Nature and the Transcendentalist Movement: Lesson Plan Middle Grades

Going out of town is good, and it is bad, especially if you are a teacher and a mom, oh…and did I mention a wife, too-yes-that has it’s very own category! ha ha 🙂

So, anyway, all kidding aside, I have some work to do.

This weekend I had the opportunity to visit the north Georgia mountains with my family. I love the mountains, and I think I could possibly live there. It is so peaceful and beautiful. We stayed at the Unicoi State Lodge, which I highly recommend. Our room had two beds and a loft room for the kids, which they loved. The lodge held nightly concerts, mostly folk music, which only made me more determined to play in a folk band at some point in my life. Love–love–love folk music. I’m thinking a guitar might be a great Christmas present, so I could learn a few songs for my students before the year ends. Hmmm…I like this idea.

Ok…I still need to get to, as my principal likes to say, “the meat and potatoes.” My experiences in nature this weekend, brought to my mind several poets who wrote about their love of the outdoors. My thought is to introduce these poets to my students, and conduct a surprise field trip outside, where we can make discoveries about nature, and then write a poem from our observations.

I believe that this lesson may take 2 days.

Standards:

EQ: Define the transcendentalist movement and describe how it applies to you today?

Standards:
RL.6.2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text
RL.6.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text.
RL.6.6: Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

Bellringer: Students will write a response to the following:
What is autumn to you? Think about shapes, colors, and the feel of fall. Think about seasonal celebrations like football games, the World Series, Halloween, Thanksgiving, hay-rack rides, etc.

Introduce transcendentalist or idealism movement.

  1. The students will read, annotate, and summarize the following piece on the Transcendentalist movement. They will also look up and write down any new vocabulary.

CCRL.6.2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

The American Renaissance and the Transcendentalist Movement
The following is a great link on the poets of this era, and what the transcendentalist movement was about.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/icon/transcend.html

2. I will have a variety of clips on hand to further illustrate the poets that make up the “idealist” or “transcendentalist” movement.

                                                                           

                                                       http://youtu.be/H6UvQ4x9T6Q

 
 
 


3. Secondly, students will be grouped in fours. They will be assigned specific roles: speaker, note taker, reader, task master. Then each group will rotate around 7 stations in the classroom. Each station will introduce the group to a new transcendentalist poet. Each station will include a picture and article of a poet from that period. The students will look for elements of poetry from their work and write it on large butcher paper hanging on the wall. The elements will be different depending on the station: figurative language: metaphors, similes, personification, theme, conflicts, plot, resolution.

They may also answer questions such as:
Explain how a particular stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and how it contributes to the theme or plot.

How does the plot unfold within the poem?

What is the central idea of the poem?

Poets will include Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, the Alcotts, Walt Whitman in Brooklyn or Emily Dickinson

3. Students will come back to their groups and report their findings. We will also discuss what we would look for or observe in nature from the transcendentalist poet perspective.

4. Students will go outside for some nature time. They will continue to work in their groups. They will be allowed to take pictures on their iPhone of observations.





-Group one observes animals, clues and signs of their presence. They make a list of everything they find and use their camera.

-Group two observes plants and makes a list of everything they find and use their digital camera. They need to name as many of the plants as possible.

-Group three observes evidence of insects, rocks, or landscapes and they make a list of everything they find and use their digital camera.

Each group will write a single journal based on their observations and experiences while observing. They also need to review their photos.

The groups come together and compare findings. How do animals, plants and humans affect each other? What are the positive and negative effects? What can we do to ensure that nature is persevered? How does nature affect our well being?

THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE & TRANSCENDENTALISM

    “We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds…A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.”

With this fiery challenge Ralph Waldo Emerson concluded his 1837 Harvard Phi Beta Kappa Address, THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR. As his words were received with great enthusiasm, Emerson argued not only for a new American culture, freed from European bondage, but also for a rebirth of an intellectual and artistic life that was inextricably bound up with the life of the spirit. Before long, Emerson and his circle of writers, reformers, and artists would christen those ideals which governed the spirit “Transcendentalism.”

The Old Manse in Concord, MA
The Old Manse in Concord, MA.

The Transcendentalists stood at the heart of The American Renaissance– the flowering of our nation’s thought in literature, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, and music in the period roughly designated from 1835-1880. Concentrated in Boston and Concord, MA, the home of many of the literary members such as Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, the Alcotts, Theodore Parker, Jones Very, George Ripley, the Peabody Sisters, and the Channings, Transcendentalism was far broader than a geographical phenomenon or a select club membership–though Ripley and Emerson had founded the Transcendental Club in 1836. Rather it was a faith shared by such diverse minds and such diverse places as those of Walt Whitman in Brooklyn or Emily Dickinson in Amherst or the Hudson River School of painters in New York; it was a visionary bent, a way of, as the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth had once described his mission, “of seeing into the life of things” that permeated the best of American thought and art throughout much of the 19th century. Even those artists of the American Renaissance who would find difficulty with the optimism of the Transcendentalists–Hawthorne and Melville among them–would be forced to focus on and respond to the existential issues the movement raised.

American Transcendentalism The term Transcendentalism was derived from the philosopher Kant, who called “all knowledge transcendental which is concerned not with objects but with our mode of knowing objects.” The roots of the American philosophy ran deep into German and English Romanticism. From German philosophers such as Fichte and Herder, it received its mystic impulse; from Goethe, Novalis, Jean-Paul, Heine, and the other great German Romantic poets it acquired its imagistic language and themes. Acquaintance with German thought, by and large, filtered through English translations–Coleridge and Carlyle’s among the best–and acquaintance with these and the work of other English Romantics such as Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and Byron enriched the Americans’ perspectives as well.

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman in 1891.

In his 1841 address delivered at Boston’s Masonic Temple , which was later reprinted in THE DIAL, Emerson attempted to define the philosophy in simple terms as “What is popularly called Transcendentalism among us, is Idealism; Idealism as it appears in 1842.” In reality it was far more complex collection of beliefs: that the spark of divinity lies within man; that everything in the world is a microcosm of existence; that the individual soul is identical to the world soul, or Over-Soul, as Emerson called it. This belief in the Inner Light led to an emphasis on the authority of the Self–to Walt Whitman’s I , to the Emersonian doctrine of Self-Reliance, to Thoreau’s civil disobedience, and to the Utopian communities at Brook Farm and Fruitlands. By meditation, by communing with nature, through work and art, man could transcend his senses and attain an understanding of beauty and goodness and truth. Transcendentalism dominated the thinking of the American Renaissance, and its resonances reverberated through American life well into the 20th century. In one way or another our most creative minds were drawn into its thrall, attracted not only to its practicable messages of confident self-identity, spiritual progress and social justice, but also by its aesthetics, which celebrated, in landscape and mindscape, the immense grandeur of the American soul.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

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3 thoughts on “Nature and the Transcendentalist Movement: Lesson Plan Middle Grades

  1. Ok. So this lesson is really going well so far. First, I want to say how amazed I am at the creativity of this 6th grade class of mine, especially in my low group, in which several students wrote a poem in response to their writing prompt of, “What is autumn or fall to you?” Many of theme wrote ballads making sure they followed the aabb rhyme scheme. How cool is that! This low group is not low in my mind. They are thinkers and creators.

    Today, my students got as far as the station work. Tomorrow, we will take our field trip outside to observe nature, take pictures, and discuss. We will also discuss the idealist movement and the American Renaissance more deeply through the use of the film clips.

    I told them that they could bring their technology tomorrow, so they could take pictures, but for now they don't know why– I'm keeping it a surprise. I'm betting they won't forget this homework assignment. 🙂

  2. Weather is supposed to be clear tomorrow–which is great. Students are excited to use their technology in class, although they don't know why yet. Now, I need an easier article on idealism and a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast.

  3. Day 2 of this lesson: Overall, I think it is going well. This entire thing is such an abstract concept, but reading their writing is demonstrating to me that more students are getting it than I thought. I must say that I could so easily teach history. Students need to know their place in the world–the history of the United States, the geography.

    I remember having to memorize all of the states and their capitols in the 4th grade. What happened to that? I don't believe all memorization is bad. One thing that I am going to do is make a large poster of the United States and the World. I can't say how many times I have needed one, when discussing writers.

    Anyway, so far my big take away from this lesson is to first–not be afraid to tackle big concepts, because more students will grab on to it than you realize. Also, the common core is designed to teach the standards in this manner. Really, we just have to try it. I think students always surprise us with their intellect. The biggest key is to be open, and allow them to grapple with the concepts.

    Now… onto getting some maps!

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