Monday, April 30, 2018

How to Turn Up Your Transcendentalism Unit: Activities to help bring Emerson and Thoreau to Life!

Because Transcendentalism is one of my absolute favorite units to teach in American Literature, it only recently came to my attention that lots of other teachers (and students) find this unit extremely boring. Since that hasn't been my experience, I thought I would share some ways I make my Transcendentalism unit engaging and meaningful! 

How To Turn Up Your Transcendentalism Unit 

Hook Ideas: 

I will start with a perfect way to hook students. Behold, a game literally made for this unit--Walden, a game. 

While mainstream video games are full of fast speeds, gruesome violence, and blaring sounds, the award-winning computer game, Walden, a Game is refreshingly different. Instead of playing faster, gamers can only win by slowing down. Instead of gruesome violence, players face challenges in a peaceful forest. Instead of blaring noise, participants hear the soothing sounds of nature and acoustic melodies. 
Me playing Walden a Game. Thoreau is reading a letter from Emerson right now. 

Since this game is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities (among other sponsors), educators can get a FREE license! They also offer discounted licenses for students as well! I purchased this game for $15 and absolutely love the design of it and the meaning behind it. If you can't request discounted licenses for students, you can still use parts of this game in your lessons. 

For example: 
*You can show the trailer above as an intro to Thoreau.
*You can set up stations and have students play around with your free license of the game as one of the stations. 
* You can use multiple articles about this game as informational text pairings. In Walden Video Game, Stillness is the Challenge from the New York Times  or  Can a Video Game Capture the Magic of Walden? from Smithsonian 
*You can use this free project guide I created as an essay choice or project choice for students who choose to buy and play the game independently. 
* You can use their "Behind the Sounds of Walden" video to teach how sensory language helps create mood and pace (or as a model "text" for projects with sounds, see project choice above).

If you are able to purchase licenses for your students, Walden, a Game provides lesson plans for free here: Walden a Game Lesson Plans  

Engagement Ideas: 

You can follow me on Instagram @buildingbooklove
On a personal note, I’m an English teacher in East Tennessee who downsized to my own tiny cabin in the woods two years ago on Earth Day. Much of my inspiration for living a simpler yet fuller life comes from the teachings and the teaching of Emerson and Thoreau. Therefore, I strive to make Emerson and Thoreau relevant to my students by providing hands-on opportunities to connect with the text. 

For example:

*Have students make and decorate paper cups that show their individuality as well as which talents they would like to grow. As a hands-on metaphor, have students plant and take care of the seeds. Talents can only grow if one tills and nurtures those talents. I did this project on Earth Day a few years back, and my students LOVED getting their hands dirty and watching their seeds grow. This was before my blogging days, so I don't have any pictures, but you can get the idea above. 

* Have students track their Transcendalism throughout the unit. You will get a base reading (you can find these questions here) and then have students work toward increasing their Transcendental qualities through challenges inspired by Emerson and Thoreau. 

*Take students outdoors. What better way to engage with Emerson's "Nature" than reading it outdoors in NATURE? 

* Have students complete project-based learning by applying Transcendentalism to the real world. Since I live in a tiny house, I love any lesson that I can tie that into. Do you know who else lived in a tiny house!? THOREAU! This fact makes a perfect launch for comparing tiny house dwellers to the theories of Thoreau. For this project, I have students create a tiny house community that is designed with Emerson and Thoreau in mind. Other PBLs include Walden, a game (download the handout for free here) and creating a school improvement plan based on Transcendental values. 

All of these ideas and lots more can be found in my Transcendentalism Unit Plan because I want to make it easy for teachers to bring Emerson and Thoreau to life in their classrooms! I truly believe the world needs a lot less stress and a lot more nature right now. 


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