Place-Based Units

Finding Walden in the Place We Call Home

Kerry Martini, 2022
Colerain High School
Cincinnati, Ohio
Introduction to Education, Grades 11 & 12

This project will be a year-long endeavor wherein students, as “citizen sociologists,” will explore the township to develop a Sense of Place that deepens their personal connection to the area they call home. While students live, study, and sometimes work in a region, they are often only familiar with their particular social circle and/or neighborhood; therefore, the purpose of this project is to expose the students to the wide range of environments, the varied businesses, and most importantly, the distinct people who live and work in this locality and how that makes it a community. If students are going to return to teach where they were once students, they will need to feel an emotional connection. This Sense of Place Project will strive to encourage that connection to foster within them a commitment to preserving and improving the community that shaped them.

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Nature, Magic & Reality on Cape Cod: How Setting Creates Meaning in Literature and Life

Heather Murphy-Lessard, 2018
Acton-Boxborough Regional High School
Acton, MA
2AE American Literature, Grade 10

This unit will be the first literary unit of the school year for my 10th grade American Literature course. The unit focuses heavily on the importance of place within Alice Hoffman’s Blackbird House, a novel made up of twelve separate short stories, all which are set on Cape Cod at the fictional Blackbird House. Students will review the concept of setting and be introduced to the aesthetic of Cape Cod by reading excerpts of Henry David Thoreau’s Cape Cod. Analyzing these passages will serve several purposes: a) students will be introduced to the life and writing style of one of the course’s major authors, b) students will learn the skills of passage analysis, and c) students will gain prior knowledge of the novel’s setting, particularly the aesthetic of the landscape and dwellings, the power and majesty of the ocean, and the sense of community here. Students will specifically know how the author constructs place by infusing her setting with evocative nature imagery. Students will be introduced to the concept of magical realism, a term used to define literature or art that blends dreamlike elements into realistic settings to produce a deeper sense of reality. At the end of the unit, students will be asked to reflect on a place that has had impact in their lives, and describe that place in their identity journals. They will be invited to use techniques from the unit to describe and create their chosen setting

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Lake Champlain: Observing the Seen and Unseen

Alyssa Gange, 2016
Vermont Adult Learning
Burlington, VT
English, Grades 9-12

Throughout this unit, students will read excerpts of “Chapter IX: Ponds” from Walden written by Henry David Thoreau. They will pay close attention to Thoreau’s clear description of the pond’s appearance and persona. My students live very close to Lake Champlain, the biggest body of water in Vermont. We will discuss our experiences with the lake to build an understanding of our connection to the water. As a class, we will take a series of walking field trips to Lake Champlain to participate in a nature journaling activity. Once back in the classroom, the students will turn their field notes into well-crafted descriptions of their observations. They will use Thoreau’s writings as an inspiration for capturing both the physical and emotional aspects of Lake Champlain for their written pieces.  It will include the reading of parts of Walden, journal
assignments, and field study opportunities within our community.

(Download Full Curriculum and “Ponds” excerpt)

Where You Live and What You Live For

Alan Brazier, 2015
Wellesley High School
Wellesley, MA
English, Grade 11

Designed for junior year English students at Wellesley High School, this unit will facilitate an investigation of several subjects: the writings of Henry David Thoreau, with an emphasis on Walden; the writings of other authors who explore the concept of place; and for each student–a personal investigation of a place that holds significant importance to him or her.

After several lessons designed to help the students consider the concept of place, the culminating assessment will be a project that will include a visual essay of the place and a 3-4-page personal essay in which they describe a place that holds significant meaning to them, using that place to uncover aspects of their identity and character.

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The Transcendentalists and Your Hometown

Heidi Finnegan, 2015
Holliston High School
Holliston, MA
English, Grade 10

This unit will consist of an introduction to the concepts of Transcendentalism,  close reading/analysis of an excerpt from Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and close reading/analysis of excerpts from Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and Walden. The unit will conclude with a field trip in which students will visit conservation areas throughout the town of Holliston and take photographs of these places in their community to use as inspiration for their original pieces of nature writing. The works will be displayed in the school’s art gallery, and judges from the community will choose approximately 10 of the works to be professionally matted, framed, and hung in town buildings such as the town hall, the police station, and the library.

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Approaching Literature and Writing through the Lens of Thoreau & Transcendentalism

Liza Trombley, 2014
Shrewsbury High School
Shrewsbury, MA
English, Grades 9-12

The following five lessons do not function together as a unit, but rather as five individual lessons united by the common thread of Thoreau and Walden or Transcendentalist thought. The lessons are designed for a group of students who are deemed “at-risk” of dropping out of or being excluded from school. With this particular group of students in mind, it would be idealistic to believe that a stand-alone unit on Thoreau or Transcendentalism would engage them, or that they would benefit from it in a meaningful way. To not expose them to HDT and his writings, or the Transcendentalist ideas, would be a disservice. The compromise is to pepper the writings, teachings, and philosophies of Thoreau and his contemporaries into the curriculum in conjunction with other lessons.

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A Place-Based Approach to Art History

Marisa Ptak, 2013
Rich East High School
Park Forest, IL
Honors Humanities Seminar, Grade 10

The Art History unit in my Honors Humanities Seminar is a looped unit that stretches throughout the school year, rather than a stand-alone unit of four weeks. My goal is to help students conduct visual analysis and also to connect visual art across different times, places, and cultures. Because the course is a survey of western civilization, it is sometimes difficult to help students engage with distant times and places, archaic thought, and challenging texts; in the class’s Art History component, the challenge is primarily moving students from reacting to art—“that’s so pretty”—to actually analyzing form and function. In these unit plans, I hope students not only develop visual analysis skills, but also begin to view the “art scape” around them in a more mindful, critical way.

I have created a series of lesson plans that get my students out and into their immediate community, Park Forest, as well as into downtown Chicago, a 40-minute, $8 roundtrip journey by commuter train; these lesson plans help students develop the habits of mind necessary as they move forward in their humanities studies, as well as in preparing for our Visual Analysis Research Paper. Unifying these explorations will be a bi-monthly field journal in which students learn to become more mindful of detail.

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From Horace to Thoreau: Incorporating Thoreau’s Writing in a Latin II Classroom

Bob Smeltzer, 2010
Harwich High School
Harwich, MA
Latin II, Grade 10

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden that he went to the woods “because he wished to live deliberately.”  The Roman poet Horace, over 2,000 years ago, said in his “Ode to Leuconoe,” “seize the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow.”  One could certainly suggest that these two ideas are related and that Thoreau in his experiment seized the day.  Part one of this unit consists of allowing students to develop their own definition of seizing the day.  Part two strives to create a sense of place by taking students outside to identify local trees by their common and Latin names.  Part three students explore the ways in which Thoreau incorporates stoical ideas in selections from Walden.

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A Sense of Place – A Sense of Wonder

Robert Sargent Fay, 2006
Landmark College
Putney, VT
Developmental Writing, College

The Curriculum Unit is designed to encourage students to develop a love of writing and to promote their skills in personal and analytical essay writing. The course is constructed in such a way as to offer a variety of challenging presentations, readings, and compositions and project assignments. The plan is to motivate students to write often, inside and outside of the classroom, to share their compositions with classmates and other readers, to seek support and assistance from faculty members and other students, and to use technology as an aid in the writing process. The theme of the course: A Sense of Place – A Sense of Wonder.

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Environment Lesson Plans: Using Journals to Connect Students to the Curriculum

Mark Linehan, 2005
Reading Memorial High School
Reading, MA
Environmental Biology, Grade 11

Environet is an environmental biology course which places emphasis on student-driven Internet research about basic ecological principles and current environmental issues. The ultimate goal of this unit is for students to develop a journal and PowerPoint presentation which highlights both the journal making process, and the journal itself. The journal will be a tool for students to develop a personal connection to the topics they are studying in class. While Internet-based research is an excellent way to bring world issues to students doorsteps, it does not necessarily convey the specific importance to their own lives and community. Journaling gives the students an opportunity to observe (and improve their observation skills) the complexity of nature all around them. The PowerPoint presentation acts as a means of reflection and self assessment for the students. This culminating activity forces students to think about the process of journaling and hopefully give them a journal they can admire, and the skills they would need to do it all over again.

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A History of Change: Studying Local Ecology in New England

Brian Dempsey, 1997
Acton-Boxborough Regional High School
Acton, MA

In this unit, students are introduced to the concept of ecological succession, and its implications for local landscapes. The unit focuses on how landscapes change over time and why, and what those changes will mean for future generations looking at the same landscape. It culminates in a project which asks students to find, identify, and collect native and invasive species in their hometown. They must present samples and drawing of each species along with background information for each one. Thus students will understand the ecology of their own neighborhoods, and have the skills to identify stages of ecological succession in nature.

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