Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
Jewish Assimilation in Contemporary American Literature
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for teachers is divided into three sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
Steps -- Conducting the lesson
Community Connections -- Real world actions for students after completion of the lesson.


Media Components

Computer Resources:
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM and/or Macintosh computer running System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.

Students need the following supplies:
  • Class set of GOODBYE, COLUMBUS by Philip Roth
  • Email accounts (optional)

    Bookmarked sites:

    Introductory Activity:

  • Ask students to name an important ritual they practice or observe. It could be watching a parade every 4th of July, celebrating Christmas, attending the prom their senior year, etc. Have students imagine what it would be like if they lived in a society where they would be ostracized or forbidden to engage in this ritual. What would they do? How far would they go to be able to continue engaging in their ritual?

  • Ask students to watch some of the HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS episodes (especially episode 4: THE CRUCIBLE OF EUROPE; episode 5: SEARCH FOR DELIVERANCE; and episode 7: THE GOLDEN LAND). Check local station listings for air times, order the DVD box set via the program's Web site, or have students peruse the site for information.

    As they watch, ask them to note all the instances in which Jews either chose to continue or modify their practice of Judaism in the face of opposition from the political or social forces of the countries they lived in. They should note the consequences for the Jews in each instance.

  • Once this is complete, tell students that they will be reading a collection of short stories by Philip Roth, a contemporary Jewish writer who deals with the theme of Jewish assimilation in his work. Ask students what they concluded about Jews and assimilation based on watching HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS. If they were Jews living Spain or Russia, would they have chosen to give up their faith during the Inquisition or the pogroms? Why or why not? Remind them of their discussion about their own rituals in #1. Ask them what would be lost or gained if they stopped practicing their religious rites?

    Learning Activities:

    Activity One
    2 to 3 class periods

  • Explain to students that they will look at Philip Roth's first publication: GOODBYE, COLUMBUS from a cultural studies perspective - examining how the stories reflect the social context in which the stories were written. After reading groups complete the stories, students will research various historical and social factors that are touched upon in the text. In the end, they will write their own stories on the same theme, using some of the literary devices evident in Roth's stories.

  • Begin by having students read the NEW YORK TIMES book review of GOODBYE, COLUMBUS at 98/10/11/specials/roth.html. Based on the description of the various stories, students should select the story that interests them the most. Once this is determined, put them into groups according to their selected story.

    Note: the title story contains some sexual references, so you may want to get parental permission if this work is selected. Or, you may choose to study the other stories, which do not deal directly with this subject matter.

  • Since students will be expected to identify how Roth uses literary devices to paint a portrait of Jewish life in America, review the concept of tone, setting, narrative voice, theme, and characterization with the class as a whole before they begin reading their stories. Use examples from the stories to illustrate these points, then have students find examples of each in their own stories.

  • Have groups read the first couple of pages of the story to each other, and develop a set of 5 reading questions about what they want to know about the story itself. The questions can be simple "what will happen next?" but should also consist of more complex questions about the culture reflected in the story, character's motives, setting, tone, and narrative voice.

    HOMEWORK: Complete the stories and answer the reading questions developed in class. Encourage students to email each other with additional questions or comments about the stories, if possible.

  • The next day, allow groups to discuss the stories and the answers to their homework questions. Then conduct a class discussion based on the following questions:
    • What tone was used in your story? Give examples to substantiate your answer.
    • What was the setting of the story? How did Roth show this?
    • What kind of narration was used? Give examples.
    • What were the protagonist's motives? How do you know this?
    • What were the main themes of your story? How do you know?
    • What similarities do you notice throughout the stories, based on this discussion?

    Activity Two
    2 class periods

  • In this activity, students will add to their understanding of GOODBYE, COLUMBUS by researching the cultural context of the stories. Based on what they read, have groups come up with a list of 5 research questions related to their stories and the following topics:
    • Philip Roth
    • Jewish history
    • Jewish religion and/or laws
    • Mid-20th century American culture and/or history

  • Have students break into new groups organized according to the topic that interests them. Give the groups a day to find the answers to their questions using the bookmarked Web sites listed at the top of this page, then discuss their results with their new groups when complete. Ask them to talk about how this new information changes, or reaffirms their reading of their stories.

  • Have students get back into their story groups and share their research findings. Afterwards have the groups discuss how this information informs their stories, and how it accomplishes this. And finally, ask students to discuss how Roth deals with Jewish assimilation in the stories. Once groups have a chance to think about this theme, open the discussion up to the class to see how the theme is dealt with throughout GOODBYE, COLUMBUS. Conclude the discussion by asking:
    • What's the most important thing you learned about the Jews and assimilation from reading this story?
    • What relevance do these stories of assimilation have to our society today?

    Culminating Activity/Assessment:
    Approximately 1 week

  • Have students write part of a short story that deals with assimilation. Hand out the Planning the story organizer and review the assignment requirements before any work begins.

  • Once complete have students exchange stories for peer critique of the first draft. Peer critics should use the Critiquing the 1st draft organizer for guidance. Have students revise their first drafts based on the critiques, then do a peer review of a final draft that focuses on grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

  • Have students submit their work to be published online on your school Web site.

    Community Connections:
    • Invite the school community to read and comment on the students' stories, or write and publish their own stories of assimilation to share with the class.
    • Invite recent immigrants into the class to talk about their experience adjusting to American culture.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students