Lesson created by Dara Doran Miller, The Chicago High School for the Arts & DePaul University (2014

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TEACHING DOROTHY DOW’S “CABARET”

This lesson addresses the following Common Core State Standards:
 CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative
meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language
evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
 CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as
inferences drawn from the text.
 CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.3.D
Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the
experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.

Context: This lesson is intended for a 9/10
th
grade English class, although it could be easily adapted for higher or lower
grade levels. Students in lower grade levels may need more guided support in reading the poem and answering analysis
questions; students in higher grade levels could go deeper into the analysis questions and construct a formal explication
of the poem. Going into this lesson, student should have some background knowledge about Jazz Age Culture and
characteristics of writing in the era. This lesson would fit nicely into a unit on The Great Gatsby, and could provide
comparative points for discussing Daisy’s cynical comment about wanting her daughter to grow up a “beautiful fool.”
Students ideally should also be familiar with annotating and analyzing poetry using the TP-CASTT tool, which would
prepare them for the analysis questions on the accompanying handout.

Objectives:
 Students will read two different versions of a poem to analyze the significance of specific words choices on
meaning and tone.
 Students will respond to literature by using concrete details and sensory language to create a character based
on the speaker in “Cabaret.”

Essential Question:
 How do artistic choices create character, tone, and meaning?

Materials Needed:
 Dorothy Dow’s “Cabaret”
 Lesson Overview PowerPoint
 Computer and projector

Introduction (10 minutes)
 Play short Youtube clip introducing the Jazz Age Speakeasies (3:46) and ask students to write as they watch:
o Three (3) observations about the Speakeasies based on what they see
o Two (2) observations based on what they hear
o One (1) synthesis response: What do the sights and sounds of the Speakeasy reveal about 1920s
culture?
 After viewing, students should share responses with a partner or small group and add to their notes based on
their group responses.
 Teacher should call on 2-3 students and/or groups to share out.

Transition: Now that we’ve established a glimpse into the culture of the Jazz Age night clubs, we’re going to read a
poem based on one woman’s experience with this culture.
o Distribute copies of “Cabaret” handout (or assign student to distribute).

Lesson created by Dara Doran Miller, The Chicago High School for the Arts & DePaul University (2014)
Activity 1: Analysis (25 minutes)
 Students read through 1924 version of the poem silently; direct students to note any unfamiliar vocabulary and
make general annotations about the impact of word choices.
 Call on student to read the poem aloud. Students add to their annotations based on any new understandings
gained from hearing the poem.
 Based on student suggestions, generate a list of vocabulary to review with students on the board. Direct
students to define unfamiliar words in their annotations as you review.
 Teacher read the poem one more time aloud, then directs students to complete analysis questions for the 1924
version of the poem.
o Students share their responses with partner/small group and add to annotations based off discussion.
 Whole class discussion: Why do we go back to our writing to revise? Why might a poet want to revise his or her
work, even after it has already been published?
o List student reasoning on the board
 Read the 1925 version of “Cabaret,” first silently, then out loud. Direct students to identify changes in wording
and punctuation in the text.
 Students should discuss the impact of the changes with their partners/groups, then synthesize what they gained
from that discussion in a written response on the handout.
o Which revisions significantly change the meaning or tone of the poem? Select one or two and discuss.

Transition: We’ve considered how a poet’s word choices and selection of detail can create meaning, tone, and
character. Now, we will practice using those skills ourselves.

Activity 2: Creative Response (20 minutes)
 Students will now write a creative response to the poem they just studied, focusing on developing detail and
including specific and vivid word choices in order to create a character or scene.
 Students may choose from the following options (or create their own, with teacher approval) and should write
and revise for the entire time allotted:
o Write a poem from the same speaker’s perspective, but based on another character you create within
the same Cabaret.
o Write a poem or narrative from the perspective of the woman described in “Cabaret.”
o Describe the nightclub itself in a poem or narrative; maintain a similar tone to the one Dow establishes.
o Write a dialogue between the speaker and the woman he/she describes.

Conclusion: (5 minutes)
 Call on 2-3 student volunteers to share their favorite part of their writing.
 Students complete the following exit slip on an index card and submit to teacher:
o Write the sentence from the piece you just wrote that includes your best use of language or detail.
Describe why this specific word choice or detail is important to your work as a whole.
 Homework: Students should continue to work on their creative responses and bring in a typed copy to share
with the class.