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The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Student Activities for The Color Purple Include:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker is one of the most defining novels in African American fiction. The story follows the life of Celie, an African American woman living in the South during the Jim Crow era. She writes in a series of letters to God, maintaining a voice of sincerity and belief in a higher power, despite the adversities she faces every day and her own inner doubts about herself – caused especially at the hands of the men around her. She falls in love with a woman, a controversial topic even today, and through Shug Avery she finds her sense of self worth and her identity; eventually, she also finds her dear sister Nettie is still alive, and addresses her letters to Nettie. It is Celie’s perseverance and unwavering hope in the goodness of the strong women around her that allows her to survive even the most devastating personal failures by those she loves. Eventually, Celie finds happiness, talent, and her own inner strength. The novel gives a powerful voice to African American women, and explores themes such as identity, overcoming adversity, true loyalty, defining happiness, and connecting with the spirit.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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Sickle-Cell Anemia

The blood disease referenced often in the novel is actually sickle-cell anemia, called so because of the crescent-shaped appearance that carriers with both copies of the hbb gene have in their blood cells. Sickle-cell anemia actually creates a protection against malaria, but if a child has two parents with the hbb gene, he or she may suffer with many complications. According to the Mayo Clinic, complications of sickle cell anemia include:


While there are many medications used to treat the symptoms of sickle-cell anemia, the only real cure is through a bone marrow transplant.

Have students read more on this disease, and its connection to yam farming and malaria here:



Monrovia, Liberia

Monrovia is the capital of Liberia. Liberia was originally settled by former slaves through the American Colonization Society, which was established to help free African Americans resettle in Africa. Liberia means “Land of the Free” in Latin. From 1820-1838, about 20,000 people resettled in or near Monrovia. In 1847, Liberia declared its independence, although it was not recognized by the United States until 1862. Even then, its existence was ignored and denied throughout the years of the Civil War. Liberia soon became a major player in world affairs, including as one of the founding members of the United Nations. For many African Americans who visited Monrovia, Liberia, as Nettie does in her travels to work with the Olinka, it is a bittersweet moment: it is a land where blacks are leaders, but it is also a reminder of the Blacks who sold their fellow brothers and sisters into slavery. Have students learn more about Monrovia, Liberia’s rich history at the following sites:


Essential Questions for The Color Purple

  1. What does it mean to be happy?
  2. What are the ways in which a woman must become resilient?
  3. What are some of the key differences between religion and spirituality?
  4. How do people go about finding their own identities?
  5. Why do people need to love, and be loved in return?
  6. How can writing be a way to explore one’s own inner self, and to heal emotionally?
  7. How do people overcome adversities in life?
  8. Can people maintain true loyalty to one another, even after many years?

The Color Purple Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Color Purple Summary | Plot Diagram


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example The Color Purple Plot Diagram

Exposition

Celie is a young African American girl who has already borne two children by her father. She is worried because he seems to be setting his sights on her little sister Nettie. He wants to marry her off to Mr. (later revealed to be Albert), but she doesn’t want to leave Nettie behind. She eventually does marry Albert, and Nettie comes to live with them, but once she spurns Albert’s advances, he kicks her out.


Conflict

Celie is miserable in her life and marriage, raising Albert’s children and trying to avoid his beatings. Albert is in love with a singer named Shug Avery, and resents Celie for not being her. Celie has a crush on Shug as well, and when Shug falls ill and Albert brings her to the house to take care of her, Celie has a hard time hiding her feelings.


Rising Action

Shug becomes a friend and confidant to Celie, and Celie begins to find her own voice in spite of Albert. Shug uses her influence to stop Albert from beating Celie, but when Shug leaves, both Celie and Albert are heartbroken. Harpo’s wife Sofia is locked up for sassing the mayor’s wife, but they get her out to go work for the mayor’s household as a maid. Shug returns with her new husband, Grady, and Shug and Celie finally begin a romantic relationship with one another.


Climax

Through Shug, Celie discovers that Albert has been hiding letters from her sister, Nettie, who is now a missionary in Africa with Samuel and Corrine, the two people who are raising Celie’s children Adam and Olivia. Celie also discovers that her Pa is actually her stepfather. Celie is overcome by a murderous rage at Albert for hiding the letters for so many years. Nettie tells her that she and Samuel and the kids are coming back to America soon. Corrine passed away from a sickness, and Nettie and Samuel are now married.


Falling Action

Shug and Grady take Celie with them to Memphis, where Celie learns she’s a talented seamstress and begins to make pants. Pa dies, and Celie inherits his house, land, and general store because it all actually belonged to her real father, and then to her mother. She moves back to fix up the house, and Shug falls in love with a 19-year-old flute player. She takes off with him. Celie and Albert become friends, as Albert seems to have changed his ways. Both love Shug and have been left by Shug.


Resolution

Shortly after Shug leaves, Celie receives word that the boat carrying her sister and family was downed by a German mine, but she refuses to believe it. Shug eventually returns, having left Germaine, and she, Albert, and Celie live a content life. Sofia and Harpo are back together, too. Suddenly, one night a car drives up and Nettie, Samuel, Adam, Olivia, and Adam’s Olinka wife Tashi get out. At the family reunion a few days later, Celie feels younger than she has ever felt before, and finally happy.


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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of The Color Purple.


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



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The Color Purple Characters


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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!


The Color Purple Characters

  • Celie
  • Shug Avery
  • Sofia
  • Nettie
  • Albert (Mr.)
  • Samuel
  • Adam
  • Olivia

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Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.


  1. Identify the major characters in The Color Purple and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "1900s" tab to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Physical Traits, Character Traits, and Quote.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



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The Color Purple Literary Conflict Student Activity


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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflicts.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the storyboard creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.


Examples of Literary Conflict in The Color Purple

MAN vs. MAN

Celie becomes murderous when she discovers that Albert has been keeping Nettie’s letters from her all these years. With Shug’s help, she manages to keep her rage under control until Shug and Grady can get her to Memphis with them, but not before she lashes out at Albert.


MAN vs. SELF

Celie doesn’t see herself as deserving of love and respect. She feels dumb in comparison to everything that Nettie has learned in school, and she feels dull in her looks in comparison to Shug. Celie doggedly lives her life with Albert, raising his children, because she thinks that’s the only option she has.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

The common Christian belief is that Christians need to do all that they can to please God; however, Shug believes that the way to please God is to enjoy the things in life that make us happy. This leads Shug to go where she wants, love who she wants, and do what she wants, which all goes against the traditional teachings of Christianity, and what was expected of women and their behavior in the South during this time period.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in The Color Purple.


  1. Identify conflicts in The Color Purple.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



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The Color Purple Themes, Symbols, and Motifs


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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.


The Color Purple Themes to Look For and Discuss

Identity

Celie does not think much of herself at all. She was raped by her stepfather, her two children were taken away, she is passed to Mr. as a piece of property, she is no longer bale to have kids, and her sister Nettie is sent away from her. Throughout all of this, Celie tries to maintain some sort of connection with a higher power by writing to God each day. When Celie finally gets to meet Shug, she feels unworthy; however, her friendship with both Shug and Sofia begin to build her up into someone who is eventually able to stand up to Albert, walk away, find her true talent in sewing, and a sense of content even away from Shug.


Overcoming Adversity

The novel focuses on the many ways in which the characters, particularly women, overcome adversity in their lives. Celie’s upbringing, her marriage, and her husband’s children are all adversities that drag her down inside of herself so that she can’t see a lot of hope in her future. Shug Avery is faced with having to be a stronger version of herself in order to fight for how she wants to live her life in a male-dominated society. Sofia fights Harpo’s attempts to control her and “make her mind,” and her temper eventually gets her an 11-year-sentence with the white mayor’s family, separated from her own. Nettie faces her own obstacles in Africa, with the new roads and rubber farms destroying the Olinka land, and losing Corrine. Each woman lives under the adversity of discrimination in the South during the Jim Crow era. Each woman overcomes her adversities and comes out stronger and more content with her life by the end of the novel.


True Loyalty

Despite the many years of distance and lack of communication between Celie and Nettie, their bond does not break. Celie dutifully keeps Nettie alive in her letters to God, and eventually in her letters to Celie directly, once she realizes that Nettie is alive. Nettie takes the time to continually write to Celie in spite of the years of silence, keeping her informed of all of the things she is learning and experiencing as a black missionary in Africa. Their loyalty to each other does not waver, and when they are reunited, they find peace and rejuvenation in each other’s company once again.


Defining Happiness

When Celie meets Shug Avery, she finally discovers true happiness. However, when Shug leaves her to travel with Germaine, Celie feels as if her world has collapsed in on her. She wonders if happiness was just a cruel trick that has been played on her because she thought she would finally have something that lasted. Instead, Celie learns to be content: with her friendship with Albert, her sewing business, her little family unit with Sofia and Harpo, and with her new house. But she rediscovers her happiness when Shug returns, and then when Nettie arrives. She and Albert both know what it means to have loved and lost Shug; but now that Celie’s happiness has been awakened, she knows that she will never be the same subjugated woman again.


Connecting with the Spirit

Celie spends a lot of time wondering about God, especially after she meets Shug. Shug seems to think that God is not a man or a woman, but an It. Nettie says that once people stop spending their time thinking about what God looks like, they start to find him in themselves. As Celie discovers her happiness with Shug, she starts to feel the power in the world around her, and begins to connect to that rather than to a religious deity. When Celie connects to this power, she herself becomes more assured, and finds a strength within herself that surprisingly sustains her, even when her heart is broken.


The Color Purple Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

Women

The women of the novel spend a lot of time navigating men’s rules. Celie must tiptoe around her stepfather and Albert; Sofia is let down by Harpo because she won’t conform; Shug defies all norms by leaving her children and pursuing her singing career and happiness; Nettie has to find a balance in the Olinka tribe as a woman who is not Samuel’s wife, and not the children’s mother. The women of the Olinka tribe forge a true community with one another because they are mere possessions to their husbands. The women are strong, and when together, they laugh at the men who think they are weak.


Music and Singing

Shug’s singing career garners her a lot of attention, and a lifestyle of her choice. She sings “the Devil’s music”, and she knows the power it has over people. Her song for Celie connects them, and makes Celie feel like she is worth something for once. Squeak, or Mary Agnes, finds her own identity apart from Harpo by singing. Nettie notes that women workers in Africa sing even after a hard day’s work-- perhaps because they are too tired to do anything else. It is a way of life, a community, an identity, and a source of strength and kinship for many people in the novel.


The Color Purple

In wondering about the true nature of God, Shug tells Celie that God enjoys it when people enjoy themselves. While Christians typically point to dedicating their lives to pleasing him, God also likes to please us. She says that she thinks it probably angers God if we walk by the color purple in a field and ignore it-- it is a thing of beauty that he has put here for humans to enjoy, and so we should. In the same way, indulging herself in the happiness of her relationship with Shug, Celie finds beauty and connects with the spirit of God.


The Letters

The letters are a lifeline between Celie and the world around her, and between Celie and Nettie. It keeps their relationship alive, and reveals how they have remained loyal to one another, despite distance and time. Celie finds purpose through writing her thoughts down on paper, to make sense of her life as it is; in the same way, Nettie also finds purpose through updating Celie on her own well-being and that of her children, along with educating Celie about Africa, the Olinka, and history.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Color Purple. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Color Purple you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.



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Using OSCAR with The Color Purple


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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

For this more advanced character map, try using “OSCAR” so that students can analyze multiple aspects of a character.


DEFINITION EXAMPLE
O
Other Character's Comments

What do other characters say about the character?

"She ugly. He say. But she ain't no stranger to hard work. And she clean... Fact is, he say, I got to git rid of her. She too old to be living here at home. And she a bad influence on my other girls." - Pa

S
Speech

What does the character say about others or themselves? How can we infer meaning and traits from what a character says?

"I feel bad sometime Nettie done pass me in learnin. But look like nothing she say can git in my brain and stay. She try to tell me something bout the ground not being flat. I just say, Yeah, like I know it. I never tell her how flat it look to me."

C
Physical Characteristics

What does the character look like? What descriptive words are used to describe them?

Skinny, plain, not very pretty

A
Author's Attitude

How does the author feel about this character?

The author paints Celie as self-conscious and unsure of herself. Celie thinks she might deserve better, but doesn't know how to believe it until Shug comes along.

R
Reader's Reaction

How do you, as the reader, feel about the character?

Celie is sweet and kind and selfless, but the men in her life treat her like trash. Even the children treat Celie like she doesn't deserve love. It's infuriating and sad.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters using OSCAR.


  1. Identify the major characters in The Color Purple and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a Storyboard That character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for OSCAR: Other Character's Comments, Character's Speech, Physical Characteristics, Author's Attitude, and Reader's Reaction.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Vocabulary Lesson Plan for The Color Purple


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from The Color Purple. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the novel, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

The Color Purple Vocabulary

  • fractious
  • ululation
  • clabber
  • innate
  • downtrodden
  • berths
  • Pidgin
  • corrugated
  • terrapin
  • vesper
  • verbosity
  • antimacassar

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in The Color Purple by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



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•   (English) The Color Purple   •   (Español) El Color Morado   •   (Français) La Couleur Pourpre   •   (Deutsch) Die Farbe Lila   •   (Italiana) Il Colore Viola   •   (Nederlands) De Kleur Paars   •   (Português) A cor Roxa   •   (עברית) הצבע הסגול   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) اللون الأرجواني   •   (हिन्दी) रंग बैंगनी   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Цвет Фиолетовый   •   (Dansk) The Color Purple   •   (Svenska) The Color Purple   •   (Suomi) The Color Purple   •   (Norsk) The Color Purple   •   (Türkçe) Mor Renk   •   (Polski) Kolor Purpurowy   •   (Româna) Culoarea Purpurie   •   (Ceština) Barva Nachu   •   (Slovenský) Farba Fialová   •   (Magyar) A Color Purple   •   (Hrvatski) Boja Ljubičasta   •   (български) Цветното Лилаво   •   (Lietuvos) Spalva Violetinė   •   (Slovenščina) Color Purple   •   (Latvijas) Color Purple   •   (eesti) Värv Purple