit Syllabus

Build student independence and support their planning and self management by sharing the Unit Syllabus, which outlines the objectives and assignments for each lesson, as well as the assessments for the unit.

Texts and Materials


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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

Assessment


This assessment accompanies Unit 4 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge


Essential Questions

Thematic

  • What is home? How do we get home? How does knowing our home (and getting home) impact our sense of self?
  • Who or what gets to decide what stories get told? Why do some stories remain untold? What is the value of storytelling and breaking silence? 
  • What is joy? How can we counteract grief and loss with joy? 
  • Is there a relationship between personal responsibility and public responsibility? What should we do to hold each party accountable when they fail to uphold their responsibility?

Skills

  • How do nonfiction authors manipulate structure to tell their stories and convey central ideas?
  • Why might a writer choose narrative structure over other methods of argument development? What is the impact of narrative structure on the audience?

Vocabulary

Text-based

cavernous demoralizing deference denigrating divestment elegy endemic forbearance gendered incarceration infrastructure interloper indomitable legacy lien paltry proclivities sully tenacious transcend underprivileged untethered

Literary Term

academic source complexity extended metaphor juxtaposition memoir media source narrative nonfiction prologue

To see all the vocabulary for Unit 4, view our 10th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Themes

In order to successfully teach this unit, you must be intellectually prepared at the highest level, which means reading and analyzing all unit texts before launching the unit and understanding the major themes the authors communicate through their texts. By the time your students finish reading this text, they should be able to articulate and explain the major themes the authors communicate through their texts related to the following thematic topics as they uncover them organically through reading, writing, and discourse. While there is no one correct thematic statement for each major topic discussed in the unit texts, there are accurate (evidence-based) and inaccurate (non-evidence-based) interpretations of what the authors are arguing. Below are some exemplar thematic statements.

  • Legacy and the power of storytelling 
    • Often stories get told from the perspectives of those who never experienced the story themselves. Ward flips that idea on its head, telling her own story of suffering and loss as well as the stories of the five men in her life who have passed. When people tell their own stories, they are able to humanize the people within it and provide necessary historical and social context to help others better understand how an event or events happened. When people like Jesmyn tell their own stories, they are able to give voice to their experiences and break the silence. 
  • The relationship between joy and pain
    • Joy is often the antithesis to pain and the resistance to struggle. In Men We Reaped: A Memoir, despite the pain, loss, and violence that Ward and her friends experience, they find joy in hanging out with one another, being at home, the place that is most comfortable to them, and being around people they love. 
  • The complexity of home 
    • Home is both about the physical place and the emotions, experiences, memories, and people associated with it. When people have the desire to go home, the desire is to be around the people they love that have impacted their lives significantly. 
  • The relationship between personal and public responsibility
    • In the prologue, Ward states, "’I’ll understand a bit better why this epidemic happened, about how the history of racism and economic inequality and lapsed public and personal responsibility festered and turned sour and spread here." This statement alone acknowledges that Ward believes what happened to her loved ones and family in DeLisle, Mississippi, is the product of both a lack of personal responsibility and public responsibility. 

Lesson Map


Common Core Standards


Core Standards

RI.9-10.3
RL.9-10.1
RL.9-10.2
RL.9-10.3
RL.9-10.4
RL.9-10.5
SL.9-10.1
SL.9-10.1.a
SL.9-10.1.c
SL.9-10.1.d
SL.9-10.2
W.9-10.1
W.9-10.1.a
W.9-10.1.b
W.9-10.2
W.9-10.3
W.9-10.4
W.9-10.7
W.9-10.9

Supporting Standards

RI.9-10.1
RI.9-10.2
RI.9-10.5
RL.9-10.1
RL.9-10.2
RL.9-10.3
RL.9-10.4
RL.9-10.5
SL.9-10.1
SL.9-10.1.a
SL.9-10.1.c
SL.9-10.1.d
W.9-10.1
W.9-10.2
W.9-10.8
W.9-10.9
W.9-10.10

Pre-AP English Standards


Core Standards

LO 1.2A
LO 1.2B
LO 1.3B
LO 1.4B
LO 2.2A
LO 2.2B
LO 2.2C
LO 2.2E
LO 2.3A
LO 2.3B
LO 2.3C
LO 2.3D
LO 2.4A
LO 2.4B
LO 2.4C
LO 3.3A
LO 4.1A
LO 4.1B
LO 4.1C
LO 5.1A
LO 5.1B

Supporting Standards

LO 1.3A
LO 1.3B
LO 2.2A
LO 2.2B
LO 2.2C
LO 2.3A
LO 2.3B
LO 2.3C
LO 5.1A
LO 5.1B
LO 5.2A
LO 5.2B
LO 5.2C
LO 5.2D
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