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Teaching Guide

Teaching Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Zora Neale Hurston was the leading lady of the Harlem Renaissance, so the pressure is on to teach this book right. The characters' eyes may be watching God, but your students' eyes are watching you¸ and we can help you prepare.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity encouraging students to read Their Eyes Were Watching God by getting them to encourage others to read Their Eyes Were Watching God. Meta, huh?
  • reading quizzes for every chapter of Janie's life.
  • historical resources on Zora Neale Hurston's life and the folklore that inspired her.

Janie may have to face a great disaster in the book, but at least your class won't be a disaster, too.

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: We've said it before and we'll say it again: adapting a novel—or a portion of a novel—to another medium encourages students to look at the material closely and often helps them to see it from a new perspective. 

In this activity, your students will animate the novel (or a portion of the novel) Their Eyes Were Watching God. In the process, they will closely read various scenes from the novel, plot out their projects, and analyze and compare different media and genres. At the end of the project, they'll present their work to the class and the class will give both oral and written evaluations of the work. Oh, and they'll also turn in a reflective composition explaining their rationale in the making of the film and its connection to the novel. 

Length of Lesson: A minimum of 2 class periods. Ultimately, this project can cover a span of one week to a month, depending on how much of the novel your students are working with, what kind of tech is available, and how much time you give them (in and out of class) to work on their projects. You'll need a minimum of 1 class period to introduce the project and get them started, and 1 more for students to present their work. 

Materials Needed: 

NOTE: In terms of finding the right animation program for your students, take a minute to check your school computers to see what they support—and what is already installed. If you can't gain access to an appropriate program, you can have your students create and turn in storyboards that they've drawn instead.

Step 1: Begin by showing your class Maggie Tse's animation project, a "symbolic retelling" of Their Eyes Were Watching God in a 3-minute animation on Vimeo.

Step 2: Lead a class discussion of the video and its relationship to the novel. Here are some questions to help guide the discussion:

  1. What scenes in the book does the film use?
  2. Why is Janie in the film connected to a piece of rope?
  3. What is the significance of Janie's relationship to the rope near the end of the film?
  4. What did the animation leave out? What did it illuminate about the book?
  5. How did the music and visuals affect the tone of the film and your understanding of the book?
  6. Do you think the animation was an effective interpretation of the book? Why or why not?

Step 3: Give your students their assignment: Working in pairs or groups of 3-4, they'll be creating their own animated video for the novel. They can choose to focus on a particular scene or theme, or they can represent the entire book in a short film as Tse did. Here are a few guidelines you can offer to make sure everyone is on the same page:

  • Your animation should be under 5 minutes.
  • You should write an artistic statement (1-2 pages) to accompany your animation. This statement will be a written analysis of your animation, addressing the following points:
    • what scene or scenes are featured in the animation;
    • why you chose the scene(s) you did;
    • the artistic choices you made (what information or images you decided to include or omit, any symbolism you incorporated, and stylistic elements such as color vs. black and white, music, etc.).
  • When you present your animation to the class, you will be expected to "set it up" by summarizing your artistic statement orally.

Step 4: Help students divide into pairs/groups and decide on the scope of their animations. Give them the deadline for their projects, and let them know how much class time (if any) they will have to work on them.

Also let them know that by the end of class you expect every pair/group to submit a brief statement (a few sentences) listing the members of their group and explaining what aspect of the novel they plan to animate.* 

*NOTE: You can hold onto these statements to aid you as you check in with students on their progress. You can also use them for comparison at the end of the project to help students reflect on their process. 

Step 5: Presentation day! Give students time to present their final animation projects and turn in their artistic statements. Following each presentation, give the "viewing audience" a chance to ask questions and offer feedback. 

This is the moment when you might want to pull out those planning statements so you can ask students about their processes. After reminding them of their initial plans, you may ask:

  • How close is what you produced to what you set out to do? 
  • To what do you attribute any differences between your initial plan and your final project? 

(Lesson aligned with CA English Language Arts 9th & 10th grade reading standards 3.2, 3.7, 3.11; writing standards 2.2, 2.3; speaking standards 1.7, 1.14; CA ELA 11th & 12th grade reading standards 3.1, 3.3, 3.4; writing standards 2.2, 2.3, 2.6; speaking standards 1.3, 1.10, 2.1, 2.3)

Instructions for Your Students


The Reduced Shakespeare Company acts out all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in 97 minutes.That's roughly 2 minutes and 36 seconds per play, which means that Maggie Tse is right on track with her video that symbolically retells the entire story of Their Eyes Were Watching God in 3 minute and 11 seconds. 

You'll get a chance to see this video (did we mention it's animated?) in class, and then—you guessed it!—you'll create your own animation representing a scene, a theme, or, like Tse, the entire novel from your artistic point of view.

Step 1: In class, watch Maggie Tse’s animated film version of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Step 2: Take some time to discuss Tse's animation with your classmates. Need a little guidance? Hey look—discussion questions!

  1. What scenes in the book does the film use?
  2. Why is Janie in the film connected to a piece of rope?
  3. What is the significance of Janie's relationship to the rope near the end of the film?
  4. What did the animation leave out? What did it illuminate about the book?
  5. How did the music and visuals affect the tone of the film and your understanding of the book?
  6. Do you think the animation was an effective interpretation of the book? Why or why not?

Step 3: Assignment time. Here's what you need to do:

Working in pairs or groups of 3-4, you're going to  create your own animated video for the novel. You can focus on a particular scene or theme, or you can represent the entire book in a short film as Tse did. Here are a few guidelines to make sure everyone is on the same page:

  • Your animation should be under 5 minutes.
  • You should write an artistic statement (1-2 pages) to accompany your animation. This statement will be a written analysis of your animation, addressing the following points:
    • what scene or scenes are featured in the animation;
    • why you chose the scene(s) you did;
    • the artistic choices you made (what information or images you decided to include or omit, any symbolism you incorporated, and stylistic elements such as color vs. black and white, music, etc.).
  • When you present your animation to the class, you will be expected to "set it up" by summarizing your artistic statement orally.

Step 4: Now that you know what you need to do, your teacher will help you divide into pairs/groups and decide on the scope of your animations. Listen up so you know when your project is due and how much class time (if any) you'll have to work on it.

NOTE: By then end of today's class, you'll need to submit a brief statement (a few sentences) listing the members of your group and explaining what aspect of the novel you plan to animate.

Step 5: Presentation day! Introduce your animation, screen it for the class, and turn in your artistic statement. And when you're not presenting? Be a good audience member. You'll have time after each presentation to ask questions and offer feedback to your peers.

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

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