Leona’s Story (Gee, 1996; 2004)



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Leona’s Story (Gee, 1996; 2004)

The following vignette is from a book on literacy by James Gee, a sociolinguist. Gee recorded children in classrooms during “sharing time.” This story told by Leona, an African-American 2nd grader. Leona’s teacher considered her to be deficient in verbal/literacy abilities, that her stories had no point and were rambling. Gee observed that the teacher provided less instructional time to Leona than to children who presented stories in a more traditional topic style (beginning-middle-end). Note that the division into stanzas is part of Gee’s analysis. The teacher did not have the benefit of a transcribed story or the opportunity to engage in extended analysis.
Gee wrote about the story as--

  • highly coherent and very sophisticated;

  • utilizing humor, and language play including a repetition of words in patterns;

  • showing parallel constructions;

  • Leona’s attempt to make sense of her grandmother’s behavior;

  • using a story format common among many African-American teenagers (Labov 1972).


Please discuss in a group of 4 whether you agree with Gee’s analysis. Find those parts of the story which demonstrate these points, and be prepared to share them. How could a teacher incorporate Leona’s strengths into literacy instruction?
FRAME: STANZA 1

  1. Today

  2. It’s Friday the 13th

  3. an’ it’s bad luck day

  4. an’ my grandmother’s birthday is on bad luck day

EPISODE 1: MAKING CAKES (5-14) STANZA 2



  1. an my mother’s baking’ a cake

  2. an’ I went up my grandmother’s house while my mother’s bakin’ a cake

  3. an’ my mother was bakin’ a cheese cake

  4. my grandmother was bakin’ a whipped cream cup cakes

STANZA 3


  1. an’ we both went over my mother’s house

  2. an’ then my grandmother had made a chocolate cake

  3. an’ then we went over my aunt’s house

  4. an’ she had make a cake

STANZA 4


  1. an’ everybody had made a cake for nana

  2. so we came out with six cakes

EPISODE 2: GRANDMOTHER EATS CAKES (15-34): STANZA 5



  1. last night

  2. my grandmother snuck out

  3. an’ she ate all the cake

  4. an’ we hadda make more

STANZA 6


  1. an’ we was sleepin’

  2. an’ she went in the room

  3. an’ gobbled ‘em up

  4. an’ we hadda bake a whole bunch more

STANZA 7


  1. she said mmmm

  2. she had all chocolate on her face, cream, strawberries

  3. she said mmmm

  4. that was good

STANZA 8


  1. an’ then an’ then all came out

  2. an’ my grandmother had ate all of it

  3. she said, “what’s this cheese cake doin’ here” – she didn’t like cheese cakes

  4. an’ she told everybody that she didn’t like cheese cakes

STANZA 9


  1. an’ we kept makin’ cakes

  2. an’ she kept eatin’ ‘em

  3. an’ we finally got tired of makin’ cakes

  4. an’ so we all ate ‘em

EPISODE 3: GRANDMOTHER GOES OUTSIDE THE HOME (35-47). NON-NARRATIVE SECTION (35-41)



  1. an’ now

  2. today’s my grandmother’s birthday

  3. an’ a lot o’ people’s makin’ a cake again

  4. but my grandmother is going’ t’get her own cake at her bakery

  5. an’ she’s gonna come out with a cake

  6. that we didn’t make

  7. cause she likes chocolate cream

ENDING: STANZA 11



  1. an’ I went t’the bakery with her

  2. an my grandmother ate cup cakes

  3. an’ an’ she finally got sick on today

  4. an’ she was growling like a dog ‘cause she ate so many cakes

FRAME: STANZA 12



  1. an’ I finally told her that it was

  2. it was Friday the thirteenth bad luck day


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