The Simplicity of Henry David Thoreau

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SWBAT analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

Big Idea

Thoreau's tale proves Transcendentalism is not just a theory.


The purpose of this lesson is to introduce Henry David Thoreau with an emphasis on his devotion to the teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Historians see Emerson as the teacher and Thoreau as the student.  Thoreau takes the theories one step further than Emerson by moving into the wilderness for almost two years to live out Emerson's theories.  This lesson incorporates the ideas of the value of materialism versus personal freedom and the Thoreau philosophy that the less you own the richer you are.

Notes: Henry David Thoreau

15 minutes

Before we begin this section on Walden, I like to give students some background information on Henry David Thoreau, emphasizing his relationship to Emerson.  Emerson was the mentor of Thoreau.  While Emerson developed the theories of Transcendentalism, Thoreau was its practionner.

I begin my notes with a short video of Walden Pond to incite some interest.


Pre-reading Quick Write:Thoreau's Top Ten

20 minutes

In this section, I want students to step into the shoes of Henry David Thoreau and forfeit the comforts of their home by moving into the wilderness.  Their assignment is to pick ten items that they would take with them if they were to move into the wilderness for 18 months without any modern conveniencies.  They can only take what they can carry. 

It is interesting to hear students' responses because they often want to take their iPods and cell phones not realizing there would be no electricity.  Some try to skirt the issue by suggesting they would take a generator; however, they don't realize they would need gasoline to operate it.  Plus, they can only take what they can carry. 

Once students comprise their list, I ask for a student volunteer who will write responses on the board.  Each student will offer one item that they would take without repeating what someone else has offered.  We then look at the list, and as a class discussion, we ponder whether we would survive.

Cyber Tour of Walden Pond

30 minutes

I want students to get a pretty good visualization of what it is like to tour Walden Pond.  In this lesson, we go to the computer lab and students log onto the url in the handout and then take a cyber tour of Walden.  Students are required to answer questions on the handout.  In the last question, they are asked to interpret a quote on the site of Thoreau's cabin.