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Teaching Guide

Teaching Sula

A tough nut to crack.


Sula might have the shortest title of all Toni Morrison's novels, but it's one of her hardest reads. We can help you untangle this complex knot of friendship, race, love, family, gender, death…er, maybe we should save time by just listing the themes that are not in the book?

In this guide you will find

  • essay questions about all those themes we mentioned, plus war, relationships, good and evil…you get the point.
  • resources to add historical context about World War I and World War II.
  • an activity where students will pretend to interview the novel's characters.

If you wanted simple, you'd teach James Patterson. But our Sula teaching guide is fearless.

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 be able to understand and analyze the relationships between main and supporting characters in Sula and how those relationships impact the overall plot. They will also determine character traits and analyze the effect of the narrator's persona on the plot. This activity should take about an hour to an hour and a half to complete.

Materials Needed:

  • Note cards (3" x 5")
  • Markers
  • Chart paper

Step 1: Introduce the objective and the project – to create a character guessing game in order to understand the characters and the overall novel better.

Step 2: Separate the students into five or six small groups. Have a person from each group randomly pick a character out of a bag. Make sure that each group does not share their assigned character with the class.

Suggested characters: Sula Peace, Nel, Eva, Shadrack, Jude, Hannah

Step 3: Once each group is assigned a character, instruct the students to select quotations from the book that showcase that person. They should select anywhere from 4-6 quotations.

Step 4: Once the group has agreed on the quotations that best portray their character, have them write their quotations on note cards (one quotation per card). The quotation should fit on one side of the card; the other side should be blank. Any character names should be blanked out (make sure it's completely illegible).

Step 5: After all the groups have completed their character cards, rotate each card set to the next group.

Step 6: Once each group has received a set of cards, the group must figure out who the character is from the set of note cards and devise a list of character traits supported by the quotations on the note cards. The character's identity and list of character traits should be written on chart paper. Give each group five minutes to work on each card set.

Step 7: Repeat Steps 5 and 6 until each card set returns to the group that made it.

Step 8: Have each group share its list of characters and traits with the rest of the class. Each correctly identified character garners one point; each character trait that is supported by quotations receives a point as well. The group that receives the most points wins.

Discuss as a class how the quotations support or do not support the groups' character guesses and lists of character traits during the group share.

Step 9: Assign a short essay (1-2 pages) that asks the students to write a character study based on one of the characters discussed in class. Give, as a model, Shmoop's Sula character analysis so the students are reminded about what character analyses looks like.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Literary Response & Analysis: 3.3, 3.4, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9; Writing: 2.2. 11th & 12th grade Literary Response & Analysis: 3.2, Writing: 2.2.)

Instructions for Your Students

Today we're going to try and stump each other. You're going to work in small groups and help make a character guessing game. Once we've finished making the game, we'll play it as a class and then discuss our answers.

Step 1: With an small group, choose a character from Sula. You'll be picking the name of a character out of a bag. It's important that once you pick your character, you don't let any of the other groups know which one you got.

Step 2: With your group, select quotations from the book that describe or represent your character. You can choose 4-6 quotations. Check out Shmoop's Sula quotes, if you need some ideas to help you get started.

Step 3: Once you've chosen your quotations, you're going to write each quotation on one side of a note card. If there are any character names in the quotations, blank them out of the quotations.

Step 4: When everyone is finished with the note cards, each group will give its set of cards to the next group. Once each group receives a set of cards, you'll have five minutes to guess the character and to write a list of character traits supported by the quotations on chart paper. You'll keep doing this in rounds until every group has a chance to see all the other groups' cards.

Step 5: When everyone is finished guessing, we'll see which group has the most characters correctly identified along with appropriate traits. Each character a group identifies correctly gets a point; each character trait that's supported by a quotation also gets a point. Whichever group gets the most points, wins!

Step 6: For homework, read Shmoop's Sula character analysis. Now write a short character study (1-2 pages) based on one of the characters discussed in class (aside from Sula).

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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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