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American Literature Course Syllabus

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  1. General Course Information


Course Code: 01420

Course Title: American Literature and Composition

Department: 01 – English

School Level: High

Primary Credit Type: ALC: American Literature & Composition

Duration: One Semester

Credits per Duration: 5

  1. Course Description

American Literature and Composition

III. Course Outline


In Level VI, the units center on an investigation of the idea of the “American Dream.” Students are asked to read and think about important questions presented in American literature—questions about freedom, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. Students read longer works of fiction and nonfiction, honing their skills of analysis and synthesis. Both creative and academic writing grows out of the reading and thinking about ideas presented in the units. Students move toward creating assessment portfolios that emphasize self-assessment in relation to standards and growth in skills.


  1. Course Outcomes [Common Core State Standards]
  2. 1. R. 1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  3. R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
  4. R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
  5. R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  6. R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  7. R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
  8. R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
  9. W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  10. W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  11. W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.
  12. W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  13. W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
  14. W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  15. W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
  16. SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  17. SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  18. L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  19. L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
  20. L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.


  1. Objectives


Unit 1: The American Dream

To understand and define the concept of the American dream

To identify and synthesize a variety of perspectives which exist about the American dream

To conduct a survey and use primary sources as functional texts to prove or disprove assumptions

Unit 2: American Forums: The Marketplace of Ideas

To identify main components and roles of newspapers’ op-ed pages

To analyze how writers use logic, evidence, and rhetoric to advance their opinions

To write persuasive pieces and refute others’ positions

To recognize symbols and references that editorial cartoonists use

To analyze and apply satirical techniques

Unit 3: The Power of Persuasion

To define and apply appeals and devices of rhetoric

To analyze, create, and present persuasive speeches

To interpret, analyze, and situate texts in their communication contexts

To analyze, create, and present dramatic scenes about societal issues

Unit 4: An American Journey

To explore an American classic that addresses the concept of “journey”

To analyze the writer’s rich and complex writing style as a model for making deliberate stylistic choices

To investigate communication demands of careers and prepare to meet those demands

To use media production elements and speaking and listening skills to construct presentations of self which are appropriate for the audiences

Unit 5: The Pursuit of Happiness

To analyze and evaluate structural and stylistic text features

To compose personal essays that employ stylistic techniques

To synthesize research into multi-genre research papers

Embedded Assessments

Unit 1: The American Dream

EA1: Presenting Findings from a Survey

EA2: Synthesizing the American Dream

Unit 2: American Forums: The Marketplace of Ideas

EA1: Creating an Op-Ed Page

EA2: Writing a Satirical Piece

Unit 3: The Power of Persuasion

EA1: Creating and Presenting a Persuasive Speech

  • EA2: Creating and Performing a Dramatic Scene

Unit 4: An American Journey

EA1: Writing an Analytical Essay

EA2: Using Communication Skills to Present Myself

Unit 5: The Pursuit of Happiness

EA1: Writing a Personal Essay

EA2: Writing a Multi-Genre Research Project

  1. Outline

Unit 1: The American Dream

Activities 1.1-1.2 establish previous knowledge of the American dream, as well as other important unit ideas, skills, and concepts.

Activity 1.3 reviews differences between primary and secondary sources to scaffold their understanding of a variety of texts in the unit, as well as prepare them to use survey results as functional texts.

Activity 1.4 guides students through a working definition of the American dream and offers a few complicated and nuanced views of both the positive and negative aspects of that dream.

Activity 1.5 moves students into a research project that helps them understand and present American philosophical trends that have influenced literature, as well as the concept of the American dream.

This activity sets the groundwork for students to consistently refer back to these influences throughout the unit.

Activities 1.6-1.7 require students to analyze poetic elements and synthesize information from multiple poems to create position statements. Poems increase in complexity, and students are asked to use a variety of strategies to make meaning.

Activities 1.8-1.9 scaffold toward both Embedded Assessments by prompting students to identify and analyze real-life examples of the American dream and summarize and make connections between these examples. These activities also move students to look at the organization of nonfiction texts and apply similar syntactical choices in their own writing.

Activities 1.10-1.12 examine literary elements in a variety of genres and use that information to guide students to draw inferences. These lessons use drama, music, and poetry to prompt students to understand, synthesize, and put into historical context American attitudes toward money and work.

Activity 1.13 explores the idea of access to the American dream and helps review elements of arguments.

Activity 1.14 provides instruction and practice in developing working hypotheses, creating questions, conducting a survey, and interpreting findings.

Activity 1.15 revisits and revises the notion of the American dream through a historical speech and a controversial position paper. In addition, this activity reinforces elements of arguments by asking students to identify those elements in written texts.

Activity 1.16 moves students to generate final working definitions of the American dream and begin thinking about clear definitions for their synthesis essays in Embedded Assessment 2.

Unit 2: American Forums: The Marketplace of Ideas

Activities 2.1-2.3 preview the unit and explore connections between news media and dissemination of both information and opinions in our society.

Activities 2.4-2.5 examine a model of inductive argumentation and an editorial that relies on concession and refutation while debating the relevance of newspapers.

Activities 2.6-2.8 introduce strategies for analyzing texts—both information and persuasive in intent — for evidence of biases and loaded language.

Activities 2.9-2.12 scaffold Embedded Assessment 1 by guiding students through drafting and revising editorials and editorial letters, focusing on genre conventions and careful use of evidence to support their claims.

Activity 2.13 scaffolds Embedded Assessment 1 by guiding students through drafting and revising letters to the editor, focusing on careful avoidance of fallacies.

Activity 2.14 scaffolds Embedded Assessment 1 by guiding students through drafting and revising editorial cartoons.

Activities 2.15-2.17 explore elements of satire, as used in print texts and cartoons, and how authors use irony and a range of tones to achieve their purposes as satirists.

Activities 2.18-2.19 use guided writing and emulation to help students begin original satirical pieces while emphasizing how to use diction and various techniques for satirical effect.

Activities 2.20-2.21 analyze Mark Twain’s use of satire in two contrasting pieces, examining how syntax can contribute to tone.

Activity 2.22 focuses on how satirists can manipulate genre conventions and details of their subjects for satirical effect.

Unit 3: The Power of Persuasion

Activity 3.1 previews the unit.

Activities 3.2-3.3 build a climate for speaking one’s conscience and establish criteria for effective public speaking.

Activity 3.4 introduces the role of syntax in John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech and applies elements of effective public speaking.

Activity 3.5 reviews and applies rhetorical appeals, revisiting Kennedy’s speech.

Activities 3.6-3.7 introduce and apply rhetorical devices to Jonathan Edwards’s sermon and Patrick Henry’s speech.

Activity 3.8 presents speeches for critique in terms of syntax, rhetorical appeals and devices, and delivery.

Activity 3.9 presents two primary documents that contextualize Puritanism and the witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts.

Activities 3.10 presents Miller’s introduction to the setting and characters of his drama.

Activities 3.11-3.14 study character, language, and conflict developments in Act One and compare film and written texts.

Activity 3.15-3.17 presents a study of figurative language in Act Two and a close reading of a scene involving the major characters.

Activities 3.18-3.19 present Act Three as the climactic confrontation of the play.

Activity 3.20 presents two documents linking The Crucible to the McCarthy House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings.

Activities 3.21-3.22 focus on the final scene of the conflict between hypocrisy and integrity and present a comparison between the written and film versions of the end of the play.

Activity 3.23 presents a timed writing assignment that addresses literary issues of The Crucible.

Unit 4: An American Journey

Activities 4.1-4.4 preview the unit and establish background information for Their Eyes Were Watching God with an emphasis on author Zora Neale Hurston’s distinctive style.

Activities 4.5-4.9 guide students as they read and analyze Chapters 1 through 9 of the novel. The activities address elements of style, including diction, syntax, structure or organization, point of view,

figurative language, and tone; they also reinforce students’ understanding of the ways that literary elements, including motifs, symbols, plots, characters, and settings, contribute to the major themes in the text.

Activity 4.10 gives students an opportunity for greater independence, as they use discussion groups to approach the next ten chapters of the novel.

Activity 4.11 brings the class back together to provide closure to the reading of the novel. Students identify the novel’s key themes and support their assertions with textual evidence. Students compare

their own interpretations of the novel to excerpts from several critical reviews.

Activity 4.12 moves from reading critical reviews of the book to being critical reviewers of a film interpretation. Students view and evaluate the end of Oprah Winfrey’s production of Their Eyes Were

Watching God. Students then revise a piece of their own work, making deliberate stylistic choices.

Activity 4.13 asks students to assess their own communication skills.

Activities 4.14-4.15 guide students to consider communication requirements for careers they might pursue and appropriate ways to present themselves through résumés.

Activity 4.16 prompts students to investigate how they might present themselves to a global audience.

Activity 4.17 allows students to practice self-presentations in the face-to-face setting of interviews.

Students work collaboratively, providing support for Embedded Assessment 2.

Unit 5: The Pursuit of Happiness

Activities 5.1-5.3 introduce the unit and place Chris McCandless’ biography in historical and philosophical contexts, first by examining core tenets of transcendentalism, then by introducing the idea of a personal credo or sense of beliefs to contextualize Into the Wild.

Activities 5.4-5.5 introduce Into the Wild by emphasizing how the cover design’s text features are slanted to appeal to certain audiences and how the author’s bias is made clear through his introduction.

Activity 5.6 introduces elements of characterization and applies them to the main character.

Activities 5.7-5.14 study Into the Wild for the purpose of developing the skills to analyze and critique content, theme, and stylistic elements.

Activities 5.15-5.17 examine functions, uses, and effects of stylistic techniques employed by published authors to achieve particular effects on readers. Students employ those strategies when they create personal essays.

Activity 5.18 guides students through the process of interpreting sample multi-genre research projects to examine elements, expectations, and construction of final products.

Activities 5.19-5.20 guide students through the process of generating and critiquing a class research question and thesis. Students design rhetorical plans using the resource tool provided to explore, record, interpret, and synthesize research to extract and interpret facts and meld information into creative genres.

Activities 5.21-5.23 model the tasks for Embedded Assessment 2; students collaborate to draft, revise, and edit group multi-genre research projects that include introductions, collections of genres linked thematically, conclusions, reflective endnotes, and annotated bibliographies.

Activity 5.24 requires students to assemble their group multi-genre research projects and present their products to the class. Students evaluate each group’s multi-genre research project. This work prepares them for the individual project that comes next.

Activity 5.25 asks students to select one topic for individual multi-genre research projects and identify what information is known and needed for additional research.


  1. Resources

Unit 1: The American Dream


“Ellis Island,” by Joseph Bruchac

“Europe and America,” by David Ignatow

“America,” by Claude McKay

“Shine, Perishing Republic,” by Robinson Jeffers

“I Hear America Singing,” by Walt Whitman

“I, Too, Sing America,” by Langston Hughes

“Indian Singing in Twentieth Century America,” by Gail Tremblay

“Money,” by Dana Gioia

“Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper,” by Martin Espada

“next to of course god america I,” by e.e. cummings (optional)


“The Trial of Martha Carrier,” by Cotton Mather

“Moral Perfection,” by Benjamin Franklin

Excerpt from “Self-Reliance,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“They Live the Dream,” by Dan Rather

“The Right to Fail,” by William Zinsser

Aphorisms: “Sayings of Poor Richard,” from Poor Richard’s Almanack, by Ben Franklin

Memoir: “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” from Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Song Lyrics:

“America, the Beautiful,” by Katharine Lee Bates

“Harlan Man” and “The Mountain,” by Steve Earle

Article: “Lifelong Dreamer—Vietnam Boat Person,” by Mary-Beth McLaughlin

Drama: Excerpt from A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry

Short Story: “Mammon and the Archer,” by O. Henry


“Roberto Acuna Talks About Farm Workers,” from Working, by Studs Terkel

Excerpt from Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Speech: 2004 Democratic National Convention, excerpt from “Keynote Address,” by Barack Obama

Film: The Godfather, Part II, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, 1974 (optional)

Primer: Excerpt from The New England Primer (optional)

Quotes about money (optional for Session 1.10)

Unit 2: American Forums: The Marketplace of Ideas


“Oh my! The Future of News,” by Jeremy Wagstaff

“How the Rise of the Daily Me Threatens Democracy,” by Cass Sunstein

“The Newspaper Is Dying—Hooray for Democracy,” by Andrew Potter

“Abolish High School Football!” by Raymond Schroth

“Facing Consequences at Eden Prairie High,” from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune

“Time to Raise the Bar in High Schools,” by Jack O’Connell

“New Michigan Graduation Requirements Shortchange Many Students,” by Nick Thomas

“Why I Hate Cell Phones,” by Sara Reihani

Informational Texts:

Excerpt from “A Day in the Life of the Media: Intro,” by The Project for Excellence in Journalism

“An Inside Look at Editorial Cartoons,” by Bill Brennen

Newspaper Articles:

“Facebook Photos Sting Minnesota High School Students,” from the Associated Press

“Federal Way Schools Restrict Gore Film,” by Robert McClure and Lisa Stiffler


“Let’s Hear It for the Cheerleaders,” by David Bouchier

“How to Poison the Earth,” by Linnea Saukko

“Gambling in the Schools,” by Howard Mohr

“Maintaining the Crime Supply,” by Barbara Ehrenreich

“Advice to Youth” and “The War Prayer,” by Mark Twain

“Girl Moved to Tears by Of Mice and Men Cliff Notes,” from The Onion

Parody: “In Depth but Shallowly,” by Dave Barry

Teacher Selections:

Satirical cartoons

Editorial cartoons

Letters to the editor


Unit 3: The Power of Persuasion


“Inaugural Address,” by John F. Kennedy

“Speech to the Virginia Convention,” by Patrick Henry

Excerpt from “A Declaration of Conscience,” by Margaret Chase Smith

Sermon: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” by Jonathan Edwards

Article: “The Lessons of Salem,” by Laura Shapiro

Drama: The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

Fable: “The Very Proper Gander,” by James Thurber

Essay: “Why I Wrote The Crucible,” by Arthur Miller

Film: The Crucible, directed by Nicolas Hytner, 1996

Unit 4: An American Journey

Teleplay: Zora Is My Name, directed by Neema Barnette, 1989

Essay: “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” by Zora Neale Hurston

Short Story: “Sweat,” by Zora Neale Hurston

Novel: Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

Poem: “Mother to Son,” by Langston Hughes

Film: Their Eyes Were Watching God, directed by Darnell Martin, 2005

Newspaper Articles:

“Narcissism on the Internet Isn’t Risk-Free,” by Eric Gwinn

“Web of Risks,” by Brad Stone with Robbie Brown

Excerpt from “Experts: Employers Monitor Social Networking Websites,” by Matt McGowan

Music: Blues from the Harlem Renaissance (optional)

Unit 5: The Pursuit of Happiness


Excerpt from Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Excerpt from “Self-Reliance,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Turning Straw into Gold: The Metamorphosis of the Everyday,” by Sandra Cisneros

“The Chase,” by Annie Dillard

“A View from Mount Ritter,” by Joseph O’Connor

Poem: “In the Depths of Solitude,” by Tupac

Credo: Excerpt from All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum

Biography: Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer

Biographical Sketch: “Sparky,” by Earl Nightingale

Article: “Charles M. Schultz Biography,” by Notable Biographies