Conversation about “The Lottery”


Shirley Jackson, author of "The Lottery"


This morning we had a discussion on “The Lottery.” We read the story yesterday in class but class ended before we had time to unpack any of it. Many of the kids were totally weirded out. A few were even pale. There were lots of questions, some outrage, and a “Where do you Humanities teachers find these stories?”

Their homework was to reread the story and look for the clues and foreshadowings that went over their heads the first time through. They were also to write up six questions for us all to discuss today.

When the kids sat down to talk about this story, they were definitely vested but clearly unsure about where the conversation might go. Yet they really wanted to puzzle it out. The conversation began earnestly and then a magical thing happened. The kids were actually listening to each other. In fact, as each student spoke, another had a mini-epiphany from the previously spoken words, and then another student, and then another. And as the conversation evolved, the students, together as a focused and committed community, and without any direction from me, made meaning. They really did. Enthusiastically.

In part, it was because “The Lottery” is such an engaging and disturbing story. In part it was because none of the students felt they were an expert in its understanding. They were all a bit vulnerable and therefore they allowed themselves to be open and let the ideas organically lead them to some resolution. Perhaps the stars were aligned exactly right.

But their ability to have that conversation today was mostly because for the past few years these kids have had teachers who have worked hard with them in integrating the formal etiquette of conversation. We as a Middle School have adopted a common structure to exchange ideas where students fully understand all the rules and the expectations of oral discourse. They have complete ownership of discussion around this table, where they feel control about ideas that really matter to them, not those ideas that just interest the teacher.

I know that today’s discussion may be the best one we have all year, that the rest of the year may be filled with lots of train wrecks around the table.  I’m not even sure the students consciously understood how inspiring the conversation was. But this is a thank you to all of my colleagues for the wonderful gift you gave us today. Without all the practice and experience, nurturing and support, in learning how to talk about ideas with each other, today could never have happened.

I had an awesome day.

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5 Responses to Conversation about “The Lottery”

  1. graceonline says:

    What a beautiful story. Teaching can be tedious at times, but you seem joyous in what happened today. How wonderful, too, that you recognize this occurred because a community of teachers worked for years to bring such discourse to fruition. This is the way we build a better world. Thank you.

  2. Mrs. Chili says:

    I am very often more geeked out over a conversation had in class than the kids are. I wonder if that’s not a consequence of their not being able to see the big picture yet (my sister is studying brain development, and she’s teaching me a LOT about why our kids act/think the way they do; I’ve had quite a few ‘light bulb’ moments as a result of some of the physiological things she’s explained).

  3. thelmaz says:

    I have a granddaughter in middle school, and I hope her teacher is as committed and inspiring as you. What a great idea to have them write out questions. I remember the first time I read The Lottery (as an adult) and how stunned I was.
    Have your kids read Hunger Games? It’s loosely based on The Lottery.

    Thelma Z

  4. This must have been very rewarding. Engaging students in a worthwhile conversation must be something teachers work towards and make the whole teaching process so encouraging. And that is down to the experience and professionalism of the teacher.

    CJ xx

  5. This is an inspiring story and I hope that every time I get tired or wonder what I think I am doing, I’ll think of where it could all go in the future. It is true that many shared in creating the joy you experienced today, but you also have to take credit for making the moment possible with your boundless energy and willingness to lead so gently.

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