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Lesson Plans
A Wrinkled Relationship:
Tillie Olsen's I Stand Here Ironing

This lesson is written by Master Teacher Janine Polla Werner.
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Grade Level
Time Alloment
 Four 45-minute class periods


I Stand Here Ironing is a monologue of a mother reflecting on the troubled childhood of her oldest daughter Emily, who is now nineteen years old. The monologue moves between the present and the past, beginning from the birth of Emily during the Depression when the woman herself was just nineteen years old. In her monologue, the mother painfully recalls the reality of having to neglect Emily because of circumstances beyond her control. The mother tells her anguished tale to someone who the reader supposes is Emily's social worker or guidance counselor. The mother is caught between feeling responsible for her daughter's unhappy childhood and recognizing her powerlessness and lack of alternatives.

Through Internet-based interactive activities in this lesson, students will become acquainted with Tillie Olsen as a writer of women's experiences. Through viewing and responding to video, they will become familiar with the hardships of mothers during the Great Depression. They will also gain an understanding of the literary style of monologue and first-person point of view through creating their own monologues in response to a piece of art. They will define the literary element of theme and identify themes in the story.

Learning Activities

Students will be able to:

  • Develop an appreciation of a 20th century woman writer

  • Understand the hardships faced by mothers during the Great Depression

  • Identify first person point of view

  • Create a monologue in first person

  • Define, identify, and discuss theme in a piece of fiction

  • Understand and appreciate the ambiguity of making difficult choices and living with their consequences


National Council of Teachers of English - The List of Standards for the English Language Arts

Students will:

  • Read a wide range of print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States.

  • Build an understanding of the many dimensions of human experience.

  • Apply strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts

  • Use different writing process elements appropriately for a variety of purposes

  • Apply knowledge of literary elements and genre to create, critique, and discuss texts

  • Participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of literacy communities
New York State Learning Standards for the English Language Arts (Commencement)

Listening and Reading

Make perceptive and well-developed connections to prior knowledge (ELA 1 C).

Read and view independently and fluently across many genres of literature from many cultures and historical periods

Recognize and understand the significance of a wide range of literary elements and techniques, (including figurative language, imagery, allegory, irony, blank verse, symbolism, stream-of-consciousness) and use those elements to interpret the work (ELA 2 C).

Speaking and Writing

Present responses to and interpretations of works of recognized literary merit with references to the principal features of the genre, the period, and literary tradition, and drawing on their personal experiences and knowledge

Write original pieces in a variety of literary forms, correctly using the conventions of the genre and using structure and vocabulary to achieve an effect (ELA 2 C)

National Standards for History, grades 5-12

Students will engage in historical issues-analysis and decision-making by identifying issues and problems in the past and analyzing interests, values, perspectives, and points of view of those involved in the situation (5A)

Students will understand how American life changed during the Great Depression through analyzing the impact of the Great Depression on the American family (ERA 8 1B)

Media Components


Women in American Life, Episode #2

Web Sites:

Tillie Olsen (Nebraska Center for Writers)
Provides biographical information about Tillie Olsen and includes a recent photograph of her, as well as one taken when she was a young mother.

The Guggenheim Museum Collection
Provides an enlarged graphic of Picasso's Woman Ironing (1904). It can serve as a prompt for student writing. I Stand Here Ironing

Provides a summary of the story and discusses theme and characterization, using specific examples from the text.

Modern American Poetry: The Great Depression
Click on a photo essay including pictures of migrant women and their children by Dorothea Lange.


Per student:
  • Pen or pencil
  • Subject notebook
  • Picasso's Woman Ironing: What Would She Say?
  • monologue Guideline Sheet
  • A copy of I Stand Here Ironing