• Lesson 2: "Old Southwest" Humorists and George Washington Harris

    George Washington Harris, an American humorist who influenced later writers such  as Mark Twain.

    George Washington Harris was an authentic comic genius whose work influenced later writers such as Mark Twain and William Faulkner. In this lesson, students read a Sut Lovingood story by George Washington Harris and examine the story's structure.

  • Lesson 2: Religion and the Argument for American Independence

    Pastor Jonathan Mayhew of Boston

    Using primary documents, this lesson aims to introduce students to how the American revolutionaries employed religion in their arguments for independence.

  • Personal or Social Tragedy? A Close Reading of Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome

    Edith Wharton at her writing desk.

    Students practice strategies of "close reading" in order to understand Edith Wharton's gripping tragedy about an unhappy marriage set against the stark backdrop of rural New England.

  • Edith Wharton: War Correspondent

    American author Edith Wharton

    Through reading chapters of Edith Wharton's book, Fighting France, From Dunkerque to Belfort, students will see how an American correspondent recounted World War I for American readers.

  • Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" in Graphical Representation

    Eudora Welty.

    By rendering aspects of Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" into carefully considered graphical forms, students learn to appreciate elements of characterization, setting, and plot in a manner that engages them actively in the production of meaning.

  • Thornton Wilder's "Our Town": The Reader as Writer

    Portrait of Thornton Wilder, as Mr. Antrobus in "The Skin of Your Teeth," by  Carl Van Vechten (August 18, 1948).

    To appreciate some of the extra-literary elements of a play, students pause at various intervals in their study of Thornton Wilder's Our Town to develop their own settings, characters, and conflicts.

  • Carl Sandburg's "Chicago": Bringing a Great City Alive

    Carl Sandburg.

    In this lesson students examine primary documents including photographs, film, maps, and essays to learn about Chicago at the turn of the 20th century and make predictions about Carl Sandburg's famous poem. After examining the poem's use of personification and apostrophe, students write their own pieces about beloved places with Sandburg's poem as a model.

  • Lesson 1: Mark Twain and American Humor

    Created March 16, 2006
    Mark Twain, perhaps the most renowned American humorist.

    Uncover the sources of Twain’s comic genius in American traditions of dialect humor and literary satire.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    Faulkner's As I Lay Dying: Form of a Funeral (5 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    "The reason for living was to get ready to stay dead for a long time" -- Addie Bundren in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying

    William Faulkner's self-proclaimed masterpiece, As I Lay Dying, originally published in 1930, is a fascinating exploration of the many voices found in a Southern family and community. The following lesson examines the novel's use of multiple voices in its narrative. Faulkner:

    often told his stories using multiple narratives, each with their own interests and biases, who allow us to piece together the 'true' circumstances of the story, not as clues in a mystery, but as different melodies in a piece of music that form a crescendo. The conclusion presents a key to understanding the broad panorama surrounding the central event in a way that traditional linear narratives simply are unable to accomplish.
    Evan Goodwin on Faulkner

    The novel's title—As I Lay Dying—invokes a first-person speaker, presumably the voice of the dead mother, Addie Bundren. Yet she only speaks once in the novel, and she is dead, not dying, throughout most of the novel (aside from the beginning chapters). How does Faulkner's form for the novel—a series of competing voices and perspectives presented as a multiple-voice narrative—work for or against the novel's title?

    Students will also explore the context of the novel, examine background information on social and economic conditions in the rural South in the first decades of the twentieth century. This background will enable the teacher and students to "place" Faulkner's novel historically and sociologically; Faulkner wrote about his own time and a place he knew well. Faulkner's life will be presented, briefly, so that parallels can be drawn between his life and the life depicted in the text. Faulkner grew up in a small Mississippi town in a middle-class family and saw in his surroundings perfect models for characters like the Bundren family and their neighbors. In the lessons of this curriculum unit, students will

    • Explore the use of multiple voices in narration
    • Learn about the social and economic conditions of the rural South in the 1920s and about William Faulkner's life.
    • Read, annotate, and discuss the text in class, individually and in groups.

    Guiding Questions

    • How does Faulkner's form for the novel—a series of competing voices and perspectives presented as a multiple-voice narrative—work for or against the novel's title?
    • What does the final portrait of the Bundrens look like? Are they as rotten as Addie's corpse, full of despair and dissolution? Or are they a tribute to the vigor and resolve of a Southern family, who successfully complete an overwhelming task? Does Faulkner truly resolve this issue?

    Learning Objectives

    • Define Faulkner's place in American literary history
    • Describe Faulkner's "South" in the context of the historical South
    • Understand and explore the use of multiple voices in narration
    • Examine the Bundren family through the subjective evidence provided by a multiplicity of characters

    Preparation Instructions

    Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.

    Download, print, and copy the PDF used in Lesson 2.

    Voice:

    The voice of the narrator helps shape the way that readers encounter the story. The voice can reveal the narrative point-of-view, the background of the speaker (such as education level, social standing, and so on), and the relationship of the narrator to others in the story. An omniscient narrator, for example, often gives the impression of authorial investment and oversight, but maintains distance from the characters. A character speaking from his own point-of-view, however, creates a sense of a limited but intimate perspective. Faulkner's ability to shift narrative voice in As I Lay Dying results in a rich tapestry of often competing perspectives, where information is doled out in small bits, left to the reader to piece together in an understanding of the larger (yet not complete) family portrait of the Bundrens.

    Review with your students a basic introduction to literary terms, including "point of view," or distribute a student handout on literary terms that is available at Purdue's Online Writing Lab, via the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library.

    William Faulkner on the Web, available via EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library, is the strongest representative of William Faulkner materials online. Below are a few key sections of the website that might prove helpful in teaching this lesson:

    • Commentary on As I Lay Dying
    • Bundren Genealogy, which gives an overview of the immediate Bundren family unit (note: click on the names in the image to get more information).
    • Character List for As I Lay Dying, with links to descriptions
    • WFotW links to William Faulkner (1897-1962) from the Instructor's Guide for The Heath Anthology of American Literature (3rd ed.). While the Heath deals with Faulkner's short stories, the introductory material might prove useful for preparation.

    A general review of Literature in the American South is available through the EDSITEment-reviewed website Documenting the American South. While not specific to As I Lay Dying (although it does discuss other Faulkner novels), the section Civil War discusses representations of the Civil War in literature in a manner immediately relevant to the study of Faulkner's work:

    But the southern writer … has been less concerned to reconstruct the actual time of the struggle than to recount the consequent loss of the antebellum southern culture and, in the response to this loss, the creation of a postbellum culture of survival.
    [from Civil War, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris.]

    The section Humor provides details on many aspects of the amusing and the grotesque often found in Southern literature, attributes obvious in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying:

    Southern humor, like much of the best southern writing in general, has been boisterous and physical, often grotesque, and generally realistic. On the whole, it has no doubt been better received and more appreciated outside the region than in it … William Faulkner was certainly a puzzle to the people of Oxford in his time. Writing has never been a particularly admired occupation in the South, and its comic writers, as well as the most perceptive serious writers, have singled out aspects of southern culture that many southerners would sooner forget. This combination has produced what many southern readers would no doubt characterize as a literature of betrayal.
    (From Humor, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris.)

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Novels
    Skills
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Internet skills
    • Interpretation
    • Literary analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Writing skills
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    Letters from Emily Dickinson: 'Will you be my preceptor?' (3 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    In 1862, Emily Dickinson, one of the most innovative poets of the 19th century, ventured a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an editor, writer, and longtime contributor to the Atlantic Monthly who would become her long-time correspondent and mentor. She asked, "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?" Long perceived as a recluse who wrote purely in isolation, Dickinson in reality maintained many dynamic correspondences throughout her lifetime and specifically sought out dialogues on her poetry. These correspondences—both professional and private—reveal a poet keenly aware of the interdependent relationship between poet and reader.

    Similarly, Dickinson's letters expose a poet fully engaged in the process of crafting a persona. In another note to Higginson in the first year of their correspondence, Dickinson wrote, "When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person." For students of writing, who often struggle to develop a distinctive voice, and then to modify that voice for different audiences, Dickinson's dialogues offer an instructive model. Ultimately, reading Emily Dickinson's letters alongside her poems helps students to better appreciate a remarkable voice in American literature, grasp how Dickinson perceived herself and her poetry, and-perhaps most relevant to their own endeavors—consider the ways in which a writer constructs a "supposed person."

    In this curriculum unit, students will explore Dickinson's poetry as well as her letters to Higginson and her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. They will work individually and in groups to reflect on Dickinson's views and the process by which she writes; assume the role of a critic/correspondent and analyze Dickinson's poetry, specifically noting the effectiveness of her persona; and, finally, emulate her writing style while, at the same time, synthesizing what they've learned about poetic voice in a poetry-writing exercise on "There's a certain Slant of light."

    Guiding Questions

    • How does Emily Dickinson perceive herself as a poet, especially as reflected by her correspondences with Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson?
    • In what ways does this perception manifest itself in her poetry?

    Learning Objectives

    • Recognize Emily Dickinson's poetic style
    • Engage in textual analysis and critical thinking
    • Reflect upon the concept of artistic persona and the creative process
    • Adjust their writing style to different purposes
    • Use imaginative writing techniques

    Preparation Instructions

    • For Lesson One, download the pdf worksheet, Emily Says, and cut out each individual quotation for distribution to student groups.
    • For Lesson Three, download and copy the PDF worksheet, Emulate Emily.
    • Re-read a number of Dickinson's poems to reacquaint yourself with her unique style. The poems used in this lesson are "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" (216, 1859 and 1861 version), "They shut me up in Prose-" (613), "I dwell in Possibility-" (657), "There's a certain Slant of light" (258). More Dickinson poems are available at the Academy of American Poets or the American Verse Project. Note Dickinson's use of metaphors to express her ideas and her rejection of grammatical conventions, and her dependence on poetry to achieve understanding.
    • Since this lesson addresses Dickinson's persona, it is also helpful to review a few essays on how Dickinson is perceived today. You may want to read the Dickinson biography on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Academy of American Poets, and explore a few of the pieces, specifically Sandra Gilbert's essay, at Titanic Operas, Folio 1, available on the Dickinson Electronic Archives through the Academy of American Poets site. Central to this lesson is the well-known myth of Emily Dickinson as a ghost-like figure, dressed entirely in white and confined to her father's home in Amherst. Conversely, it's significant to note the extent of Dickinson's formal education and the value she placed on literature. Dickinson was well-versed in the poetry and prose of the 19th century, having read and appreciated, among others, the Brontës, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Carlyle, and George Eliot. As you read the biographies, pay attention to disparate views. While some scholarship portrays Dickinson as a romantic, heartsick figure (i.e., as someone weak who was acted upon), more recent feminist readings tend to view her as deeply aware of the image she actively created of herself.
    • Read at least pages 444 through 447 of Emily Dickinson's Letters, Thomas Wentworth Higginson's article for the October 1891 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, at the EDSITEment-reviewed American Memory Project. Higginson excerpts many of Dickinson's letters to him in this piece. Consider the ways in which Dickinson simultaneously seeks Higginson's input and resists his recommendations. Also, note her particular writing style and think about her views on poetry. Her letters suggest that, for her, writing poetry was instinctive, but they also reveal that she understood her writing in the context of other literary works. (As you read this piece, know that Higginson corrected, so to speak, Dickinson's grammar when he published her letters. For a better look at her unadulterated style, see the manuscripts in the Dickinson Electronic Archives, discussed below.)
    • In his essay, Higginson writes, "Even her letters to me show her mainly on her exaltee side; and should a volume of her correspondence ever be printed, it is very desirable that it should contain some of her letters to friends of closer and more familiar intimacy." For a glimpse of this intimacy, explore the "Emily Dickinson Writing a Poem" site, part of the Dickinson Electronic Archives, which is available through the EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets. Read the "Introduction," the letters between Dickinson and her sister-in-law Susan, and the manuscript excerpts. Pay particular attention to how Sue comments on Dickinson's poetry, how Dickinson in turn responds to Sue's suggestions, and how she expresses an awareness of herself as a poet writing for a greater audience. Think about how this exchange is more personal than the one between Dickinson and Higginson.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > AP Literature
    • History and Social Studies > People > Women
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
    Skills
    • Creative writing
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Interpretation
    • Literary analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Poetry writing
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Textual analysis
    • Using primary sources