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Their Eyes Were Watching God: Students Researching through Fieldwork and Fiction

Teaching the African Diaspora in the Americas with Their Eyes Were Watching God: Students Researching through Fieldwork and Fiction

Summary: In this lesson, students will briefly learn about Zora Neale Hurston’s work as a social scientist who studied folklore and culture in the black diaspora across the U.S. and Latin America. Students will discuss the major questions Hurston addressed in her research on the African Diaspora, and how they might have impacted her while writing Their Eyes Were Watching God during a research trip in Haiti. They will then use this framework to develop a research question about folklore, experience, and culture that they will trace through the novel. A special focus on gender, race, and spirituality is a suggestion, but teachers can amend this to whichever themes in the text they’d like to highlight, making it easy applicable to multiple approaches to the text. This activity will stimulate a close reading of the text and a research and evidence-based approach to discussing the novel. It will also urge students to see social science and literature as connected, and to connect insights and questions about the human experience from literature to the study of cultures in the U.S. and beyond.

Objectives: Students will....

  • Contextualize Zora Neale Hurston's fiction as a part of her life's work as a social scientist/collector of folk narrative in Haiti, Jamaica and the US South in a wya that facilitates a deeper understandingof the novel
  • Define diaspora, fieldwork, folklore and oral tradition
  • Identify key questions about the human experience that drive the structure of Hurston's plot and character development, such as gender roles, labor, racial identify inequality and spirituality, and reflect of their transnational relevance
  • Gather information on, discuss, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize and report of passages in Their Eyes Were Watching God that relate to student-generated questions about social experience and folklore in the text (PBL-related)
  • Refine their understanding of literary devices that enable them to comprehend, interpret, and draw conclusions about the work of Zora Neale Hurston
  • Consider the relationship between social science and fiction/the arts (STEAM)

Interdisciplinary Connections: This Lesson Plan is an extension or framework plan for discussion Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. It could be modified to discuss any chapter/portion of the novel or to discuss chapters from Tell My Horse in a social studies class that is studying the Caribbean.  It connects with Geography, Human Geography, Sociology, and World History as well.

Key words: global competency, research skills, Zora Neale Hurston, close reading, annotating, dual-entry journal, Latin America, race and racism, gender, spirituality, Haiti, Jamaica, the U.S. South


Jamie Lee Marks


Lesson Plans

Grade Levels



English, Social Studies