Making Curriculum Pop

QUESTION: Ideas for American LIt by Genre (not chronologically or by movement)?

I am in my 4th year of teaching American literature and it never fails that it takes a long time to get through the boring stuff and then we have little time to spend on the "more interesting" modern literature.  Since the new Common Core standards are being implemented next year, I wanted to begin rewriting my units and I was thinking about teaching American literature by genre instead of chronologically.  For example, begin with short stories and then move through each movement teaching short stories.  Any advice or experiences with teaching literature either way?

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       Good for you to begin rewriting your units!  As you rewrite them, can you post them so others can SEE examples of the Common Core Standards at work?  As to any advice I might have, you have been teaching for three years and have a pulse on what students like.  Teach the way you think might build their knowledge in an interesting and in-depth way.  Starting with short stories makes sense because they are short and students can move quickly through them, building the stamina for longer novels.  Short stories lend themselves to strategies, which you will teach students, one at a time.  Does this make sense?   Do what your heart tells you to do.  The rigor will be there, either way.

Ditto on good for you  for starting now. :-)

After considering what the students will need to know and about able to do at the end of the course, consider organizing the lessons into themes.  As time permits, take a look at the ways some of the anthologies have organized by theme.  You may find something on which to build without having to reinvent.  Starting now, you can take your time and even try some of the ideas this year.

One year, I used this theme:  "Literature reflects the social, economic and political milieu of the period in which it is written."  Then, based on what they were studying in History/Social Studies, we looked at literature through that lens.  While it was not truly an interdisciplinary study, it did give students an opportunity to bring into their English course, what they were learning in H/SS.  Students soon recognized that even historical fiction often reflects the historical time of the writer as much or not more than the historical period in which the piece was set!

To keep a contemporary flavor, assignments often asked students to select a character and write about that character's take/view/opinion of something currrently in the news.

For some examples, I invite you to take a look at some of the lessons on TEACHING LANGUAGE ARTS (my website) and check the "Teacher Resources" tab for The Handmaid's Tale assignments.  Feel free to adopt or adapt to fit your classes.

If you go for themes, you may do a layer cake per theme, with layers of readings coming from different periods of American History/Literature.  What do the students notice that is different about what has been written about the role of....????  as it relates to your chosen theme?  Could be the typical controversial issues of religion, politics, gender, social-economic groups, race, etc.

Have fun including a range of assesssments that take into consideration the other skills you're teaching including reading, writing, speaking, listening, performing, using technology, mulitple intelligences, collaborating etc.  I'd recommend choices for each unit that include writing AND....


One way I may redesign this class may be to pair authors or genres. For example, you may pair Edgar Allan Poe with Stephen King, Emerson and Thoreau with Annie Dillard, slave narratives with Edward P. Jones'
"Lost in the City," etc. I stole this idea from an English Journal article I read several years ago called "Patterns in American Literature," which you can read as an NCTE member in the archives. The CCS requires an understanding of 18th and 19th century literature, but to make it interesting and relevant I would try to demonstrate that these genres, ideas, etc began somewhere and that they continue today, morphing over time like fashion, music, art, etc.
That is an awesome idea!  I hate to do it chronologically because they are not particularly fond of the older stuff!  I hate to make them wait for the "pay-off" of reading works that they find more accessible. Thanks for the great idea!

There are many ways to organize units using literature--- chronology is one, as is genre.  I have always preferred theme or issues.  This way you can read older texts alongside contemporary texts, and you can expand the notion of text to include nonprint sources--- art, media, song.  In U.S. literature there are so many themes--- dreams and dreams deferred; progress and traditions; liberty and justice, for example.



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