The Wonder of Walden Woods

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SWBAT determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings by breaking down complex metaphors.

Big Idea

Marching to a simple beat: Thoreau simplifies as his rhetoric amplifies.

Round Robin Read: excerpt from Walden

30 minutes

In this section, I will engage students with a round robin read of the excerpt from Walden.  This excerpt covers his theories on wealth, why he moved to the wilderness, and why he left the woods. His writing is dense in metaphor so we will be concentrating on the figurative meaning and connotative meaning of what he writes.  Essentially, I want students to equate these metaphors to the theories of Transcendentalism that Thoreau practices.   The major ideas we will extract from the reading are Thoreau's theories on wealth, progess, and living: the less you own the richer you are because you are not tied down trying to maintain and support material things; technology and progress thwart human existence, the benefits of simplfying ones life, and "sucking the marrow out of life." 

Students will complete a guided reading check to check for understanding as they read.

The reading selection is from the text book Prentice Hall Literature, The American Experience, 2002.  Pages 403-411.

Digging for Metaphors: Walden

20 minutes

In this section, I want students to analyze several metaphors that Thoreau uses in this excerpt.  For example, Thoreau says he wants to "suck the marrow out of life."  Students write this metaphor in the graphic organizer, explain what is being compared (living life to the fullest is being compared to overly lapping up a meat bone to get every last bit of taste), and then explaining the meaning of the metaphor.  Depending on the class and because this exercise requires students to really consider the text, I may pair up students according to ability.  I find that this is a great Common Core aligned activity because students are not only analyzing text, but they are also determining figurative meaning from text by actually examining the visual images that the metaphors offer.  They then compare them to Thoreau's overall message.  Other metaphors include the line, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."  Also, the resurrection of the bug in the wooden table also offers a metaphorical image of coming back to life when one is in nature.

Thoreau's theories on wealth are like...

20 minutes

To get students to connect to the theories of Transcendetalism that Thoreau espouses, I have students fill out the metaphor boxes in the attached handout.  I usually ask students to name four ordinary objects.  They usually say things like toothbrush, spatula, refrigerator, etc.  These objects are written in the four boxes on the handout.  Then, I write the following sentences on the board encompassing the major Transcendetal themes in this excerpt:

"Thoreau's theory on wealth is like a _______because____________..."

"Thoreau's theory on life is like a _________because_____________..."

"Thoreau's theory on progress is like a _______because___________..."

To make this assignment Common Core aligned, for each answer, students must match it up to an example from the text.

I divide the room up and assign one sentence to each student.  They must fit each of the four objects in the box to complete their assigned sentence.  I ask for volunteers to read their sentences.



To reinforce the ideas discussed in this lesson, students will watch the attached video for homework and write a reflection.  (This video is available on YouTube.) Their reflection should include answers to the following questions:

What role did slavery and the Industrial Revolution play in influencing and molding Thoreau's theories?

What is the role of the individual and nature in Thoreau's theories?

How can we incorporate Thoreau's theories into modern life?

Choose one quote from the excerpt and explain how you could incorporate its message into your life.