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The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

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 Glass Menagerie Include:

Tennessee Williams was known to draw heavily on his own life and family experiences in his works, and his breakout play, The Glass Menagerie. The work highlights many of the tumultuous and labored decisions he himself felt as a young man. The play delves into family dynamics that many can sympathize with, including obligations that sometimes keep us from following our dreams. In addition, it also explores the real pressures of societal expectations, especially on young women during the earlier part of the 20th century. Some of these expectations may seem very foreign to students today. The play also examines the themes of the power of memory, and dreams and expectations in life, as told through Tom’s narration which is riddled with guilt.

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




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Tennessee Williams vs. Tom Wingfield

Tennessee Williams, like many authors and playwrights, drew upon his own life experiences in order to create the characters and situations found in many of his works. In The Glass Menagerie, there are many instances where Tom and Williams’ lives seem to mirror each other. Student will be able to pick up on these similarities with some research on Williams’ life beforehand. Have students research Tennessee Williams, his family, and his early childhood at the following resources. As students read, have them compare Tom, Laura, and Amanda to the real people and situations that occurred in William’s life. When they are done, have students discuss or write about why some authors choose to use their own lives when they are writing works of fiction. What might be some of the benefits and the pitfalls to using real people and situations in a work of fiction?



The Gentleman Caller

Likely, many students will not understand the importance of a “gentleman caller,” especially to Southern culture in the early 20th century. A gentleman caller, or a caller, was a young man who sought to find out the availability of a young woman for a date. Often, he would be asked by an older family member to come and meet the girl; other times, he would meet her and then “call on her” at her family home. The gentleman caller is less a boyfriend than just a date, and sometimes a young girl had many callers to choose from, as Amanda claims she did in the play. This would sometimes result in a competition between the young men, who would jockey to win the affections of the young woman. If her family also approved of him, after a courtship (term of exclusive dating), the young man would eventually propose marriage.


Essential Questions for The Glass Menagerie

  1. What are some of the societal expectations for young people entering into adulthood?
  2. How can one’s life be a powerful inspiration for a work of fiction?
  3. How can family obligations get in the way of following one’s dreams?
  4. Is it wrong to abandon one’s family in order to pursue a dream?
  5. How can memory change over time?
  6. What kinds of memories are the most powerful?

The Glass Menagerie Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Glass Menagerie 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 Glass Menagerie Plot Diagram

Exposition

The play is narrated by Tom, who is remembering the events as a memory. It opens with Amanda Wingfield, a former Southern socialite, obsessing over the idea that her daughter, Laura, should be prepared at all times for a gentleman caller. While Amanda’s husband abandoned their family, she hopes for bright and successful futures for her two children. She is afraid that Tom will get stuck in his warehouse job, and Laura will become an old maid.


Conflict

Laura is a very shy girl, with her social anxiety amplified by the slight limp she acquired after a childhood illness. Amanda discovers that Laura dropped out of her business classes at the Rubicam Business College because of her severe anxiety. Tom is tired of having to carry the family with his shoe warehouse job because he likes to write poetry and he thinks the world is moving on without him. He believes he is missing out on something. Amanda is determined to find the perfect gentleman caller for Laura.


Rising Action

After a disruptive fight between Tom and Amanda, Tom apologizes, which prompts Amanda to ask him to find a suitable man at his warehouse to bring home to meet Laura. After some resistance, Tom agrees. Laura previously confessed to her mother that there once was a boy named Jim that she liked in high school; however, that was six years ago now and he’s probably married. Tom eventually tells Amanda that he is bringing a friend home for Laura, a man named James O’Connor.


Climax

It turns out that James is the Jim Laura used to know, and she becomes paralyzed by fear during their dinner and has to be helped to the sofa. Tom confesses to Jim that he’s paid his dues in the Union of Merchant Seamen rather than the electricity bill that month, and he will be leaving soon. Jim and Laura spend some time together and he begins to bring her out of her shell, eventually dancing with her and then kissing her.


Falling Action

With that kiss, Jim realizes he’s gone too far because he’s already engaged to be married to a woman named Betty, whom he loves. He tries to let Laura down easily, but her quiet despair is palpable. She gives him the tiny glass unicorn he accidentally broke while dancing as a souvenir. Jim quickly makes an exit after hastily explaining his engagement to the also-disappointed Amanda.


Resolution

Amanda turns on Tom, accusing him of making this evening a joke for his poor sister. She continues to yell at him as he flees the house. Tom, alone again, speaks to the audience about how he traveled to many different places in his life, but he is always reminded of his sister. He feels constantly pursued by the guilt of leaving her behind.



The Glass Menagerie Plot Diagram

Example

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


Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of The Glass Menagerie.


  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.
  4. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



Plot Diagram Template 16x9

Example

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The Glass Menagerie 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 play, 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 Glass Menagerie Characters

  • Amanda Wingfield
  • Laura Wingfield
  • Tom Wingfield
  • Jim O’Connor

The Glass Menagerie Character Map

Example

(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.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the major characters in The Glass Menagerie and type their names into the different title boxes. Add more cells as necessary.
  3. Choose a Storyboard That character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  4. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  5. Replace the bold words in the text boxes with the following categories for each character: Physical Traits, Character Traits, and a Quote. Write sentences or bullet points to provide details for each category.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


Character Map 3 Field 16x9

Example

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Literary Conflict in The Glass Menagerie


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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 Glass Menagerie

MAN vs. MAN

Amanda is constantly nitpicking at Tom: he eats too fast, he smokes too much, he doesn’t care about his appearance enough. After Amanda throws out some of Tom’s books that she finds questionable, Tom finally flips out on his mother. She claims that she thinks his “going to the movies” excuses are lies; Tom knows he does plenty for the family and he feels stuck, so he calls Amanda an “ugly witch” and storms out.


MAN vs. SELF

Tom feels trapped with his sister and his mother. He is 21, but he is the sole income for their family, and his sister does not seem able to get out of her own mind enough to make a life for herself. He wants to become a merchant sailor, to travel and see the world, but he knows that if he leaves, he will be abandoning them like their father did.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

Amanda has many ideas about where a young woman should be at a certain stage in her life. By this point, Laura should be married and starting a family; however, Laura is very shy and quiet. She enjoys her glass animal collection and playing the phonograph. She has no real interest in following a career path because she is too scared. She is not living up to her mother’s or society’s expectations for a woman her age.


The Glass Menagerie Literary Conflict

Example

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


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in The Glass Menagerie.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify conflicts in The Glass Menagerie.
  3. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  4. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  5. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



Literary Conflict Template

Example

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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Student Activity for The Glass Menagerie


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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 play, and support their choices with details from the text.


The Glass Menagerie Themes to Look For and Discuss

Dreams and Expectations

Tom’s dreams are to become a merchant sailor and travel the world. He feels like the world is passing him by while he is standing still. He says that people go to the movies to watch other people move, while they themselves stay in one place. Laura’s expectations in life are also not adding up to what she’d hoped they would be. Since high school, her anxiety has gripped her to the point that she hasn’t done much of anything. Her dreams are encapsulated in her glass figurines, which are beautiful and seem to have lives of their own, but never go beyond the boundaries of the apartment. Amanda’s own dreams and expectations in life have also fallen flat, starting when her husband left her, and continuing as she watches her children float through life without purpose. The dreams and expectations the characters have in their own lives don’t live up to what they’ve hoped, as many dreams and expectations fail us throughout our own lives.


The Power of Memory

The play is called a memory play, and because of this, the characters and events are tinged by Tom’s own recollection of events and people. Light plays an important role in highlighting characters’ emotions, and the emotions of particular scenes, including anger and romance. Tom likens his sister’s state of mind to pieces of glass, which reminds him of her whenever he sees one. Since memory changes with time, and Tom is plagued by guilt, it leads one to question just how fragile Laura really was, and just how spirited in her pursuit of a gentleman caller for her daughter Amanda was. In addition, in memory, some things are more exaggerated because of their emotional value, which is the real driver of memory.


Duty to Family

Tom works many hours a day each week because he is the sole provider for Amanda and Laura. He feels obligated to stick around, because he sees the damage his father caused when he ran off. Even more so, he sees Laura as something fragile and in need of being taken care of, like glass. He loves her, and he seems reluctant to leave her with Amanda. Ultimately, Tom must make a choice between following his own hopes and dreams, and remaining in the apartment with his mother and sister to make sure they are taken care of. His choice plagues him with guilt for many years afterwards.


Societal Pressures

The typical route for a young woman during this era is to have a profession, whether it be as a secretary or a teacher, and then move on to marry a man who will take care of her and their inevitable children. Some women are expected to marry right away. Amanda expects her daughter to follow in her footsteps: to entertain many worthy gentleman callers and settle on one, while she finishes business school. Unfortunately, Laura is not following this proscribed path. Tom, as the man of the house, is expected to take care of his mother and sister; however, he will soon also be expected to take a wife of his own. At some point in the distant future, as Tom narrates the play, we see that this has not yet happened for him, either.



The Glass Menagerie Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Glass Menagerie

The glass menagerie collection mirrors Laura’s own inner self. It is fragile and delicate, with a beauty that comes out with light, and with people who bring out that light. Unfortunately, however, the glass collection is not really useful for anything other than admiration; it does not have a function. Laura is like the glass collection in that sense as well, because in the six years since high school she has not really done very much with her life, and seems to have no plans to do anything, either.


The Gentleman Caller

Tom himself says that the gentleman caller is not really the point of the play; instead, it is a symbol of “the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.” The gentleman caller gives Amanda purpose, in order to ensure a good future for her flailing daughter. The caller is also another source of anxiety for Laura, who is unsure of how to live up to his, or her mother’s expectations of being a woman who can lure in and keep a man.


The Movies

The movies are an escape for Tom from his duties at home to his sister and mother, and from the societal pressures that keep him stuck in his position at the shoe warehouse. Tom sees the movies as a way to live life vicariously through the characters on the screen, to travel and move as much as they do. He dreams of leaving the small apartment, becoming a merchant sailor, and seeing the world – having adventures just like the characters in the movies do.


Light

Light is used to highlight the beauty of things that have emotional attachments to Tom in his memory. The rose-colored light of the lamp in the living room, for instance, seems to reflect an inner light coming from Laura as she gets to know Jim O’Connor. Light also plays off of the glass figurines in her menagerie, highlighting their inner beauty, a symbol of her own. The lights going out in the apartment create a mood of romance and mystery with the candles, but ultimately also create a mood of despair as Jim breaks Laura’s hopes, and Tom finally runs away.


The Glass Menagerie Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

Example

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


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Glass Menagerie. 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 Glass Menagerie 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.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



Template: Theme

Example

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Sensory Imagery in Memory The Glass Menagerie


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Imagery is an important type of figurative language, as it brings ideas and memories to life in a very tactile way for our senses.

Having students create storyboards that show different kinds of imagery in a memory strengthens analytical thinking about imagery, and their understanding of the way memory works. Have your students choose an important memory from their lives and depict the sensory imagery using the Storyboard Creator. In the storyboard, an example of each sensory image from the memory should be visually represented (either through pictures students create, or what they can find in our Photos For Class search), along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of imagery.


Please refer to the following example and template as you prepare this assignment for your students.


Cell 1: Sight
In the memory, I can see the road flares as my brother stuck them in the snow on the hill.


Cell 2: Smell
I can smell the coldness of the air; more snow is on the way!


Cell 3: Taste
I taste the hot chocolate we brought with us in a thermos to keep us warm.


Cell 4: Touch
I feel the hard nylon snow tube underneath me as I sit down and prepare to fly.


Cell 5: Sound
I hear the dead stillness in the woods, and the screams of laughter as we sail over the jumps.


Cell 6: Emotional Impression
This is one of the happiest memories from my childhood. Night sledding was a totally new thing to my friends and I, and to light up the hill with road flares created a cool and surreal look and feel to the hillside.

Sensory Imagery in Memory for The Glass Menagerie

Example

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


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that highlights the sensory imagery from an important memory in your life. Try to choose one that accesses all of the five senses. In the final cell, give your overall emotional impression of that memory. .


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the sensory images from your memory.
  3. Label each cell with “Sight”, “Smell”, “Taste”, “Touch”, “Sound”, and “Emotional Impression.”
  4. Illustrate these sensory images in each of the cells.
  5. Write a short description of the sense and the scene below each depiction.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



Sensory Imagery in Memory Exercise Template

Example

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Vocabulary Lesson for The Glass Menagerie


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


The Glass Menagerie Vocabulary

  • menagerie
  • conglomerations
  • portieres
  • mastication
  • cloche
  • sublimations
  • querulous
  • demurely
  • supercilious
  • jonquils
  • phonograph
  • cotillion

The Glass Menagerie Vocabulary

Example

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


Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in The Glass Menagerie by creating visualizations.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose five vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  3. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  4. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  5. 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.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



5 Word Vocabulary Template

Example

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•   (English) The Glass Menagerie   •   (Español) La Casa de Fieras de Vidrio   •   (Français) La Verrerie   •   (Deutsch) Der Glaszirkus   •   (Italiana) Lo zoo di Vetro   •   (Nederlands) The Glass Menagerie   •   (Português) A Mistura de Vidro   •   (עברית) ביבר הזכוכית   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) حديقة الحيوانات الزجاجية   •   (हिन्दी) ग्लास मिनेजरी   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Стеклянный Зверинец   •   (Dansk) The Glass Menagerie   •   (Svenska) The Glass Menagerie   •   (Suomi) Lasinen Eläintarha   •   (Norsk) The Glass Menagerie   •   (Türkçe) The Glass Menagerie   •   (Polski) Szkło Menagerie   •   (Româna) Menageria din Sticlă   •   (Ceština) Skleněný Zvěřin   •   (Slovenský) Sklo Zdravej Výživy   •   (Magyar) A Glass Képeskönyve   •   (Hrvatski) Staklena Upraviteljica   •   (български) Стъклената Менажерия   •   (Lietuvos) Stiklo Žvėrynas   •   (Slovenščina) The Glass Zverinjak   •   (Latvijas) Stikla Zvērnīca   •   (eesti) Klaasist Loomaaed