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«        Exploring Kindness and Choice with Langtson Hughes’ “Thank You M’am”    Overview  ...»

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Exploring Kindness and Choice with Langtson Hughes’ “Thank You M’am” 



Using the short story “Thank You M’am” by Langston Hughes, a current events story, and role plays, 

students will explore character issues of kindness and choice.       



Middle school  



• “Thank You M’am” by Langston Hughes, story attached 

• Choices Scenarios, attached 

• Speakers and access to the NPR story, “A Victim Treats His Mugger Right:”  http://www.npr.org/2008/03/28/89164759/a‐victim‐treats‐his‐mugger‐right?ps=cprs   o A copy of the transcript of the story is attached    Duration  45 minutes    Procedure  Random Acts of Kindness 

1. As a warm‐up, ask students to think of the last kind thing that they did for someone else.  Explain  that the kind act might be very simple (such as opening the door for someone) or something more  time consuming (such as volunteering at a local soup kitchen).  Ask students to explain what they  did and who they did it for in a paragraph or less.  Once students have had a few minutes to  compose their thoughts, allow volunteers to share their acts of kindness.  Further discuss: 

• Why do we choose to do kind things for (or say kind things to) others? 

• What is the effect on other people?  What is the effect on you? 

• When you do kind things, do you find that you are typically doing them for people you know  (family and friends) or strangers?  Why would you do something kind for someone you don’t  know?  

• What is our responsibility as members of a community to help our fellow community  members, whether we know them or not?    “Thank You M’am” by Langston Hughes 

2. Tell students they are going to be exploring the concept of kindness today, first by reading a  fabulous short story called “Thank You M’am” by Langston Hughes.  Pass out the attached copy  of ʺThank You Mʹamʺ and instruct students to read it, either individually or in partners.   

3. Since different students will finish at different times, provide an assignment for students to work  on while waiting for the entire class to finish.  For example, teachers can provide art paper and  NC Civic Education Consortium 1 Visit our Database of K-12 Resources at http://database.civics.unc.edu/ crayons, colored pencils, etc. and instruct students to imagine that the story is being made into a  book and that they have been hired to create the book jacket.     

4. Once students have finished reading, discuss: 

• What surprised you about this story? 

• How would you describe Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones?  Why do you think she treated  the boy the way that she did? 

• Do you think you would have reacted in the same way?  Why or why not? 

• How would you describe Roger?  What do you imagine his life is like? 

• Why did Roger rob Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones?  Why do you think he chose her as  his target?  (Discuss with students how beyond the fact that she was elderly and may have  appeared to be an easy target, she was also a stranger.)  Why do you think those committing  crimes often (thought not always) choose people they do not know?   

• Do you think Roger learned a lesson in this story?  If so, what lesson and why?  Do you think  Roger changed after this experience?  Explain. 

• What message is the author of this story trying to convey? (Teachers are seeking answers such  as ʺpractice human kindness, donʹt assume anything by the way someone looks, turn the other  cheekʺ, etc.)  o Teachers should take this opportunity to share information about Langston Hughes,  his life and career, with students.  Sites such as  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/langston‐hughes will provide details. 

• If you were going to give this story another title, what would you call it and why?    Choices 

5. Discuss how in life, we always have choices.  Sometimes we make a positive choice and other  times we may make a negative choice.  Ask students to identify the various choices Roger made in  the story and why he may have made each choice.  Instruct students to evaluate whether each was  a wise choice or not.  Also, ask what choices Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones made (she chose  to be nice to the boy, she chose to give him a guilt trip, she chose to help him, etc.) and ask why  she might have made this choice.  Teachers can create a chart on the board and collect student  thoughts:   Choices made  Why choice was made  Evaluate choice made    Roger  Steal handbag  Hungry  This was a negative      Wanted shoes  choice, it’s wrong to    Poor   steal    Rough home life  It’s wrong to target or      take advantage of the    elderly    Yet, he did meet Mrs.  Jones and hopefully  learn an important  lesson  Mrs. Luella        Bates  Washington  Jones  NC Civic Education Consortium 2 Visit our Database of K-12 Resources at http://database.civics.unc.edu/  

6. Next, tell students you want to share a real life example of such choices being made by playing a  three minute clip of a radio interview with them.  Go to  http://www.npr.org/2008/03/28/89164759/a‐victim‐treats‐his‐mugger‐right?ps=cprs and play the  audio for students, asking them to again consider the choices that are made throughout the real  life story.  (If access to equipment for playing the story is unavailable, the transcripts are attached  for reading.)  After listening, add Julio Diaz and the teenager to the choices chart.  Further discuss  and simultaneously fill in the chart regarding the choices these two people made: 

• What is your opinion of Mr. Diaz and his actions?  Why do you think he made the choices he  made? 

• Put yourself in Julio’s shoes.  Were his choices easy ones to make?  Why or why not?  What  was he risking by making the choices he made?  What did he have to gain? 

• What about the teenager that mugged Mr. Diaz.  Why do you think he made this choice? 

• Why do you think the teen agreed to go to dinner with the man that was supposed to be his  robbery victim? 

• Why do you think the teen agreed to give Julio his knife? 

• What do these choices tell you about the teenager and why? 

• Based on this story, how would you characterize Mr. Diaz?  What particular evidence from the  radiocast makes you think this? 

• Consider your experiences as young people and think about the actions of the two adults –  Ms. Bates and Mr. Diaz.  Do you feel most adults behave in this way towards teens?  Why or  why not? 

• How might the teen have been impacted from this meeting?      Optional Culminating Activity:  Role Playing Choice 

7. Tell students you want to continue exploring the concept of “choice” through role plays.  Divide  students into groups of four and assign each group one of the attached scenarios to stage and act  out.  Explain to students that each scenario describes various situations in which young people  must make choices.  Tell the students they are tasked with turning the scenario into a dramatic  scene that covers all the details of the scenario in a creative, realistic and organized way.  (Remind  students that the goal is not to make classmates laugh, but to depict the facts of the scenario.) Let  students know that they can stage their scene anywhere in the room and that they can also create  props to use as needed.  Go over respectful group work expectations, remind students that the  goal of their final scene is to present the facts of the scenario and not to be funny, and allow  students 10‐15 minutes to work on preparing their scenes.    Teacher Note: There are five scenarios attached (with roles for four students in each); if there are  more than 20 students who need roles, teachers can add extra roles into each scenario or provide  additional scenarios.  (Teachers are encouraged to create scenarios that address particular issues  students in your community are actually dealing with.)    

8. Once students have prepared and practiced their scenes, go over the expectations for being a  respectful audience member then allow students to volunteer to present their scenes.  After each  scene is presented, ensure the class clap loudly as a show of support then discuss:   

• What were the various choices made in that scene?  Would you evaluate these as good choices  or bad choices?  Why?  NC Civic Education Consortium 3 Visit our Database of K-12 Resources at http://database.civics.unc.edu/

• Are there other choices these students could have made that would have been better?  Explain.  o Alternative:  Rather than having students answer this question verbally, have them step  into the scene and play out their suggestion.  To do this, instruct the original actors to  being replaying their scene (as close to before as possible.)  Tell the students with the  alternative suggestion to yell ʺFREEZEʺ at the point in the scene where he/she feels a  different choice could have been made.  At this point the actors will freeze all talking and  moving and the audience member can take the place of the one of the actors.  The scene  will “unfreeze” and continue as the student makes a new choice and thus changes the  scene.  The other original actors left in the scene must improvise and go with whatever  they feel in the moment due to the new choice made.  After the replay of the scene ends,  lead the students in a discussion regarding how making different choices can lead to  different outcomes.   

9. Once all scenes have been presented and discussed, wrap up with a closing discussion redefining  choices. 

• When we are faced with a choice in life (as we often are) why is it important to really consider  all the options and possible consequences?   

• We’ve all made good choices and bad choices at various points in our lives – why do we make  the choices we make? 

• What consequences can we face when making a bad choice?  Think back to Roger’s bad choice  of stealing a pocketbook.  He lucked out since Mrs. Jones was kind to him, but what  consequences might he have faced if his victim were someone not quite as nice as Mrs. Jones? 

• How can we be positive leaders and assist our friends in making good choices?   

10. Optional culminating activity:  Refer students back to the story, “Thank You M’am” and remind  them that the story ends with the sentence, “And he never saw her again.”  Tell students to  imagine that the publisher of the story has decided to delete that last sentence and that the  publisher has hired each of them to write an alternate ending.  Tell students to brainstorm and  then write their own continuation/ending of “Thank You M’am.”                                   

–  –  –

She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and she carried it slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and she was walking alone, when a boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse. The strap broke with the single tug the boy gave it from behind. But the boy’s weight and the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance so, instead of taking off full blast as he had hoped, the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk, and his legs flew up. The large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter. Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.

After that the woman said, “Pick up my pocketbook, boy, and give it here.” She still held him. But she bent down enough to permit him to stoop and pick up her purse. Then she said, “Now ain’t you ashamed of yourself?” Firmly gripped by his shirt front, the boy said, “Yes’m.” The woman said, “What did you want to do it for?” The boy said, “I didn’t aim to.” She said, “You a lie!” By that time two or three people passed, stopped, turned to look, and some stood watching.

“If I turn you loose, will you run?” asked the woman.

“Yes’m,” said the boy.

“Then I won’t turn you loose,” said the woman. She did not release him.

“I’m very sorry, lady, I’m sorry,” whispered the boy.

“Um-hum! And your face is dirty. I got a great mind to wash your face for you. Ain’t you got nobody home to tell you to wash your face?” “No’m,” said the boy.

“Then it will get washed this evening,” said the large woman starting up the street, dragging the frightened boy behind her.

He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and willow-wild, in tennis shoes and blue jeans.

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