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Teaching Strategies | English Language Arts | February 28, 2024

Reading with Purpose: Monologues

Creating a monologue is a rich task that invites students to read with purpose for text evidence across multiple primary and secondary sources. Monologue reading and writing requires students to conduct research, practice perspective taking, consider the emotions and choices of characters, and integrate the dramatic arts. In this article, learn about the power of monologues as a learning tool, and walk through the process of creating a monologue with a detailed example. 

Why Monologues?

Monologue is a literary empowerment tool for students. Because monologue is the art form of drama, it offers students a chance to find moments in which the subject is experiencing a dilemma or wrestling with a decision because drama is fueled by conflict.

When you think of a monologue, you might think of a dramatic scene in a famous movie in which the action pauses, and the camera zooms in on the main character. Suddenly, she speaks, with passion—revealing an inner struggle, a choice to be made, or a problem to be solved.

Students can experience the impact of creating such a dramatic moment by speaking from the perspective of a character in a book, a historical figure, a scientist, a rock formation, or even a math shape. This kind of writing invites students to "get into the head" of a character or even an inanimate object. Exploring the internal landscape can get to emotions, choices, and the complexity of decision making.

Monologues for Text Evidence

If you're looking for authentic reasons to encourage your students to go back into a text and find evidence to support their thinking, monologue reading and writing is an ideal task. Monologue reading takes the skill of finding evidence to a new level. Students choose quotations, mine for details, reread and determine importance to create their very own passionate monologues from the perspective of the subject of study. Drafting a powerful monologue invites students to read across a set of texts that includes different sources about one subject to glean an understanding from multiple perspectives. We find our students return to the Library of Congress website time and time again to inform their monologues with primary and secondary sources of different modalities including oral histories, images, letters, videos, and more.

During monologue reading, ask students to notice the rise and fall of the character’s thought process. Have them think about a time when they wrestled with something, playing it out in their heads. Invite them to think about how imagining what is happening in someone's thoughts can provide insights to their behavior and approach to life. Consider ways elements of drama help to create a monologue.

Creating a Monologue Example

In our webinar, we deconstruct the process of creating a monologue based on the primary source photograph Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. By reading across field notes and interviews, we found evidence that sheds light on different perspectives involved.   

In her field notes, photographer Dorothea Lange, described her subject, Florence Owens Thompson, as a migrant worker, a pea picker. Lange’s notes stated that Thompson’s family was surviving on frozen vegetables and birds the children had killed. However, this is not the story that Thompson tells 40 years later in a 1978 interview. Though for most of the 1930s, she was an itinerant farmhand, picking whatever was in season, the article recounts Thompson's description of the events leading up to her encounter with Lange.

"One day in 1936, while driving from Los Angeles to Watsonville, Thompson's car broke down. She managed to get the car towed into the Nipomo pea-pickers camp, had it repaired, and was just about to leave when Dorothea Lange appeared. Thompson was not eager to have her family photographed and exhibited as specimens of poverty, but there were people starving in that camp, one of Thompson's daughters later recalled, and Lange convinced her that the image would educate the public about the plight of hardworking but poor people like herself. Within days, the photo was being published in papers across the country." (Phelan, B., 2014). 

For this activity, we were inspired to take on the perspective of Florence Owens Thompson, the mother in the photograph. We imagined how Thompson must have felt, using the evidence from the text and interview in 1978, 40 years after the photo was taken in 1936. The monologue probes how Thompson might have responded to the questions of the reporter who discovered her identity and what she might have revealed about the encounter with Lange. The monologue considers not only Thompson’s perspective the events that happened, but also the grit and resilience that comes through in her interviews.

The differing perspectives expressed in Lange’s field notes and Thompson’s interview raise questions.

  • What really happened when the photograph was taken in 1936?
  • How does Thompson feel about the photograph?
  • Why is her voice rarely brought forward despite the famousness of the image?

We found conflicting ideas and powerful clues that both inform and inspire monologue. Drawing evidence from a variety of sources stoked the fire of inspiration and provided interesting points of access into a character's (in this case, Thompson’s) mindset, motivation, reactions, and emotions.

The evidence from the research provided a dramatic tension that drives the need to know more:

  • Are there interviews with Thompson speaking for herself?
  • What memories do Thompson's children have?
  • How might Thompson feel about the image looking back years later?

An article and two documentaries provided us with rich ideas from which to create the monologue. The evidence provided access to the character whose perspective we wanted to explore and sparked an informed creative process of excitement and a sense of ownership.

We thought about the drama elements we list in our book, which are adapted from a variety of sources, including the "Drama Handbook" (International School Athens, n.d.), the Drama Teacher, and Windmill Theatre Company.


Sample Monologue

Roles: The characters (people, animals, objects, ideas, and more) in a drama

The monologue is written from the perspective of Florence Owens Thompson, a 32-year-old mother whom photographer Dorothea Lange encounters in a pea picking camp during the depression.

Tension: Dramatic friction or opposition that emerges from a conflict, struggle, or juxtaposition of ideas or motivations; dramatic tension drives action and generates interest

Lange takes the photograph of a woman and her family to document the impact of the depression. It's published shortly after. As a result of this image, thousands of pounds of food are sent to starving workers, but Florence Owens and her family have moved on. The photograph helps to establish Lange's career; it becomes an iconic image of the depression, but Owens never benefits from the image.

Time: The pacing of how action moves as the drama unfolds

The timing of the monologue is set as a moment at the end of Florence's life. In fact, she was rediscovered by a reporter with the Modesto Bee, and I'm imagining the reporter handing Florence the image and asking her to reflect.

Dialogue: The words spoken by characters in a drama

There is no dialogue in a monologue—we hear only Florence's voice but she's clearly speaking to someone (the reporter) On the other hand, thinking about word choice, rhythm and cadence of speech helped to capture the way in which Florence might have spoken.

Situations: The circumstances that frame the drama and identify what is happening and what the problem is

It's the middle of the depression. Migrant workers move from field to field barely making a living. This brief encounter yields a handful of photographs that have an impact over time. And Owens and her family continue to move, making ends meet.

Space: Where the drama unfolds or the use of the performance space; also the positioning of the body across levels in space (low, medium, and high)

The monologue is placed in Florence's small living room.

(Looking at the photograph, she looks away for a long minute and hands it back)

Oh…. yes, I remember (sighs). I was in my early thirties. It was cold. We were hungry and we were struggling. Our car had broken down. Kids being kids was running around in tattered shoes, and it was muddy with bits of ice everywhere. I was feeding the baby in the tent…. the flaps were pulled back and I saw her walking across the field, picking where she walked, all nice like to avoid the puddles. She had nice boots and was dressed warmly. Our eyes met and she headed towards me. The kids got scared and clustered around me grabbing and hugging real close but still taking peeks at her. I didn't say nothing. She stood there looking all around…kinda shocked like and asked if she could take a few pictures. I didn't think it was right at first but she said pictures could help. She said she was a photographer and she wanted to tell the story of the impact of the depression.

She stood there waiting and I….well, I needed to get on with it. So, I let her.

She took a bunch of pictures and left. She never asked my name. Never saw her again. We left right after that to find more work. I had to keep fighting to feed my kids, ya know? It's job to job …as we do… to make ends meet.

I heard later that the picture was in some big newspaper and the government sent truckloads of food. Imagine that? And that photographer? She got an award (she laughs softly). Didn't help me though. Never got a penny out of it. Doesn't seem fair does it? It's hard to think about how easy it is for some people and how hard it is for others…I mean… seeing that picture again just brings it all right back.

(Shakes her head). Makes me look like….well now…. We did the best we could. That was then and this is now. I guess the picture did help the other workers at least in the moment. I can't help wondering why it takes so much. I mean…. there were so many of us going from farm to farm, pickin´ from sun up to sun down. Barely surviving on the money we made. Why does it take some fancy woman with an expensive camera to get help?  

Oh´, I managed OK. I've got my family and they did right by me. I don't have regrets, I just wonder. Why does it take so much to notice people are struggling?

Teachers integrate the art form of monologue in everyday lessons. Use the sample monologue in this article to inspire and guide beneficial monologue reading and writing in your classroom.

Dotson, B. (March 4, 2013). “'Mona Lisa' of migrant workers never lost hope.“ Today. [Video] Retrieved from:  

Interview with Katherine McIntosh and Norma Rydlewski for "The Great Depression." (December 23 2013). [Youtube]. Blackside, Inc. Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection. Retrieved from:

Phelan, B. (2014). The story of the 'Migrant Mother.' Antiques Roadshow. Retrieved from:  



Author Bio:

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Jennifer M. Bogard, Ph.D., Co-Author of ELA and Social Studies and Contributor of the Shell Education Integrating the Arts series

Jennifer M. Bogard, Ph.D., is an educator and author. She teaches courses in literacy and integrating the arts for Lesley University. Dr. Bogard taught elementary school and is a former literacy coach. She presents for schools and professional organizations and writes books, journal articles, and literature guides for educators. She also writes books for children, including The ABCs of Plum Island Massachusetts, described by Kirkus Reviews as "an unexpectedly soulful and absorbing chronicle of...

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