And we’re off….a new school year!  That certainly was a quick summer (aren’t they all) and like many of you, I’m positive you spent some of it thinking, planning, thinking, planning and doing even more thinking and planning about this year.

I’ve been thinking about my American Literature course and planning on how to enhance it to increase relevance to my students.  This year, my WVCTE column is going to ride in that lane:  American Literature and I want to engage you in the conversation.

Like so many educators, I’ve taught American Literature chronologically:  Native American myths –> Puritan –>  Gothic –>  Transcendentalism  –>  Harlem Renaissance  –>  Moderns.   I’m tossing this out of the window and am moving towards themes.   Similar content but shuffling the order to introduce kiddos to text in a more engaging and meaningful way without turning them off in August with the preachings of Jonathan Edwards!

As I started to research various themes to use for American Literature, I uncovered lists of possibilities; however, I decided to focus on the following themes this year:

Searching for Identity
Examining Our Values
Finding a Voice
Analyzing the American Dream
Seeking Justice

Last year I published a column on developing text sets so that is where I started this summer.  Each of these themes has an anchor text which is enriched through nonfiction texts, short stories, editorials, poems, and podcasts.  I also developed a reflective writing assignment that aligns with the theme.

Theme (the new way)

Movement (the old way)

Anchor Text

Search for Identity Transcendentalism Into the Wild
Examining Our Values Puritan and Gothic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Crucible
Finding a Voice Historical Documents Historical Documents and nonfiction literature circles
Analyzing the American Dream Harlem Renaissance and Moderns The Great Gatsby
Seeking Justice Moderns and Protest Things They Carried

This new way of introducing curriculum is far from perfect and will probably be tweaked throughout the year as I add and delete texts.  But it’s a start….

Social media has been a good source of resources and thinking as I’ve noodled around this with updated scope and sequence.  In particular, there are two FaceBook groups where the sharing and discussion is rich.

Teachers of American Lit

Creative HS American Lit teachers

I’m going live with this in T-5 days.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!


WVCTE wants you to contribute to the conversation.  What are you doing this year in your American Literature classroom?  Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Cheryl Stahle is a contributing blogger for WVCTE.  She teaches at Parkersburg High School and is the Co-Director of the Central West Virginia Writing Project based out of Marshall University and is the Vice President of the Greater Kanawha Valley Reading Council.  She is a not so regular tweeter @msstahleclass but you can find her on Instagram at @stahlecheryl.  Cheryl presents professional development at local and state conferences throughout the year—make sure to stop by and introduce yourself!  Besides teaching American Literature, her other classroom goal is to teach 1970s classic rock to her students.  This year, Cheryl is working on her Superintendent certification….more to come on this.

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