A Walk in the Woods: Understanding Transcendentalism

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SWBAT determine and analyze how Ralph Waldo Emerson's point of view develops Transcendentalism over the course of selections from "Nature" and "Self-Reliance" through collaborative discussion.

Big Idea

"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." -Emerson

Introduction & Welcome: It's Name Your PC Day!

3 minutes

At the bell, I ask students to settle and welcome theme to Name Your PC Day!" I ask students if any of them have named their computer or smart phone. I share with the students that my GPS is affectionally known as "R5," after the droid in "Star Wars" with a bad motivator, after it got me lost in Western Oklahoma, but I have not given my phone or laptop a name. I connect naming to the overall theme of identity that runs through the Grade 10/Sophomore curriculum, as we address how characters and people establish who they are. 

As always, Daily Holidays are part of the routine to build community and encourage the students to be part of the class. Today is especially notable in that we address the naming of themes, as the names we give technology often reflect our attitude towards it, as Emerson introduces his point of view, and uses the imagery of nature to show its reflection of the attitude of those experiencing it (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6).

Mini-Unit Introduction: Transcendentalism

The "nature-focused" writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson provide students with the opportunity to tackle and decode difficult non-fiction texts, and introduce students to one of the first distinctly "American" philosophies in "Transcendentalism." In this two-day look at the Transcendentalists, students will explore how the movement evolved from Romanticism and understand the basic tenets of the the movement. As we move ahead with our study of American literature, students will explore the impact of Transcendentalism, on the works of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, and others. 

A Little Philosophy: Notes on Transcendentalism

5 minutes

In order to provide students with background on and understanding of Transcendentalism, I review the notes on their reading packet

We establish how Transcendentalism evolved from, and is similar to, Romanticism. I explain the Over-soul, and I provide the etymology of the name, asking students what they think it is that one "goes beyond" in Transcendentalism. These notes can be seen in the lesson image of Ted, The Geranium

As students will be spending much of class in groups, I use direct instruction here to focus them, and provide the central idea they will need as they explore Emerson's development of Transcendentalism (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6).

Small-Group Discussion: Questions On Emerson

35 minutes

Last night for homework, students read excerpts from Emerson's "Nature" and "Self-Reliance," and reviewed the questions that are included in the packet to prepare for analysis and inferences in discussion today (RI.9-10.1). 

Students team up into a group of four, and should review these questions as a group. Once they have completed these, I ask the groups to discuss and respond to the Open-Ended Response questions included in the packet (Student Group Discussion #1Student Group Discussion #2)

As students discuss, I circulate the classroom, offering opinion, clarification, or focus, as needed. 

As time winds down, I call on each of the groups to share their responses to the questions in order to hear the diverse perspectives in class: Group Response #2: Reverence for Nature in today's society, Group Response #3: Quotable Emerson and explanations,  Group Response #5: Pros and Cons of Non-Conformity.

The assigned questions explore student reaction to Emerson's point of view in the texts, and analyze how an he uses rhetoric to advance that point of view (RI.9-10.6), in particular, we explore Emerson's use of diction, turns of phrase, and imagery. 

Students were grouped for this assignment to foster an exchange of ideas. By grouping, I can ensure students draw from each other in order to gain understanding of a somewhat difficult text, and respond to each other's perspectives on the material, as well as justify or develop their own view in light of the questions and conversation (SL.9-10.1d). 



Two-Minute Warning: Wrap Up & Extension

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining in class, we wrap up any reactions to the groups' shared responses from outside each group, and I ask students to pull their desks into rows. For homework, students should read the four character descriptions for the formal business letter they will be writing, and select from whose point of view they will right (these are below the notes on their reading packet).