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Teaching Guide

Teaching As I Lay Dying

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Like what you see? We've also got a complete Online Course about As I Lay Dying, with three weeks worth of readings, activities, assignments, and quizzes.

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Students might be lying there dying as they try to get through this book, a twisty-turny novel with more narrators than most books even have characters.

Yes, your students are being a little dramatic. But the book is hard. We're here to help you loosen up the text a bit so that students can read between the lines, kind of like a crowbar prying up loose floorboards to get a look at the secrets underneath.

In this guide you will find

  • assignments to help students learn how this novel is an experiment in modernism.
  • quizzes making sure students know how to tell all those Bundrens apart.
  • opportunities to relate As I Lay Dying to more modern pop culture, like Oprah, John Grisham, and puppets. Yes, puppets.

With all these resources, you can bring As I Lay Dying to life in no time.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

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: In this activity, students analyze the themes of family conflict, poverty, and insanity in As I Lay Dying through a role-playing exercise. In small groups of two or three, students create original skits in which one student plays a Bundren family member, while another plays a “helper”—either a psychologist, social worker, guidance counselor…or maybe even dentist.

Length of Lesson: 2 class periods. One class for discussion and group planning, and another for performances.

Materials Needed:

Step 1: Lead a discussion about the various “issues” facing the Bundren family: psychological, physical, and socio-economic. You might want to begin with Cash’s reflections on sanity: “But I aint so sho that ere a man has the right to say what is crazy and what aint” (page 238 in the Vintage edition). Some questions to consider include:

  1. What kinds of problems do the Bundrens face?
  2. What do their neighbors think about them?
  3. Is Darl insane? Are other members of the family? How does Faulkner’s stream of consciousness technique affect our ability to tell whether a character is “normal” or not?
  4. How many of the Bundrens’ problems are the result of their poverty? How many are caused by ways in which they’ve failed personally?
  5. How sympathetic is Faulkner towards the Bundrens? Is he having fun at their expense, or does he feel for them?
  6. What happens to Dewey Dell? How could her situation have been avoided? Or how could her current situation be improved?

Step 2: Divide your students into small groups (two or three students to a group), and give them their assignment. Here's a prompt:

Now it’s your turn to—scary as it may sound—become a Bundren for a day. Working in small groups, write a short (5 minute) skit in which one (or more) of you plays a Bundren family member and one of you plays a “helper.”

Need some help? Check out Shmoop's As I Lay Dying Characters section for some thoughts on all of the Bundrens.

You'll be performing your skit—and handing in your script—in class, so make sure both are in good shape. 

Step 3: Your students can start working in class and finish writing their skits for homework.

Step 4: Performance time! Have students perform their skits for the class and hand in their scripts. 

Step 5: [Optional] You can extend this activity by assigning a short essay in which students explain the decisions they made in coming up with their skit. They should use evidence from the text to support the way they portrayed their characters.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading 2.5, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.8,3.9, 3.12; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 2.1, 2.2; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.3, 1.8 ,1.9, 2.1, 2.3, 2.4, 2.6; 11th & 12th grade Reading 3.2, 3.3, 3.7; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2,; Listening & Speaking 1.4, 1.7, 1.8, 2.1, 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

Let’s face it: the Bundrens need some help. In this activity you’ll get to put the “fun” in dysfunction, by helping them deal with their many, many issues. 

You and a partner (or a small group) will write and perform an original skit, in which one of you will play a Bundren family member, and the other will be some kind of helper—perhaps a psychologist, social worker, guidance counselor, dentist, or banker. But feel free to be creative and come up with your own ideas.

Step 1: First participate in a classroom discussion about the Bundrens’ various issues. Some questions to consider include:

  1. What kinds of problems do the Bundrens face?
  2. What do their neighbors think about them?
  3. Is Darl insane? Are other members of the family? How does Faulkner’s stream of consciousness technique affect our ability to tell whether a character is “normal” or not?
  4. How many of the Bundrens’ problems are the result of their poverty? How many are caused by ways they’ve failed personally?
  5. How sympathetic is Faulkner towards the Bundrens? Is he having fun at their expense, or does he feel for them?
  6. What happens to Dewey Dell? How could her situation have been avoided, or could her current situation be improved?

Step 2: Now it’s your turn to—scary as it may sound—become a Bundren for a day. Working in small groups, write a short (5 minute) skit in which one (or more) of you plays a Bundren family member and one of you plays a “helper.”

Need some help? Check out Shmoop's As I Lay Dying Characters section for some thoughts on all of the Bundrens.

You'll be performing your skit—and handing in your script—in class, so make sure both are in good shape. 

Step 3: Finish writing and rehearsing your skit for homework.  

Step 4: Perform your skit for the class, and show us just how you've decided to help the Bundrens... and how well it goes. 

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING AS I LAY DYING?

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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