It seems to me that a solid lesson plan or activity for "The Bench" would have to focus on Karlie. Karlie's awakening to consciousness is critical to any lesson plan or activity. I think that an interesting activity would be something called "Character Backpack." Essentially, students would "become" Karlie. The assignment is that if students were to pack a backpack with seven items that Karlie would take with him, what would they be? The items have to be representative of an aspect of Karlie's characterization in the story. Students can write about this and discuss the items with their colleagues. There is really no "right" answer because it depends on how the students perceive Karlie and his changes in the story. This is where the activity becomes quite interesting. For example, a student might choose to place in the backpack a copy of Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" because Karlie embodies this as he refuses to leave from the bench. Another student might put band- aids and cotton gauze because Karlie gets beaten and might need medical supplies. Students have to select seven items that represent Karlie and explain why they represent his characterization. It's an interesting assignment because of the student inquiry into Karlie. They are interacting with the text, and this is what one wants out of any activity from the short story.
Another similar activity that is even more personalized would be to compose a five song playlist that represents Karlie. Students have to construct a CD case, or playlist explanation, that would explain why the songs they have chosen would represents Karlie. Each explanation might have to include specific lyrics from the song that connect to Karlie and why the song is appropriate to Karlie. For example, Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," connects to Karlie because he refuses to leave the bench once he has made his point in sitting on the "Europeans Only" bench. This can allow students to access the world of music in connecting to the text. Both activities are student centered while remaining true to the text and Karlie's maturation and evolution in the course of Rive's story.