Magazine Feature

Toolkit for A Conversation with Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander wrote The New Jim Crow to start conversations about race and mass incarceration in the United States. This toolkit develops student vocabulary about these themes and challenges them to create interview questions for another author who writes about social justice.  

The interview with Michelle Alexander demonstrates how an author can fight for social justice by researching and writing about the causes she believes in. It also invites students to consider the connection between literacy and justice. This toolkit helps orient students to how Alexander uses language to call for change. Students consider other authors or literary figures they admire and develop hypothetical interview questions.


Essential Questions

  1. What is the connection between writing and justice?
  2. How do authors use their vocabularies to fight for what they believe in and to draw others to their cause?
  3. What are the most important aspects of an interview?



  1. Introduce students to Michelle Alexander by reading the article to them or having them read it on their own. If time permits, have your students watch a television interview.
  2. Some of the most important vocabulary words in The New Jim Crow are incarceration, racial justice, social control and caste. Break students into four groups, and assign each group the task of looking up one of these terms or phrases in a dictionary or online. Tell each group to generate a definition or explanation of the term in their own words and to explain its importance. Bring students back together, and have each group explain the concept its members researched. Next, ask students how they think these words contribute to the power of Alexander’s ideas. Record the answers in a chart.
  3. Remind students that Alexander is just one of many authors who use the written word to draw people to their respective causes. Challenge students to think of other writers they know who use their skills to draw awareness to any number of causes. Chart their responses until you have a substantial number of names. You may need to help students consider fiction writers as well as nonfiction writers, as they may have more familiarity with novels. Songwriters should also be included. 
  4. Highlight certain questions from the Alexander interview. For instance, the interviewer asked Alexander why she decided to write the book and what she would want high school students to learn. Individually or in pairs, have students generate a list of interview questions for one of the authors they named. Encourage them to think about how they could use an interview to really understand and publicize an author’s purpose. Give students an opportunity to share the interview questions they came up with.
  5. As a reflection, have students write in journals or notebooks in response to this question: “How are literacy and language related to fighting for what you believe in? Provide specific examples to support your view.”
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