Introduction to Transcendentalism and "Self-Reliance"

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Students will be able to identify the key ideas of transcendentalism by taking notes and analyzing Emerson's "Self-Reliance."

Big Idea

Be yourself. Stay optimistic. Distrust society. Learning about transcendentalism.

Do Now: What is Transcendentalism?

5 minutes

Our Do Now today asks students to reflect back to our debate to answer the question, what is transcendentalism? I remind students that the debate featured key ideas of the terms and ask them to predict what we will be discussing in this unit.

"Nature?" Yes.

"Life?" Yes.

"Being ourselves." Absolutely!

The debate on our previous lesson worked just as intended; students have a good idea of where we are heading in this unit. Now it's time to build on that knowledge.

Transcendentalism Concept Chart

20 minutes

Emerson's "Self-Reliance"

20 minutes

Now that students understand the context of Transcendentalism, we are ready for our first reading. I introduce Emerson's "Self-Reliance" as an old-fashioned version of self-help and philosophy.

We will read the text in chunks, using our read-write-share strategy to aid comprehension. I will read a paragraph, placing emphasis on key ideas. Then, students will have 3-4 minutes to write a brief summary of the paragraph and a comment (question, opinion, connection, etc.). This writing gives them prepared ideas to share in the final phase of the process, whole class discussion. We hear multiple perspectives on the paragraph, and I encourage students to take notes so that they fully understand the text.

We start small today, reading just a few paragraphs.

Students get the big ideas--say what's on your mind and work to better yourself--and are able to give textual evidence for their claims, but they ponder:

"Who are Plato and Milton?" I help them with the allusions, which allows them to see that Emerson is referring to important thoughts being shared.

"Why does he talk about corn?" Another language trick--good thing we're studying this soon!

At the end of the hour, I ask students to reflect on how the text shows transcendentalism. Volunteers correctly identify that Emerson focuses on self improvement and on how we should all have equal opportunity to be ourselves.