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Teaching Guide

Teaching Fences

Good fences make good teaching guides.


These Fences run between all sorts of exciting issues: family tragedy, love, and civil rights, just to name a few. And unlike the fences in Tom Sawyer, there's no manual labor involved. We make teaching Fences easy.

In this guide you will find

  • reading quizzes to make sure students aren't just acting like they read the play. Acting! Get it?!
  • activities and assignments for students to make senses out of Fences… (okay, that joke didn't work either).
  • links to modern adaptations of Fences featuring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Enough said.

Now that's how to get away with Fences.

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.

Instructions for You

Objective: Students will analyze character traits and conflicts. Students will express the findings of their analysis by writing a blues song from a specific character's perspective. This assignment should take one week to complete.

Materials Needed:

  • An example of a blues song
  • Computer with speaker and/or CD and CD player

Step 1: Discuss the importance of the blues to August Wilson's plays. Play an example of a blues song for the students. Shmoop's collection of links on blues music might be helpful for finding information, lyrics, and audio clips.

Step 2: Divide students into pairs and ask them to come up with a list of character traits for the singer. Play the song again as students brainstorm.

Step 3: Each pair should share their character descriptions.

Step 4: Introduce the assignment. Students will pick a character from Fences, from whose perspective they'll write a blues song.

Step 5: Give students one night to pick a character and to write a bulleted character analysis. Students should list their character's major traits and conflicts, providing a specific quote to support each point.

Step 6: Allow students one week to compose their song. Students should also write a brief introduction, explaining who their character is and why they're singing the blues.

Step 7: Students introduce their songs and present them to the class.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Literary Response & Analysis: 3.3, 3.4, 3.7, 3.11. Writing: 2.2. 11th and 12th grade Literary Response & Analysis: 3.2, 3.3, 3.4. Writing: 2.2)

Instructions for Your Students

August Wilson, the playwright of Fences, thought the blues music was an important form of American literature. Many of his characters and plays are inspired by blues songs. In the chords, rhythms, and lyrics of these songs, he heard recorded the history of the African-American culture. Understanding this form of music is an important part of understanding Wilson's plays. In this activity, you're going to listen to an example, and then write your own blues song in the voice of a character from Fences.

Step 1: After listening to a samples blues song, brainstorm with a partner about the singer you've just heard:

  1. What might this person look like?
  2. What can you tell about their character from his/her voice and the content of the song?
  3. What is his/her attitude toward the world?
  4. Most importantly, what is his/her conflict? What does this person have the blues about?

Step 2: As homework, pick your favorite character from Fences and create a bulleted list of the character's major traits and conflicts the character is facing. (It might be helpful to check out Shmoop's analyses of Fences Characters.) Each item on the list should be accompanied by a quote from the text to support it. You'll be writing your own blues song from this character's perspective, so be sure to consider what your character has the blues about.

Step 3: Now it's your chance to get creative and write a blues song from your chosen character's perspective. In a week, the classroom will be transformed into a blues club, and everyone in class with share their songs. If you choose, you can accompany yourself on an instrument or sing the song a capella. If you're not musically inclined, it's perfectly OK to just read the lyrics.

In addition to writing down your lyrics, you should also write an introduction to your song, explaining how it expresses your character's major traits and conflicts.

If you need more inspiration as you're working on your song, visit Shmoop's guide to Blues Music History for links to information, lyrics, and audio clips.

Step 4: Dazzle the class with your performance of your blues song.

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Common Core Standards  


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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