Sojourner Truth for advanced English students

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This is a reading lesson for an EFL/ESL classroom based on Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" speech. In addition to giving students practice reading a challenging text, it helps them learn about U.S. history and builds their awareness of nonstandard dialects of English. I used this lesson in an EFL class with a group of adult B2/C1 students who were also taking a U.S. history class, so the lesson was relevant to what they were learning in the other class too. This page outlines the lesson for TESOL/TEFL/ESL teachers interested in teaching it.

Level[edit | edit source]

Upper intermediate or advanced.

Activity Type[edit | edit source]

Reading activity

Estimated Time Required[edit | edit source]

About 60 minutes, depending on the level of the class and the teacher's style.

Preparation[edit | edit source]

Before the lesson, the teacher should do some research about Sojourner Truth, the "Ain't I a Woman" speech, and its historical context, to be able to give students the background they need in pre-teaching and answer any questions. A good place to start is the Wikipedia article about the speech.

Activity Plan[edit | edit source]

  • Warm-up/pre-teaching: Divide the students into pairs or small groups and give each group one or two of the pictures below (with the captions) to discuss. Then discuss them as a class, and give the historical context and background knowledge needed for them to understand the text. Explain that Sojourner Truth never wrote down the speech, so there are two very different versions written down by two other people.
  • Step 1: Give students the first gist task and pass out version 1 (Marius Robinson's version) of Sojourner Truth's speech. Have them read, discuss in pairs, and share.
  • Step 2: Have students do the detailed questions on Robinson's version of the speech (think-pair-share).
  • Step 3: Give students the second gist task and pass out version 2 (Francis Gage's version, adapted) of the speech. Have them read, discuss in pairs, and share.
  • Step 4: Have students do the detailed questions on Robinson's version of the speech (think-pair-share).
  • Step 5 (optional): If you think your students will be interested, show them version 3 (Gage's version, unadapted) of the speech. Use this to talk about dialect.
  • Wrap-up: Ask students about the differences between the two versions of the speech. Which version do they think is a more accurate reflection of what Sojourner Truth actually said?

The "Different versions" section of the Wikipedia article about the speech explains some evidence that might be interesting to consider when discussing which version of the speech is more accurate.

Your students might be interested to know that version 2 is by far the most popular version to read nowadays.

Variations[edit | edit source]

The lesson could possibly be adapted for a high school U.S. history class as well.

Appendix[edit | edit source]

Pictures[edit | edit source]

Notes on the pictures:

  • Depending on the cultural background of the students, you may not need to spend much time on the concept of original sin, or you may need to go into some detail about it.
  • Going over pints and quarts is a good idea for students not familiar with the units of measurement used in the United States (which includes most EFL students).
  • When discussing Sojourner Truth, remember to explain what her name means.

Tasks[edit | edit source]

Gist task for Robinson's version:

Summarize Sojourner Truth's argument in one or two sentences.

Detailed task for Robinson's version:

  1. T F Sojourner Truth says women are not physically inferior to men.
  2. T F Truth argues that women are just as smart as men.
  3. T F Truth has read the Bible.
  4. T F Truth says that Jesus helped Mary and Martha when they asked him to.
  5. T F Truth thinks men had no role in Jesus’s birth.

Gist task for Gage's version (adapted):

Is this version making the same argument? Which version do you find clearer? Which one is more convincing?

Detailed task for Gage's version (adapted):

Sojourner Truth made this speech in response to several arguments against women's rights. How does she respond to the following arguments?
  1. Women don't deserve the same rights as men because they are physically weak.
  2. Women don't deserve the same rights as men because they are intellectually inferior.
  3. Women don't deserve the same rights as men because Jesus was a man.
  4. Women don't deserve the same rights as men because the first woman, Eve, is responsible for original sin.

Speech version 1 (Marius Robinson's version)[edit | edit source]

One of the most unique and interesting speeches of the convention was made by Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave. It is impossible to transfer it to paper, or convey any adequate idea of the effect it produced upon the audience. Those only can appreciate it who saw her powerful form, her whole-souled, earnest gesture, and listened to her strong and truthful tones. She came forward to the platform and addressing the President said with great simplicity: "May I say a few words?" Receiving an affirmative answer, she proceeded:

I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman's rights. [sic] I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint, and a man a quart – why can't she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, – for we can't take more than our pint'll hold. The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don't know what to do. Why children, if you have woman's rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won't be so much trouble. I can't read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again. The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept and Lazarus came forth. And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and the woman who bore him. Man, where was your part? But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.

(source)

Speech version 2 (Francis Gage's version, adapted)[edit | edit source]

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

(source)

Speech version 3 (Francis Gage's version, original)[edit | edit source]

"Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all dis here talkin' 'bout?

"Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked. "And a'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a'n't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash as well! And a'n't, I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a'n't I a woman?

"Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?" ("Intellect," whispered some one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.

"Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man.

Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued cheering greeted this. "'Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now ole Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."

(source)