American Lit

We did not read this.
Our 2014-2015 school year was devoted to American Literature and History. I mean, my child probably thinks it was devoted to Biology and Trigonometry, but what does he know? Yeah okay, he knows a lot more math than literature, but I do what I can. Links to individual lesson plans can be found down the page if you want to scroll straight there.


To answer this question: What is America?

I want to teach the students how to look at literature as a cultural identity, and see how our national literature began, developed, and matured over the last 400 years or so. Doing literature this way requires studying a fair amount of history and looking at a lot of biographical info on authors. Keeping our question in the front of our minds, in an investigative kind of way, but not looking for a single, permanent answer, we read fiction, drama and poetry as a way of sorting through evidence.

The most important questions they can ask involve "why." Why did he use these words? Why did she write in this form? Why did the characters make this choice? Why was this setting interesting to readers at this time? Moving students past "Did I like it or not?" and into dissecting literature as a historical record -- that's what I want.

Grade Level:

Although I taught this to a class spanning 8th to 12th grade, it is geared toward older students. Moby-Dick is difficult, y'all. Also, we read "Howl" by Allen Ginnsberg and although I grayed out the eight most offensive lines in the copy I had them read out loud in class, it was still something that younger children would not need to encounter. My child was in 9th grade for this class. Your mileage may vary. Another thing to consider: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Catcher in the Rye are frequently banned or challenged, so while I obviously advocate reading them anyway, they do require some thought in presentation.

Literature Textbooks:

Adventures in American Literature, Pegasus Edition, published by Harcourt Brace. Cheap and easy to find used. In the lessons, AIAL refers to this.

Oxford Book of American Poetry, edited by David Lehman. This was a 'nice to have' book, but maybe not essential for all. Teaching 20th century poetry, you need a good anthology or else a lot of individual books, because the stuff you want to read is not in the public domain. There's enough short fiction to get you through in the textbook, but not enough poetry, in my opinon.

Novels: The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird

History Side by Side:

If you're doing American History in the same year, lining up lessons with Joy Hakim's A History of US is easy. I like the quiz book that goes along with it from Oxford University Press. We also read A Voyage Long and Strange by David Horwitz as a summer reading warm-up -- it's about pre-Columbian history in this hemisphere. That book had some bad words in it, so if that makes you nervous, skip it. (Also, in Moby-Dick, there's a fair amount of whale killing. You have been warned.)


In the fall semester, the students wrote generalization papers, detailed here. In the spring semester, they wrote persuasive essays, detailed here. They only need to write one paper to fulfill the Virginia Standards of Learning for high school English, but since this was also history for us, we wrote two papers, so we could count it as both.


To fulfill the Virginia Standards of Learning, the children must do a live presentation of five minutes, fulfilling certain requirements. Find out about that here.

Lesson Plans:

Click on each page to see the detailed lesson plan with assignments and quizzes. The book in parentheses is the "long read" for the week -- chapter assignments on the individual pages, along with all other info for the week.

First Semester

Reading period 1: Plymouth and the Puritans (Scarlet Letter)
     Samuel Danforth, William Bradford

Reading period 2: Benjamin Franklin (Scarlet Letter)
     William Byrd, Ben Franklin

Reading period 3: The Great Flood-Gates of the Wonderworld (Moby Dick)
     Sarah Knight, James Fenimore Cooper, Stephen Vincent Binet, Daniel Bryan.

Reading period 4: Enter Ahab, Then All (Moby Dick)
     Thomas Paine, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Reading period 5: The Whiteness of the Whale (Moby Dick)
     Declaration of Independence, Phyllis Wheatley

Reading period 6: The Shark Well-Governed (Moby Dick)
     Constitution, William Cullen Bryant

Reading period 7: Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish? (Moby Dick)
     Bill of Rights, Revolutionary War Songs, Washington's Letters

Reading period 8: Have I Been But Forging My Own Branding Iron, Then? (Moby Dick)
     Washington Irving, Tecumseh

Reading period 9: Show Us Your Coffin! (Moby Dick)
     Edgar Allen Poe, Oliver Wendell Holmes

Reading period 10: The Chase (Moby Dick)
     Edgar Allen Poe, Thomas Moore

Reading period 11: Ralph Waldo Emerson (Huck Finn)
     Emerson Poetry and Essays

Reading period 12: Henry David Thoreau (Huck Finn)
     Excerpts from Walden and Thoreau's poetry

Reading period 13: Slave Songs and Fireside Poets (Huck Finn)
     Frederick Douglass, Longfellow Whittier Holmes and Lowell

Reading period 14: Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman (Huck Finn)
     Nathaniel Hawthorne short stories, Walt Whitman poems

Reading period 15: Emily Dickinson and Ambrose Bierce (Huck Finn)
     Ambrose Bierce short story, Emily Dickinson poems

Second Semester

Reading period 16: East Egg, West Egg, USA (The Great Gatsby)
     Stephen Crane, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost

Reading period 17: Music From My Neighbor's House (The Great Gatsby)
     Jack London, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams

Reading period 18: A Green Light That Burns All Night (The Great Gatsby)
     Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, H.D.

Reading period 19: Pleasant Cheerful Snobbery and Orchestras (The Great Gatsby)
     James Thurber, e.e. cummings, Hart Crane

Reading period 20: Boats Against the Current (The Great Gatsby)
     Katherine Anne Porter, Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elizabeth Bishop

Reading period 21: If You Really Want To Hear About It (Catcher in the Rye)
     Eudora Welty, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen
     Harlem Renaissance

Reading period 22: I Was Only Drinking Cokes (Catcher in the Rye)
     Ernest Hemingway, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton
     Confessional Poets

Reading period 23: Let's Go Chief (Catcher in the Rye)
     William Faulkner, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley
     Black Mountain School

Reading period 24: If a Body Catch a Body Coming Through the Rye (Catcher in the Rye)\
     John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginnsberg
     Beat Poets

Reading period 25: Don't Ever Tell Anybody Anything (Catcher in the Rye)
     John Updike, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery
     New York School

Reading period 26: Inside the House Lived a Malevolent Phantom (To Kill a Mockingbird)
     Susan Glaspell,
     Charles Bukowski, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (California Poets)
     Gwendolyn Brooks, Carolyn Kizer (Feminist Poets)

Reading period 27: Don't Call That a Blind Spot (To Kill a Mockingbird)
     Thornton Wilder, Gertrude Stein, Lyn Hejinian
     Language Poetry

Reading period 28: The Trial Begins (To Kill a Mockingbird)
     Thornton Wilder, Spoken Word Poetry

Reading period 29: It Ain't Right (To Kill a Mockingbird)
     Thornton Wilder, Luisa Igloria (Contemporary Poetry)

Reading period 30: Thank You For My Children (To Kill a Mockingbird)


Grades were figured by numerical percentages and were based on the weekly quiz, writing and creative assignments, the paper and presentation, and also participation in live meetings and a Google+ community where students posted their work and commented on each other's writing and art.


Look for the tests on the Tests tab above. The tests are on poetry only.

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