Lesson Topic: _Transcendentalism – Self-Reliance__
Length of lesson: __90 min_
Grade level:___10__
Stage 1 – Desired Results
Content Standard(s): Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says
explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over
the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details;
provide an objective summary of the text.
Understanding (s)/goals
Students will understand:
- the basic history of transcendentalism
- how Emerson’s idea of self-reliance
applies to today’s culture
- their own beliefs on individuality and
those of their classmates
Essential Question(s):
What is transcendentalism?
What does self-reliance mean
today? What did it mean to
How do Emerson’s ideas apply to
today’s society?
Student objectives (outcomes):
Students will be able to:
- explore and share their own ideas individually and in groups
- connect literary themes to modern realities
- do a “close reading” of non-contemporary literature
Stage 2 – Assessment Evidence
Performance Task(s):
Other Evidence:
- group read-alouds
participation in all-class discussions
- beginning journal activity
Stage 3 – Learning Plan
Learning Activities:
Vocabulary Quiz (15-20 minutes)
Introduction of topic/reading (10 minutes)
Have students take out their journals and write on the following prompt:
What does it mean to you to be an individual? What does it mean to society to be an
individual? What does it mean in school to be an individual? How do these ideas work
together or conflict with each other?
After the students have finished writing, bring the class together for a brief discussion of
these ideas. Explain that many of these ideas will be addressed in the reading for today
and have the class keep these ideas and opinions fresh in their minds.
Brief introduction to transcendentalism (5 minutes or less)
Provide the following background information on transcendentalism in general and Ralph
Waldo Emerson in specific:
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, poet and philosopher. He lived from
1803-1882 and actually began his career as a Unitarian minister in Boston. He is most
well known for his contributions/establishment of transcendentalism. (Ask if anyone
knows what transcendentalism is. If no responses, ask what transcend means.)
Transcendentalism is considered the first American intellectual movement.
Transcendentalism is built around the idea that people and nature are inherently good.
Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions—particularly organized
religion and political parties—ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. They had
faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only
from such real individuals that true community could be formed.
This is exactly what Emerson is discussing in his essay “Self-Reliance,” which we will be
reading today.
Reading activity (30-40 minutes)
As a class, read through the selection from “Self-Reliance.” For this lesson, we will read
the right side of the book in order to encourage increased engagement and
comprehension. However, pause throughout (at selected passages: “Trust thyself...”,
“Society everywhere...”, “But why should you...”, “A true man...”) and have students
perform close readings of these passages. Discuss these meanings/interpretations as a
class and continue with the selections.
“Trust thyself”: Why do you need to trust yourself?
“Society everywhere”: What is Emerson saying here about society? What is he being
critical of?
“But why should you”: What is Emerson’s problem with consistency? How does this
relate to his ideas about conformity?
“A true man”: What is a “true man” according to Emerson?
Discussion (depends on how long the reading takes)
How did our ideas at the beginning of class jive with or go against Emerson’s ideas? Are
his ideas practical/reasonable/applicable? Why or why not? Should we still try to push
these ideas forward? Why or why not? How do these ideas contribute to our idea of
what it means to be an American?