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If you are teaching “Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambara, you may be looking for strategies and tips for analyzing this story. Not to fear as I’m sharing my best tips for helping you navigate all elements of the short story with your students.
Set in the 1950s in Harlem, “Raymond’s Run” follows the story of Hazel Parker, whose nickname is Squeaky, a talented runner who is training for a race alongside her brother, Raymond, who has a disability. Squeaky competes against her rival, Gretchen, and learns more about herself and her brother in the process.
So, where to begin when teaching this compelling short story? Below are some tips to bring this story to life for your middle or high school students.
Before introducing any short story to your students, I would suggest providing any context that students may need to fully understand the background of the story. I like to focus on three elements of context where appropriate:
Introduce students to Toni Cade Bambara with a biographical overview and highlight key moments in her life and career. This gives student a sense of who is telling this story and shows how the author’s life is reflected in the plot line. Bambara, who was born in Harlem in 1939, was an author, filmmaker, professor, and civil rights activist.
You’ll also want to spend some time focussing on the historical context of the story. You can start by telling students that Toni Cade Bambara was born in Harlem near the end of what is known as the Harlem Renaissance. You can explain how during this period, an influx of African-American literature, art, and music celebrated a new cultural identity, as well as how the movement also emphasized the importance of political, social, artistic, and economic freedom for African Americans. Raymond’s Run is set in Harlem, New York.
Finally, provide some background information on the genre (realistic fiction) so that students can keep an eye out for common traits of this genre as they are reading. For example, realistic fiction tells a story that could have actually occurred in a believable setting—in this case, in Harlem. “Raymond’s Run” resembles real life, and the fictional characters within the story react similarly to real people.
Before diving into the story itself, I suggest having students respond to discussion questions so that they can further invest themselves in the story by establishing text-to-self connections and opinions related to the subject matter. I like to use questions related to family and gender stereotypes, which are important themes in the story. I might ask questions like…
While students are reading, I like to stop from time to time to ensure comprehension. Then, once everyone is done, I like to engage students in post-reading discussion. These discussions allow students to reflect on what they have read and to share their thoughts and ideas with their peers— in small groups and then as a whole class.
There are a few types of questions that work well here. I usually give students an open-ended question that prompts them to reflect on their overall experience with the story and its most important themes, as well as others that prompt them to deepen their text-to-self connections. Here are a couple of examples:
Given that the story is about preparing for a race, “Raymond’s Run” lends itself perfectly to introducing the R.A.C.E. constructed response strategy (Restate, Answer, Cite, and Explain) to students. I use this opportunity to break down this acronym and explain how it can be used to develop constructed responses:
I also give mentor sentences that demonstrate strong examples of each part of the constructed response strategy.
Then, I engage students in a Raymond’s Run text evidence race activity, where students must use their newly acquired knowledge of the R.A.C.E constructed response strategy to answer questions from the story. As shown below, I like to prepare these questions in a creative way that, when connected together, makes it look like Squeaky is running question to question.
“Raymond’s Run” often requires the reader to read between the lines when it comes to things like understanding certain key traits of different characters. Therefore, it requires students to use their inference skills. I draw attention to this with an inference hunt activity that has students read quotes from the text and use their background knowledge to infer what they say about Squeaky as a person. For example, I might give them the following quotes:
Using inference, a strong response would explain that these quotes indicate that Squeaky is fiercely protective of her brother. She is also not afraid to get into a verbal or physical altercation with anybody who attempts to say something hurtful to her brother.
Another creative activity that I like to use when teaching Raymond’s Run is a character comparison. With this activity, I have students compare and contrast the characters of Squeaky and Gretchen using a Venn diagram. The spaces on the sides are for their differences, and the space in the middle, of course, is for their similarities—of which they have many (i.e. dedication to running, being very driven, respect for each other, etc.).
This activity helps students dive more deeply into Bambara’s use of characterization. It also serves to demonstrate how people you might think you are very different from actually might have more in common with you than you would think.
The next thing I like to do when teaching “Raymond’s Run” is guide students through some analysis notes that dive a little deeper into the text. This is where I cover important literary elements like theme, setting, allusion, characterization, etc., and other aspects of the text that they might have missed or deserve closer attention. You can do this as a presentation where you present your own analysis notes to the class. You might also take this opportunity to ask analysis questions for students to complete independently, in small groups, or even as a collaborative activity where they walk around the class and answer questions together printed on chart paper.
The last thing I do when teaching “Raymond’s Run” is engage students in Squeaky’s speech activity, where students have to imagine that Squeaky will give an acceptance speech after she receives her trophy. I get students to write this imaginary speech while trying to mimic her voice. I note that it’s important for them to take into account how Squeaky’s perspective has shifted in the story, and I like to end by getting the students to share their speeches with the class.
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Here is what a few teachers who have used the resources for teaching “Raymond’s Run” already had to say:
Looking for more stories like this one? Read this blog post with 10 Short Stories to Teach in ELA with Teaching Ideas.
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