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Lesson Plan

Examining Transcendentalism through Popular Culture

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Examining Transcendentalism through Popular Culture

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Eight 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Sharon Webster

Narragansett, Rhode Island


National Council of Teachers of English


Materials and Technology

Student Interactives






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Comic Creator

Grades   K – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Writing & Publishing Prose

Comic Creator

The Comic Creator invites students to compose their own comic strips for a variety of contexts (prewriting, pre- and postreading activities, response to literature, and so on).


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  1. Choose the excerpts from Emerson's and Thoreau's essays that you'll share with your class. You might rely on excerpts from your class anthology or make selections from the works yourself. Copies of the works are available online. Adjust the discussion prompts during the class sessions to match the readings that you select.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the basic characteristics of transcendentalism using the resources available from The Web of American Transcendentalism, The Thoreau Reader: The Works of Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862, and The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  3. Select comic strips and songs appropriate for the lesson and your classroom:
    • Frank Sinatra's "My Way" works well for this assignment as do the songs "Wide Open Spaces" by the Dixie Chicks, "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan, and "You Gotta Be" by Desiree.
    • Additional recommendations are available in the article "Multigenre, Multiple Intelligences, and Transcendentalism."  Comic strips such as Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, and Shoe are also good choices.
    • Check your library for collections of comics that will work for the lesson. The lesson works especially well if you students can explore a collection in small groups; however, the lesson can be completed by looking at several particular comics if desired.
    • Invite students to bring their own songs to class to share.
  4. Make arrangements for students to view comic strips, listen to the songs, and, if possible, read the lyrics to the songs. You may want to make photocopies or overhead transparencies of some of the resources.
  5. Make copies of the handouts for all students.
  6. Since students will use the same chart graphic organizer several times, you will need to make 3 to 4 copies of the chart handout for each student if you are using photocopies (e.g., one copy for analyzing the Emerson essays, one copy for Thoreau, one copy for the comic strips, and one copy for the songs). If students are working online, they can print their observations for each section. Naturally you can mix the resources students use as well—students might work online at some points and with handouts at others.
  7. Test the Examples of Transcendental Thought Interactive (online chart tool) and Comic Creator on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

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