Teaching “The Lottery”


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Once upon a Monday dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…from the weekend, I thought I would begin to formulate my ideas for this year’s teaching of “The Lottery” to my sophomore students.

Like all of the BEST stories, “The Lottery” is an allegory about the dark side of human nature.  It explores what comes of following traditions that are so archaic that their followers have forgotten how they began.  One might say that this allegory explores the negative effect of religion on the masses, while others might argue that it is, in fact, the absence of Christianity that makes the townsfolk so brutal.  One thing is for sure: “The Lottery” is what teachers’ dreams are made of.  It is chock-full of literary devices, and its ending is shocking to students even to this day…and in a world of where PS3 reigns supreme (ever heard of Modern Warfare 2, or Grand Theft Auto IV?), teachers are crawling desperately towards stories that will still interest and surprise our students, as a thirsty man crawls towards a glass of water in the desert.  How’s that for a simile?

I usually use “The Lottery” as an introduction to the novel “Lord of the Flies,” but this year, I am using the story as the pièce de résistance of my short story unit.

Here are some great resources that I have found online for teaching “The Lottery”:

  1. Mr. Coia’s Classes http://www.mrcoia.com/school/html/teacher.html
    This website has great discussion questions, a “letter to the editor” assignment in which students can defend or argue against the story’s content, a complete reading of the story (mp3 format), and a link to other lesson plans on this short story.
  2. Neatorama http://www.neatorama.com/2011/04/14/the-lottery-by-shirley-jackson/
    This link contains an article originally published in my favorite magazine, mental_floss; you will find a brief overview of Shirley Jackson’s inspiration for writing the story, as well as the public outcry over the story.
  3. U.S. News & World Reports http://www.usnews.com/usnews/opinion/articles/970721/archive_007451.htm
    In “A No-Fault Holocaust,” John Leo bashes what he considers to be an “overdosing on nonjudgmentalism…” which he sees as “…a growing problem in the schools.”  Leo cites two articles about professors who have been shocked at their students’ attitudes towards horrendous subjects: the holocaust and the ending of “The Lottery.”  These aforementioned students question whether our society can judge another society’s “morals,” spiritual beliefs, and traditions.  Their responses mirror the ancient Greek historian Herodotus’s anti-ethnocentric remark: “If someone were to put a proposition before men bidding them choose, after examination, the best customs in the world, each nation would certainly select its own.”  However, I don’t think this is what Herodotus had in mind!  This article is interesting in both its subject matter, as well as its scathing diction.  It is riddled with bias, and makes no excuses for it.  I am looking forward to introducing this text to students following our discussion on “The Lottery”‘s themes.  I may elect to have the students write a formal, persuasive letter to the author of this article, either agreeing or disagreeing with his very strong opinion.  (I will be doing this writing instead of the writing to The New Yorker, which Mr. Coia uses–see above).
  4. I have mentioned Shmoop in a previous post, and the Shmoop site does not disappoint when it comes to “The Lottery”: http://www.shmoop.com/lottery-shirley-jackson/.  Check it out for great analysis on characters, themes, motifs, symbols, etc…plus some free lesson plans.  While Shmoop’s lesson plans can still tend towards the rudimentary, they are solid springboards that are easily tweakable.
  5. Apart from the persuasive letter to John Leo, I will also be incorporating PIE paragraph writing, as well as AVID’s precis writing, with this piece of literature.

4 thoughts on “Teaching “The Lottery”

  1. Pingback: Little Black Dot [The Lottery by Shirley Jackson] | Days Asleep, Nights Awake

  2. Pingback: Little Black Dot [The Lottery by Shirley Jackson] | Beyond The Cover


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