Literary Connections

World Literature and Thoreau

Ruth Boyd-Galezewski, 2016
Cheltenham High School
Wyncote, PA
World Literature, Grade 10, Honors

The goal within my World Literature curriculum is to explore the universality of Thoreau’s ideas, as part of a larger, human conversation, and to give my students an American voice to anchor upon.

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Connecting Our Town with Transcendentalism

Anne Ruka, 2016
Pembroke High School
Pembroke, MA
American Literature, Grade 11

The following lessons are additions to embellish a unit plan on Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town (the original plan is submitted as Appendix A). The purpose of these lessons is to expose students to the writings of Henry David Thoreau and for them to see the inter-connecting ideas of Transcendentalism and the power of place between two works.

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Black Lives Matter: The theme of social injustice in Pat Conroy’s The Water is Wide

Joseph Taylor, 2016
Beaufort High School
Beaufort, SC
English/American Literature, Grade 10, Honors

This unit will focus on the issue of racial inequality in America today using a seminal work by South Carolina’s own Pat Conroy. Students will read the novel, reflect on key passages in their journals, interview those who knew and worked with Pat Conroy, visit the places in Beaufort County that are essential to developing a better understanding of the connection between place and learning. Students will also have the opportunity to listen to several speakers who directly experienced racial inequality while growing up in South Carolina during the Civil Rights movement. In addition to The Water is Wide, students will read Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience,” and an excerpt from his essay “A plea for Captain John Brown.”

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Roots and Shoots: A Thoreauvian Odyssey From Wordsworth to Roethke

Doug Atkins, 2015
Catholic Memorial School
West Roxbury, MA
English, Grade 11, Honors

This set of lessons explores the antecedents and “progeny” of select works of Henry David Thoreau. It is an enhancement of units already covered in English 11 Honors; indeed, a “fleshing out” of a pre-existing Thoreau unit and Dickinson/Frost unit. The first unit sets out to show how British Romantic poet William Wordsworth influenced Ralph Waldo Emerson, and subsequently how Emerson helped to nurture Thoreau’s ethos. The second unit looks at two seminal works of Thoreau in the context of Transcendentalism but also in light of his living legacy. The final unit explores sense of place through the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Theodore Roethke. The overarching purpose of these units is to foster in the student a closer relationship with the natural world through literature but also through experiential practice – “field work” inspired by the presenters at Approaching Walden.

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Transcendentalism: A Call for Authenticity

Philomena Feighan, 2015
Leicester High School
Leicester, MA
American Literature, Grade 11, Honors

The over-arching aim of this unit is to bring the students to a deeper level of understanding of the world and of their place in it, first by reading the listed works and then by seeing them through the eyes of the Transcendentalists, specifically Thoreau and Emerson (Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald etc.). The culminating assignment will be an AP-standard essay which will draw all the strands of the semester together and show the value of non-conformity and authenticity.

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“If I am not I, who will be?”

Erin Palazzo, 2015
Shrewsbury High School
Shrewsbury, MA
AP English Language & Composition, Grade 11

Using the students’ summer work with Krakauer’s Into the Wild and Thoreau’s Walden Pond and the guided journal entries they completed with the latter reading, this year-opening unit serves as a platform for establishing routines, expectations, and skill requirements for the AP English Language & Composition course.  Additionally, it will help students look critically at an author’s body of work, recognize his distinct voice, and understand the impact of the environment around him (historically, culturally, and environmentally) in shaping his life & writing.

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To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Civil Disobedience by Thoreau

Molly McGravey, 2014
Laurence High School-School of the Performing and Fine Arts
Lawrence, MA
English, Grade 9

As part of the curriculum at the Performing and Fine Arts High School in Lawrence, MA, all 9th graders are required to read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel that explores sense of space and identity. When paired with “Civil Disobedience”, students will compare and contrast the morals and values discussed by Thoreau and those instilled in the main characters in TKAM. By grouping To Kill A Mockingbird, Civil Disobedience and the student’s personal experiences, I hope to stoke introspection, exercise empathy and nurture a greater understanding of personal ethics and values. Upon completion of this unit, students may become aware of issues affecting their community, and will have the tools to enter a conversation about subjects about which they feel passionately.

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Song of Solomon Unit: Grounding to Fly

Joe Golding, 2012
Newton South High School
Newton, MA
English, Grades 11 and 12

This unit is designed to help students consider where their sense of self comes from, and how they might be affected if they did not understand some of the stories behind the names, objects, and places around them. The first part of the unit asks students to learn about, analyze, and reflect on their immediate surroundings–something that the character Milkman is utterly unable to do when the novel Song of Solomon begins. The second half on the unit has students analyzing Song of Solomon and connecting what they have learned about their surroundings to the journey Milkman takes in the novel. The midway assessment has students analyze a passage from the text that gets at just how alienated and misguided Milkman is. The final assessment asks students to reflect on how they, in their lives, have connected with people or places.

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“You Will Always Be Mango Street”: Sense of Place and The House on Mango Street

Zach Vonnegut, 2012
Wayland High School
Wayland, MA
English, Grades 9-11

Esperanza Cordero, the protagonist in The House on Mango Street is a keen observer of her surroundings and thus can be a role model for readers looking to develop a stronger sense of place. What does she do that we should emulate? She pays attention to detail, she talks to people, she looks for patterns, and she reflects on her experiences. Some activities in this unit encourage students to do these same things.

The House on Mango Street is not just a how-to book though. More interestingly, this novel shows how complicated someone’s feelings toward a place can be. Esperanza describes her childhood home as “the house I belong but do not belong to”. I would guess that this accurately describes the way that many people feel about the place where they grew up and some of the activities below are designed to clarify those feelings.

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A Poet’s World: Exploring Sense of Place within Poetry

Alicia Safier, 2011
Belmont High School
Belmont, MA
English, Grade 9

This unit was developed around the premise that writers derive inspiration from, and are heavily influenced by, the worlds they explore, elaborate, and sometimes criticize.  Poets, in particular, use the tools of writing — diction, imagery, and other types of figurative language — to bring the worlds within their poetry to life.  Whether it is Frost’s wintry forests or Wordsworth’s field of daffodils, poets have a powerful ability to describe, represent, and make magic out of the worlds they both inhabit and create.  This poetry unit helps students grasp an understanding of the poems they are presented with by helping them connect with the “sense of place” within those poems.  Simultaneously, students will learn to express their own “sense of place” through poetic forms that imitate the forms, structures, themes, and devices they see in the poems they will study.  Ultimately, students will more deeply understand the use of literary methods and poetic devices and specifically will come to analyze how these devices lend themselves to creating meaningful “senses of place” within poetry for both the poet and the reader.

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Growing A Poetic Sensibility:  Using “Sense of Place” in Teaching Poetry

Kristin Hera, 2011
Nashoba Regional High School
Bolton, MA
Accelerated English, Grade 10

The guiding premise for this unit is that by playing with “sense of place” in reading published poems and writing their own poetry, students will gain a better understanding of poetic inspiration, poetic tradition, and even the joy of poetically crafted language.  My theory is that students will learn to see that poets often react to — or interact with — the places that shape their lives, and thus, poetry will seem more relevant.  Based on several tenets from Walden, the unit hopes to develop students into lovers of poetry and keen observers of — and participants in — nature.

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A Sense of Place: Finding St. Paul in the Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jean Roemer, 2010
Park High School
St. Paul, MN
English, Grades 9 and 11

It is the eternal question of literature students: Where did the author find his ideas? This short unit will help students to answer that question for one author: F. Scott Fitzgerald. By reading three of his stories and visiting Fitzgerald’s first neighborhood, students will be able to answer that question. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, F. Scott Fitzgerald drew on the people and places he grew up with for many of the characters and setting for his stories and novels. Tasks in this unit ask students to consider the role of place in writers’ lives by considering influences in their own lives, by reading a St. Paul short story, and by visiting Fitzgerald’s neighborhood, Summit Hill in St. Paul.

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The Landscape of Advanced Placement English Language and Composition: An Introduction to the Essays of the Advanced Placement Exam Through the Writings of Henry David Thoreau

Inna Kantor London, 2010
Framingham High School
Framingham, MA
AP English Language and Composition, Grade 11

Selections from Henry David Thoreau’s writing introduce students to the three forms of essays tested in the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition Exam:  the rhetorical devices essay, the persuasive essay and the synthesis essay.  Students will explore their sense of place by completing assigned projects and essays.  The unit combines both analytical and creative work.  Final assessments in the form of actual AP essay prompts are provided. These final assessments also implicitly address the notion of one’s sense of place.

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The Scarlet Letter and Transcendentalism

Katy Clayton, 2009
Great Neck North High School
Great Neck, NY
English, Grade 11

Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a wonderful text to couple with the teaching of Transcendentalism. The protagonist, Hester Prynne, displays many acts of civil disobedience throughout the course of the novel, and Hawthorne often criticizes the Puritan society that punishes her so harshly. The lessons students take away from this novel relate very closely to the ideas espoused by the great transcendental thinkers—civil disobedience, self-reliance, and nature as a reflection of God. In addition to using Transcendentalism as a historical context and lens for the novel, this text is a wonderful tool with which to teach students symbolism. Once the students grasp the concept of symbolism and can think in a more abstract manner, they will tap into the greatest local resource—New York City—and look for symbolism and connections to some themes and characters in The Scarlet Letter during a visit to the Museum of Modern Art.

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Living Deliberately – The Legacy of Henry David Thoreau – Education and Experience

Ann Koppeis Bowles, 2009
Dover-Sherborn High School
Dover, MA
English I, Grade 9, Honors

This unit will take place twice a term throughout the year, in an effort to observe the natural world each season (though it could also be compressed into a semester). The unit will attempt to develop in students the ability to draw some conclusions about the importance of HDT as a literary figure in American literature and about themselves and their relationship to their environment. Students will write in their journals informally throughout the year, some of which they will revise. Journal writing will involve observation, drawing, reading and responding to excerpts from Thoreau’s Walden, The People of Concord, Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” and literary excerpts on the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Rivers, self-reflection and evaluation, journaling, and assessment of environmental factors observed. The unit will focus around four excerpts from Walden that will form the basis of our inquiry, but student responses may take the inquiry into other directions. Students will be required to complete string journals one to two times a week each quarter. Finally, students will be asked to consider the journey of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey in light of their study of Thoreau’s Walden.

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The Catcher in the Rye: A “Place-Based” Approach

AnneMarie Dull, 2008
High School for Environmental Studies
New York, NY
English, Grade 10

This unit plan for The Catcher in the Rye intends to use an observational, journal-writing approach to studying the novel. Directed towards tenth-grade students at a high school in New York City, this approach to the novel will involve students tracking Holden Caulfield’s observations of his environment and the people he is surrounded by. In addition, students will make their own observations about key aspects of the novel, and use the novel and the journal writing activity to make observations about their own world and the people in it. This plan will allow students to closely examine parts of New York City seen in the novel and the parts of New York City they experience on a daily basis. Students will join Holden Caulfield as he searches for a “home,” for that “peaceful place” he desperately searches for in the loud and busy city, and in turn, will be prompted to find and closely observe their own “peaceful place.”

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Transcending Writing Modes: Making the Writing Real

Kati Kager, 2008
Chippewa High School
Doylestown, OH
English, Grade 10, Honors

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” –Thoreau
This project, intended for grade 10 students, consists of two separate units. The first unit deals with three writing modes: expository, narrative, and persuasive, and in this section students will practice the writing modes with prompts inspired either by quotes from Thoreau or Emerson. The second unit consists of a small research paper entitled “History It’s Where You Live”, in which students will have the opportunity to use primary as well as non-Internet sources as a valuable part of their research. Both of these units will help students utilize state standards and essential skills needed to be successful in completing Ohio’s state-wide graduation test.

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 Ourselves and Our Community Through the Poetry of Spanish Harlem

Lauren Jacobs, 2008
The Heritage School
New York, NY
English Language Arts and Literacy, Grade 11

During this unit we will be studying the poetry and poets of Spanish Harlem in order to get a better sense of our community’s cultural history and understand how its literary history is both a reflection of and an influence on the daily life of this particular place.

The first major component of the unit is the study of poetry as an expressive art form within the context of community. We will read, discuss, interpret, analyze, compare, and write written responses to the poetry of and about El Barrio with an eye toward how this poetry is an important part of our community’s identity. We will also study specific poets who represent the Spanish Harlem experience in an effort to understand the relevance of each poet’s life and work to the neighborhood and its people. Finally, using the poems we’ve read as models, we will write short poems of our own inspired by our experiences in our home of Spanish Harlem.

Related to this study is the exploration of Spanish Harlem as a unique place within the New York City Landscape. We will read about and discuss the neighborhood’s history as well as current social and economic issues as they relate to its location and its people. We will explore how this location affected its authors and how it affects us every day. We will reflect on how our experiences led to our poetry, and we will journal outside within the community once a week in order to better understand the neighborhood’s physical and cultural uniqueness. We will also travel as a group throughout the community to various locations – both natural and cultural – that together make up the corner of the city that is Spanish Harlem.

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Thoreau’s Marginalized Voice and His Landscape

Nancy Florez, 2007
Wayland High School
Wayland, MA
American Literature, Grade 11, Honors

In this unit, we will study how and why Thoreau’s “marginalized status” enabled him to make trenchant observations about the natural world, his society, and the U.S. government. We will consider Thoreau’s place among other “marginalized characters” from several American texts. We will identify public figures from our own world (both present and past) who share Thoreau’s vision and voice, and we will study how Thoreau’s relationship with his landscape can help us find our own “Waldens” within our community

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 A Series of Classes on Images from Nature in Romantic Literature

Robert P. Largess, 2005
Boston Latin Academy
Boston, MA
English, Grade 11

This course will prepare the students for college, and will provide a lasting experience that might last them through life. The class will provide students with a good general overview of the American literature and authors of the Romantic period, will give students a basic understanding of Transcendentalism, will tackle the question of nature and its role in people’s lives, and will culminate in the star-gazing field trip.

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Integrating Thoreau and Emerson into American Voices and Expository Writing

Susan Frommer, 2001
Lincoln-Sudbury High School
Sudbury, MA
English, Upper Level

In American Voices, students focus on the idea that many voices which are silenced need to be heard. The goal of this course is to deepen students’ understanding of the various cultures in the Western Hemisphere through a variety of genres.

Expository Writing teaches students how to keep thorough, observant journals. Prompts from Emerson and Thoreau are used to inspire journal entries throughout the semester, and one class period is spent writing in the replica of Thoreau’s cabin.

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