Thunder Roles—Town Debate (The)

6, 7, 8
This lesson will dramatize an imaginary town meeting using an event that occurred in the book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. It will emphasize the need to respect the rights of every person in the community regardless of race, creed, gender, or socio-economic class.
PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods
The learners will:
  • define and give examples of discrimination and evaluate its effect on a community and its people.
  • analyze the importance of allowing all members of the community to have a voice in decisions affecting their well-being.
  • Student copies of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
  • Large colored dots for each student to determine their social class
  • “Trial” clip from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes (approximately 1-1/2 hours into the movie)
  • Fried Green Tomatoes. Videocassette, 130 minutes, Universal Home Video, 1991.

  • Taylor, Mildred. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. New York: Puffin Books, 1991.


  1. Anticipatory Set:After reading and reviewing the first four chapters of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, tell the students they will soon be getting into character and going back in time. Play the same gospel song that was used in Lesson One: The Beginning of the Storm. Ask students what images their minds have when they now hear the music compared to when they heard it on the first day of the lesson.

  2. Explain to the class that they are about to watch the “arrest and trial” portion from the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes.” In this clip, a young white woman and her African American handyman are on trial for the murder of an abusive white man in the late 1920s.Teacher Notes: This is an optional part of the lesson. It can be taught without this section of the instructional procedure. Be sure to either get an edited version, or be prepared to mute out the woman’s outburst at the prosecuting attorney, as well as some of the judge’s closing remarks! This is a movie dealing with sensitive subject matter, many parts may not be appropriate for classroom use. Show only the “trial” scene. You may want to request advice from a school administrator before showing the movie clip.When the clip is complete, ask the students if they notice any differences between that trial and one that would occur today. (Students should notice the discrimination against the African-American hired hand, the all-white, male jury, smoking in the courtroom, the importance of the church, exclusion of the handyman from testifying in the court room, etc.)
  3. Ask the students to decide on a definition of discrimination and write it on an overhead or the chalkboard. Then ask the class to give examples of when they feel they have been discriminated against, or have witnessed discrimination. After getting several examples verbally, ask them to determine how the discrimination would have affected them if they were African-Americans in the 1930s. (Review the history of the Great Depression and its effect on African Americans as described in Lesson One: The Beginning of the Storm). Suggest they use their prior knowledge from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and the trial they just watched from Fried Green Tomatoes. Write down their examples on the overhead (or chalkboard) and discuss the examples with the students. Encourage specific examples.
  4. At the end of the class period on day one, ask students “who is an only child, theoldest in the family, or the youngest (or middle) child in the family?” (You mayinclude step-siblings as an alternate.) Write down how many students you have ineach group so you know how many “dots” to make for the students during the comingrole-play. The next day pass out the dots in the following manner, and ask them todisplay the dots on their clothing so it is visible for all to see:
    • Only child – yellow dot
    • Oldest child – blue dot
    • Middle or youngest child – red dot
  5. Inform the class that a role-play “town meeting” has been called to discuss the burning of Mr. Berry and his nephews, which occurred in the book, and the lack of legal action that followed. During the town meeting, the teacher will play the role of the mayor. Make sure all students are displaying their colored dots. Inform the class that the yellow dots are representative of the white upper class (Wallaces), the blue dots represent the poor whites (Jeremy), and the red dots represent the Logans and other African-Americans in the community. Explain that students should put themselves in the mindset of their character and speak from their point of view during the town meeting. Ask the learners to think silently about how it will affect their attitudes during the town meeting.
  6. Place the overhead from the previous class period on the screen (or board). Review the definition of discrimination and the other information listed. Ask a few of the students to describe how their character would react to the news of the burning and the fact that several days had passed without any legal action.
  7. To get the students into their roles, allow each group to meet to discuss the details of the situation from the book and to decide what their arguments would be about having some action taken related to the burning. Point out that they might want to re-read about the Logans finding out about the fire and the children’s visit to Mr. and Mrs. Berry after the fire.
  8. After the students have had adequate time to prepare their arguments, discuss with other class members, and get into their role, you may begin the debate. You may start them out by telling them you are the Mayor, who called the meeting to order, and tell them why the town meeting was called. Ask for some thoughts on the situation and let the debate flow from there.Note: This will be a highly emotionally charged lesson, so be prepared to put out fires when necessary and start them if the “actors” aren’t getting into role.As happened in the novel, encourage the students who are in the role of the African-Americans(red dots) to take action in the form of a boycott of the Wallace store. Be aware that threats of additional fires or loss of land from the white upper class may occur as well.
  9. It is important to allow students to express their feelings after the role-play iscompleted and process what occurred during the debate. Ask students about theimportance of having everyone contribute to the debate, that is, hearing all voices inthe community. Did they feel this actually occurred in the town meeting? How doesthe inclusion of all groups in community concerns add to community capital?
Since it is imperative for the students to be able to express their emotions about role-playing from this particularly powerful section of the novel, ask them to write a written reflection about the debate. Their reflection should cover the following: Did you feel you were able to role-play well? How did you agree and disagree with your character? How did you feel the other people of the community treated you at the meeting? How did the mayor treat you? What did you like and dislike about this project? How do you feel the outcome would be affected if only one social class was represented in the debate? If even one group was omitted? Rubric for Written Response In order to earn Description 5 All five questions are answered with thoughtful and complete sentences. 4 Four questions are answered with thoughtful and complete sentences. 3 Three questions are answered with thoughtful and complete sentences. 2 Few requirements are met and sentences are written poorly. 1 Reflection shows very little effort to fulfill requirements. 0 The assignment was not handed in.
Cross Curriculum 
Teacher’s Note: The “Bridge the Gap” project is an optional component of the unit. The same experiential component is also found in the 6-8th grade companion unit Music of the Civil Rights Era, 1954-1968 found at, click on Teaching Materials, then 6-8 Grade Level, and select the unit title above.Permission from the local community(s) must be secured before beginning this project. Students will be offered the opportunity to work with a neighboring school district on a project to “Bridge the Gap” between two very different communities. Students will have the opportunity to illustrate diversity by drawing and coloring what it looks like to them on a large piece of paper (approximately three feet by three feet). Students will then take a Saturday to work with local artists and transfer their work on to a sidewalk square on the bridge or street area that separates the two communities. Students from both schools and local artists from each community should meet to transfer and paint their illustrations. Students will write local businesses for donations, paint and advertisements. Money will be raised for billboards in both communities advertising their project. There will be a dedication ceremony featuring student choir performances, dance and readings. The students should begin their work in the middle of the bridge or street (block) and work their way out so it can be added on to every year. In the future there should be two interlocking pieces of sculpture —one placed on either end of the bridge or street– facing each other, or reaching out to the other. Getting the students of different races and backgrounds to work together will be a first step toward bridging the gap between communities or neighborhoods.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
      2. Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.