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A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
Summer Smith
University of Idaho Student

GRADE: 10 to 12

SUBJECT MATTER: English and Language Arts

OVERVIEW
Studying the drama genre is often a fun way for students to engage in literature. Tennessee Williams wrote several worthwhile plays during his lifetime, and secondary English teachers continue to teach these works in their classrooms today. In reading his play A Streetcar Named Desire, students gain an idea of southern life in post WWII and an understanding of familial relationships as presented in this play. As well, students are introduced to the film genre and can begin to understand how versions of a play can compare and differ.

Through the activities presented in this activity, students will study written and film versions of A Streetcar Named Desire. They will read the first and second scenes in the first act of Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire and will view a film version of these scenes through internet sites and video clips. They will then write their own critiques of the film clip they viewed.


LEARNING OBJECTIVES

Students will be able to:

  • List attributes of Tennessee Williams and give a basic chronology of his life
  • Explain the significant ideas and events that occur in the first scene of A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Describe the characters presented in the first scene of the play-some of their physical attributes as well as their mannerisms and personality traits
  • Articulate what sort of relationships the characters have with one another
  • Compare a film clip of the first scene with the written version of the play

STANDARDS

From the NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts: www.ncte.org/standards

Students will:

  • Read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world.
  • Employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements.
  • Use a variety of technological and informational resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • Use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.

MATERIALS

MEDIA COMPONENTS

Video
Great Performances, 1998: A Streetcar Named Desire. Elia Kazan. 1951.

WEB SITES

http://www.imagi-nation.com/ moonstruck/clsc9.htm


PREP FOR TEACHER

Before beginning this lesson, teachers will need to read the play and view the film clip (the first scene in the first act). The video should be set to play through the first scene of the first act of the play and teachers should know when they need to pause the video to discuss elements with their classes. The teachers will then need to view the Internet sites and load any plug-ins necessary to run the Web site.

PREVIEWING ACTIVITIES

Step 1: Establishing a basis for students' previous knowledge of the drama genre and of Tennessee Williams.

Ask your students to list any famous American plays and playwrights that come to mind. As they list names, write these on the board. Although the lesson focus is on Williams and his play, you can spend some time discussing other plays and authors. Ask your students what they know about the names they list, and then ask them specific questions about drama as a genre. What do they think of plays? What plays have they seen performed live? Have they ever seen a play performed and then viewed the film version? What similarities and differences did they note? What plays have they read? If they have read a play and seen it either live or on film, what similarities and differences did they notice?

This discussion should take no longer than 15 minutes. You are trying to get a sense of how familiar your students are with plays in different forms live performances, film versions, and the written texts. Ask your students specifically about Tennessee Williams. Which of his plays have they read? If they have, what did they think of them? Like, dislike? Why?

Explain to them that the class is going to be spending three days reading a small portion of his play (the first act) and then compare it to the 1951 film version. Have students write a comparison of the film version, comparing and contrasting it to the written version of the play.

Step 2: Viewing websites dedicated to Williams and his play in order to further students' knowledge of the playwright.

Once the class members have spent some time discussing their prior knowledge of Tennessee Williams, it is time to provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by answering the questions in the first worksheet. Tell class they will spend some time (about 30 minutes) looking at an online version of Williams' biography.

Ask your students to log on to website: http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc9.htm

At this site, students can examine Williams' life and his works. Once the students have viewed the website and answered the questions, hold a class discussion. Because some of the questions are subjective, it is important to reassure your students that there are no "right" or "wrong" answers.

Discuss the various responses individuals give and tell the students to keep these questions in mind as they read the play. The objective questions are to ensure that the students are reading the site carefully and getting the necessary information.

HOMEWORK: Assign students the first scene in the first act of the play to read for the next class.


VIEWING ACTIVITIES

Step 1: Students will form groups of three to five students to discuss their reading. Tell them to treat their discussion as they would in a literature circle. Hand out the questions they need to answer. Emphasize the importance of the relationships in the play and encourage your students to begin thinking about the differences of the written version of a play and a film version.

As the students discuss this act, be sure to move from group to group, listening to responses and giving directions when needed. Point out anything groups might be missing, and after the groups have finished discussing the questions, be sure to mention to the entire class major points about the relationships between Stella and Blanche, Stella and Stanley, and Blanche and Stanley.

HOMEWORK: Ask your students to record their ideas about the relationships between these characters.

Step 2: Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION. Tell the class that they will now view the scene, in sections, they have been discussing thus far. Remind them to watch for similarities and differences between the film and the written text. Encourage them to follow along with their texts, noting especially the stage directions, and tell them to take notes on the setting, characters, and plot.

INSERT AND PLAY the 1951 Elia Kazan version of A Streetcar Named Desire for two minutes and then PAUSE the video. Ask students to list some similarities and differences they can see already between the film version and the written text. How are the props arranged? How well do they correspond to the written version?

PLAY the video until Stella joins Blanche in her apartment after Blanche has arrived. PAUSE. What do the students think of Blanche's character as she is portrayed? Does she behave in a manner that students expected her to? If not, how is she different than they imagined? Ask your students if they think that Kazan has accurately and adequately portrayed Blanche.

PLAY the video again until Blanche admits to Stella that she has lost Bella Reve. PAUSE the video. Inquire how your students are doing so far. Which do they like more so far, the film version or the written version? Why? Assure students that it is permissible for them to like one more than the other as long as they can explain their reasons. Ask them how well they think the director is incorporating the stage directions into the film. What did the director do to emphasize the train noise throughout Stella and Blanche's conversation? Was it effective? What expression did Stella have on her face when Blanche told her of losing their home? Now have the students refer to the written version. What clues does Williams give that Stella is shocked?

PLAY the video until the end of the first act. STOP the video. Discuss Blanche's reaction to Stella's accusation that she lost their home. How is her reaction similar to the written version? What are some differences that you notice? What words and expressions were changed in the film version? Why do you suppose Kazan made these changes? What do you think of Stella's tone as she says "Does that surprise you?" in response to Blanche's observation that she is crying? Is her tone sarcastic? Angry? (You might need to rewind to this spot and let students view the confrontation between the two women again).

 

POST VIEWING ACTIVITIES

CULMINATING ACTIVITY
Once your class has viewed the act, have them write some more observations of the film while it is fresh in their minds. The whole class will now view the Great Performances 1998 production of the play.

Tell your students that they will be composing a comparison of the original film version with the play and the written text, and they need to remember and include as much detail in their comparisons as possible. Hand out the critique assignment.

HOMEWORK: Students need to write a rough draft of their comparisons and bring them to class the next day. Remind them that they will be working in groups, critiquing their peers' comparisons. The final draft is due Monday. Reassure them you will show sections of the film if they need to see portions one more time tomorrow. They can also rent the film at any local video store, if they need to.

EXTENSIONS

History:
Students can develop a greater understanding of American history and society, especially Southern culture, during the restless years following WWII.

Have students interview an older person who lived during this era perhaps grandparents, great aunts or uncles, or older friends. Where did they live then? What was life like? Particularly, what was the South like back then? Record and transcribe these interviews. Students can share their findings with each other.

Film:
In studying a film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, students can learn more about the film genre. Assign students to compare other written and film versions of novels, short stories, and plays. What patterns do they notice with films? What qualities are included in a good film version of a book or play?

Community Connections:
After studying the play extensively, students can perform scenes of the play for their school/community. Teachers can bring in actors from the local theatre group to discuss important aspects of a play. Teachers can take their classes to see a local performance of a play. Students can form websites about Tennessee Williams, his plays, and/or the film genre.


For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource at PBS Online! You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites! Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!


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