Week 5–“Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes

Image result for mom alice william johnson
Mom Alice (1944) by William H. Johnson

“Thank You M’am,” by Langston Hughes

If you have been in my American Literature class, you are no stranger to Langston Hughes. I love that guy! This week we are going to look at one of his short stories. I want you to pay attention to the dialogue in the story. What do the characters reveal about themselves by what they say, and by what they don’t say?

The story is actually short, I think we can finish it in class easily. But I also want to throw in some Non-Fiction writing. I want you to read a biographical excerpt about Langston Hughes, one of his poems, and some articles that relate to the story because they are about people who help people in their communities.

You will also have a test on Friday on what we have learned so far. So spend some time reviewing this week– “The Most Dangerous Game,” “Marigolds,” Vocabulary Words, Adjectives and Adverbs, and Literary Terms

If you missed class today please read the story “Thank You M’am”


  • Read this (primary source) article from the New York Times, “Teaching Chess, and Life” by Carlos Capellan.
  • Read Meet the Writer-Langston Hughes’ biography (scroll down)
  • Literary Terms Project (primary source and secondary source)
  • Vocabulary Week 5 (below)
  • Mini Grammar Lesson–Review Adjectives and Adverbs (below)
  • Journal Week 5


  • Read  the (secondary source) article from Career World, “Community Service & You” at the bottom of this page.
  • Read poemMother To Son,” by Langston Hughes
  • Literary Terms Project (Steps to Evaluating Informational Materials)
  • Vocabulary


  • Read the (secondary source) article from People Magazine, “Feeding Frenzy
  • Answer the Literary Analysis Questions (at the bottom of the page)
  • Literary Terms Project (non-fiction and truth)


  • Poetry of Music Project–“Dear Mama,” by Tupac Shakur
  • Literary Terms Project (objective truth-bias)
  • Finish Work from the week
  • Review— “The Most Dangerous Game,” “Marigolds,” “Thank You M’am,” “Mother To Son,” All Vocabulary Words, Adjectives and Adverbs, and Literary Terms
  • Pack Backpack
Image result for proletarian by gordon samstag
Proletarian (1934), by Gordon Samstag

Week 5 Vocabulary

Please copy the words and the definitions.

  1. mentorship-advice or lessons from a mentor, or a wise teacher
  2. intimidating-used as an adjective: frightening
  3. endeavors-serious attempts, efforts, or undertakings
  4. legislation-law or body of laws
  5. bureaucratic– relating to rigid government routine.
  6. undaunted-not discouraged by difficulty or setback
  7. release-set free; let go.
  8. frail-weak; easily broken
  9. presentable-acceptable; suitable
  10. barren-bare; empty

Image result for langston hughes

Meet the Writer-Langston Hughes

A Lonely Child

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a lonely child who moved often and felt distant from his parents, who eventually divorced. Hughes was born in Joplin Missouri, and graduated from high school in Ohio. His father wanted to discourage his son’s “impractical” dream of being a writer, so he sent him to Columbia University in New York City to study engineering.

The young writer was not happy, and he left college to join the crew of a ship that sailed to Europe and Africa. Eventually Hughes graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, but to support his writing, he worked at a variety of jobs: the man who was later known as one of the great original voices in American literature was also a cook, sailor, beachcomber, launderer, doorman, and busboy.

Although Hughes traveled to many parts of the world he is chiefly associated with Harlem, in New York City, where he participated in the great flowering of African American art and writing known as the Harlem Renaissance. His most creative work was done at his typewriter near a third-floor rear-apartment window overlooking a Harlem backyard. You can easily imagine this setting as his inspiration for “Thank You, M’am.”

Although he wrote stories, Hughes is probably best known as a poet. In an early collection of his poems, he wrote:

“I have felt that much of our poetry has been aimed at the heads of the highbrows, rather than at the hearts of the people.” 

Hughes chose to let ordinary people speak for themselves. As in “Mother to Son,” his poems are often written in dialect, and many include slang–his speakers say what is on their minds, and they say it in the language they use everyday.

–from Elements of Literature, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston

Mini Grammar Lesson–Adjectives and Adverbs

Modifiers: Precise Meanings

Modifiers make your writing more specific. Notice how adjectives help you visualize those blue suede shoes that Roger wants. Adjectives (and adjective phrases) answer the question what kind? which one? How many? or How much? Adverbs (and adverb phrases) answer the question where? when? how often? in what way? or to what extent? The modifiers in these sentences from Hughes’s story are single words, compound words, and phrases:

  1. “The large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter.”
  2. “He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and willow-wild, in tennis shoes and blue jeans.”


  • For each numbered sentence above, tell whether the bold modifiers are acting as adjectives or adverbs.
  • Then rewrite each sentence three times, replacing the underlined modifiers with words and phrases of your own. Each time, give Mrs. Jones or the boy a totally different appearance. (For example, you might put Roger in hiking boots or a plaid shirt.)

When you write a description of a character, use precise adjectives and adverbs. Don’t overdo it with modifiers, though. Sometimes a simple word is best.

Community Service & You

from Career World, September 1998

T.J. Saftner

Imagine you read the following help-wanted ad in your local newspaper:

“Change the World Around You! Individual required to help out at nonprofit organization. No experience necessary. Interesting work with excellent benefit package. Short workweek and flexible hours.”

Would you apply? What if the ad also said, “Must be willing to work without pay”? Before you say “No way!” consider this:

Last weekend, millions of Americans worked at soup kitchens, shelters, playgrounds, museums, prisons and schools– and they didn’t earn a cent. But they didn’t go home empty-handed either. What these people received for their contribution wasn’t money–according to a survey by Independent Sector–but a chance to learn new skills, prove their reliability, demonstrate their creativity, and build their self-esteem.

Record numbers of young people are getting involved in community service to gain a sense of belonging in their community, to foster personal development, and to help do all that needs to be done in today’s world–from tutoring young readers, to building houses, to working at a blood drive.

Making a Difference

Volunteering can sound a little intimidating when you’re a teenager. But look what’s going on already in youth volunteerism:

Youth Service America is an alliance of organizations committed to community and national service whose goal is to “encourage the vitality, creativity, and goodwill of young people.”

In 1995, Youth Service America joined basketball star Chris Webber and 1,000 young people in a massive river-cleanup project. In 1996, Youth Service America worked with four local nonprofit organizations to help construct playgrounds in Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia.

Though these and many other events have attracted media attention, millions of young people volunteer without being recognized in the media for their efforts. Why do they do it?

Stephanie Star, a senior at Highland Park High School in the Chicago area, says, “It just feels good. You get a lot out of helping other people.” Stephanie volunteers at a battered women’s shelter. She spends one evening a month at the shelter, serving dinner and talking to the women.

Not only can you make a contribution to your community and make a difference in someone’s life, you can learn new skills, network for future job contacts, and gain some valuable experience–all of which can help you in your future endeavors. Stephanie says her experience has helped her understanding of different kinds of people as well as social issues.

Making a Move

Volunteering can be a long-term commitment or an afternoon event. There are many areas available for community service: churches, soup kitchens, shelters, schools, the environment, politics, and lots more. You might be phoning, organizing, cooking, working with the young or the old. Whatever you do, it will most certainly affect someone’s life. Who knows…it might even be your own.

Literary Response and Analysis Questions

Part One–“Thank You Ma’am” and “Mother to Son”

  1. Write down the main events of this story as if you were reporting them for the newspaper. Answer these questions:
  • What happened?
  • Whom did it happen to?
  • When and where did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?

2. What does the dialogue between Roger and Mrs. Jones, as well as their actions reveal about their character traits? Make a chart like the one here, showing what you infer from each character’s words, silences, and actions.


3. At the end of the story, what do you think the boy wants to say, other than “Thank you, ma’am”? In your opinion, why can’t he even say “thank you”?

4. How does the setting of Mrs. Jones’s home–her furnished room, the gas plate, the ten-cent cake, the noisy tenement–contribute to your sense of the kind of person she is? What details can your imagination add to her surroundings?

5. Compare the character traits revealed by Mrs. Jones in the dialogue in the story with the traits revealed by the mother in “Mother to Son,” Langston Hughes’s dramatic monologue. Both women talk about difficulties in their own lives. What important message is each character trying to convey to her listener?

6. Based on your own experience, do you believe these events could happen as Hughes describes them? Why or why not?

7. Review the biography of Langston Hughes. Do you think the way Mrs. Jones and the mother in “Mother to Son” approach life might reflect Hughes’s own attitude toward life? Explain your answer.

8. (This is a question that Mrs. Ryan Thompson asked me after class) Do you think that the boy changed after this experience? Did he stop breaking the law? Or did he feel temporarily sorry, but continue in the path of sin? Why do you believe this?

Part Two: Informational Materials

1. In “Teaching Chess, and Life,” What lesson did Carlos Capellan learn after he slammed his chess pieces down in a tournament?

2. Give examples of how young people can benefit from doing volunteer work according to “Community Service & You.”

3. What motivated David Levitt to develop his food-sharing program as described in “Feeding Frenzy”?

4. Which of the following statements is the most accurate evaluation of “Teaching Chess, and Life”

a. The author uses both fact and opinion to make his point.

b. The author includes only opinions in his article.

c. The author includes facts that can’t be checked for accuracy.

d. Because he does not support his point, the author fails to show why Chia has been so influential.

5. If the author of “Community Service & You” wrote a work that was a primary source instead of a secondary source, the writer would–

f. write only about his or her experience as a volunteer.

g. write only about Stephanie Star’s experience as a volunteer

h. interview volunteers who constructed playgrounds

i. provided a detailed report about the Independent Sector survey.

6. Which sentence best expresses the main idea of “Feeding Frenzy”?

a. Good deeds should be given public recognition.

b. Many government regulations serve no purpose.

c. A good cause is worth pursuing, even in the face of difficulties.

d. Millions of people in America go to bed hungry.

7. Of the three articles, which gives the best picture of the difficulties faced by those who wish to do community service?

f. “Teaching Chess, and Life,” because  it tells about at-risk young people.

g. “Community Service & You,” because it includes the statement “Volunteering can sound a little intimidating when you’re a teenager.”

h. “Feeding Frenzy,” because it describes the obstacles to starting a food sharing program.

J. “Teaching Life, and Chess,” because the author needed Chia’s help.


Serving Your Community Essay

(Due Friday October, 21)

Elaborate on the benefits of community service from a Christian point of view, in relation to these articles.


Do your own research by interviewing someone, who does volunteer work. Ask the volunteer to explain the benefits of his or her work. Then use the primary source material  from the interview to extend the interview to extend the ideas presented in the articles.


Write one or two pages about the value of community service, and present the report to the class. (You can interview briefly people at church like Gary or Janine Y., or others— BUT I am not talking about people who serve at church!!!! You need to find someone who serves THE COMMUNITY outside the church–There is a difference). Got it?

Extra Credit (50-100 points)

Volunteer to help Gary and Janine at a P*m*na Outreach, then write a 2 page Primary Source essay, detailing your experience.




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