For my eldest’s ninth grade year, I decided to ease into high school literature by tackling American poets, essayists and short story writers — basically everything but novels. I selected eight authors who seemed pivotal and had him spend about a month on each one. He did literature twice a week on his own and we as a family did it about the same amount in our “together time.” If you are not schooling multiple children or don’t want to do things all together, you could have the student do all the work on his own or do the parts we did together alongside him as a sort of introduction before turning him loose on the other parts.
I combined this with grammar and dictation and called if “English 9” (or will do so his transcript). One could also just call it a half credit literature course or combine it with another half credit to make a full year course. I used a number of outside resources to piece together this curriculum so what I am about to give you could not stand alone as a curriculum guide; you will either need to find the resources I used or else find something to substitute for them. But I hope that this will benefit someone as a framework for a similar course.
Keep reading for the meat and bones . . .
9th Grade American Literature
Authors studied: Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot
Henry Builds a Cabin and others by D.B. Johnson
Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Unabridged Classics, 2013)
The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Pub., 2010)
Walt Whitman ed. by Jonathan Levin (Poetry for Young People series)
Emily Dickinson ed. Frances C. Bilon (Poetry for Young People series)
Irving is really the beginning of American literature. That is, he is the first to consciously make American literature. His stories are fun to read and are probably familiar so they make a great introduction to our course as well. I used a couple of different books for the text of the tales themselves. It doesn’t really matter what edition you use for the stories, poems, etc. for most of these authors. Just make sure it is the original, unabridged text.
I stumbled upon the Sterling edition listed above at our local library. It has discussion questions in the back for all the tales in the book. While I was selective in which ones I chose, I found these an excellent resource so I highly recommend trying to find this specific edition, if not for the texts, at least for the questions.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
- Read the story and write an essay answering the following questions: Compare Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones. How are they similar? How are they different? Which man do you think Katrina should have chosen? Is Ichabod a hero? Why or why not?
“The Devil and Tom Walker”
- Read the story and write and essay addressing the following: Discuss Tom Walker’s fate and his wife’s. How were they alike? How were they different? What do you think happened to the wife?
“Rip Van Winkle” (together)
- Read the work. Discuss what changes from before Rip’s long nap and after. What has changed in Rip’s life? What has changed in the country? How have the townspeople changed? What do you think this is saying about the new post-Revolution America? What might Rip’s wife represent? (spoiler: bossy mother England) Are things better or worse post-Revolution (or for Rip post-nap)?
“The Specter Bridegroom” (together)
- Read the story. This is a lesser known work but we really enjoyed it. There is a lot of humor here. We loved the accomplished young lady who could write her name so well even her own aunts could read it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
We’re getting into a lot tougher stuff after Irving. Emerson is hard; many of his contemporaries didn’t understand him. Yet he is pretty big in the history of American writing. My solution is to be pretty selective and to read excerpts. We looked at portions from two essays and a number of poems.
I used Mr. Gunnar’s notes for this work. The portion on “Self-Reliance” can be found here. I divided the assignment up into four sessions. The numbers refer to Mr. Gunnar’s discussion questions.
- Read through the essay (that is, the portion Gunnar uses). Go through paragraph by paragraph and write briefly what you think the major points are.
- Reread the first paragraph and answer questions 3 and 4.
- Answer questions 8, 9, and 10.
- Write and essay summing up Emerson’s ideas and giving your own reaction to them.
“Nature” chapter 1
I used the text from Emerson Central and discussion questions that I originmally got from Mrs. Mammana’s website at Darien Public Schools. Unfortunately the latter appears to no longer be available online. So instead, you can find my version here.
- Read “Hamatreya” and discuss Emerson’s view of land ownership. (Reading the blurb from Enotes will help the teacher know what to expect.)
- Read “The Snow-Storm.” What is this poem saying? What metaphor is being used? To what is the snow-storm compared? What is Emerson saying about art (again Enotes will help here)?
- Read “Days.” Emerson had a fairly idle life as a poet and essayist in the midst of a very busy culture. How does he reflect on this in this poem? What is he feeling about his own life? What picture does the poem give?
- Read “Concord Hymn.” We actually had seen this poem recently on the monument at Old North Bridge in Concord where it is inscribed. Discuss the events behind the poem (note that the poem itself was written long afterward). What does the poem say about the purpose of the “votive stone”?
- Read “The Rhodora.” What is Emerson saying the purpose of beauty is?
- Read “The Humble Bee.” How does Emerson use sound and form in this poem? How does he compare the bee to humans? Which one has the preferable life?
- Read “Forbearance.” What is forbearance? Look it up in the dictionary and write out a definition. What things does Emerson think show forbearance? How would he define it?
- Read “Each and All.” What point is Emerson trying to make? (Hint: reread the 9th-12th lines.) What examples does he use to support his argument?
Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau follows close on the heels of Emerson, chronologically and idealistically. The two were friends and Emerson encouraged Thoreau. I highly recommend the series of picture books on Thoreau by D.B. Johnson. Even older children can read these to get a brief intro to Thoreau’s life. He is one author whose life is highly relevant to his works. Another fun intro to his life which I recommend is Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden which presents key events in a cartoon like format. While we discussed the events of Thoreau’s life and have in the past visited Walden Pond and the reconstruction of his cabin there, we didn’t actually read any of Walden beyond the bits in the books I have mentioned.
“Resistance to Civil Government”
I relied on Mr, Gunnar again for this one. The relevant page is here.
- Read the first two paragraphs and answer questions 3, 4, and 5.
- Read the third through 5th paragraphs. Answer questions 7 and 10.
- Read the rest of the essay. Answer questions 11, 12 and 13.
- Answer questions 16 and 17.
I printed out a page of Thoreau quotes and chose a few for my son to comment on. You could also let the student choose or pick others of course.
- Read the quotes that begin “I know of no more encouraging fact . . .” and “The finest qualities of our nature . . .” Discuss what each of these means.
- Read the quote that begins “”No way of thinking or doing . . . ” Copy it. Tell what it means. Tell if you agree.
Edgar Allan Poe
Whew. If you’ve had enough of transcendentalists, it’s time for something completely different. Poe is fun. Poe is scary. Poe is just plain weird. Kids like him.
“The Black Cat”
- This story and discussion questions were on Mr. Gunnar so I used it. The relevant portion is here. I didn’t have my son write out answers for this story. Instead I had him read the story in one sitting and then asked him the questions and we discussed.
- Read the poem. What actually happens in this poem? What is real and what does the narrator imagine?
For the other Poe stories I used the edition illustrated by McKowen and relied upon his discussion questions. If the stories were longer, we took a few sittings to read them and then discussed at the end.
“The Tell-Tale Heart”
- Read the story. Is the narrator a madman? Why did he kill the old man? How is he caught? Was there really anything to be heard to give him away?
“The Masque of the Red Death”
- Read the story and answer questions #4 and 8 from McKowen’s edition.
“The Purloined Letter”
- Read the story. This is a longer story and will likely take more than one sitting. As you go along then, ask what the student(s) think the answer will be: Where is the letter?
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
- Read the story and answer questions #5 , 7 and 13 from McKowen’s edition.
“The Cask of Amontillado”
- Read the story and answer questions #6, 12 and 14 from McKowen’s edition. What was the fued between the two men?
“The Pit and the Pendulum”
- Read the story and answer questions #9 and 15 from McKowen’s edition.
Now that you’ve had a bit of a break, we can continue with something a little less bizarre. I used a few resources for Whitman: Poetry for Young People, GradeSaver, and the Academy of American Poets. I pieced together questions for the various poems. You will also need a more complete book of Whitman’s poetry.
“Song of Myself”
I used the excerpts from the Poetry for Young People book for this one.
- Stanza 1: What do you think he means by “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”?
- Stanza 2-end: What does he see in the grass? What does it represent? The Bible says “man is grass.” Do they mean the same thing? Why or why not?
- What do you think Whitman believes about God? Man? Sin?
- Whitman called his book of poetry Leaves of Grass. Why do you think he did?
“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! my Captain!”
These poems are both about the death of Abraham Lincoln, read them together and compare and contrast.
“Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand”
Read the poem. What is this poem about? Hint: what is being carried in hand? What is he saying about writing?
Various other poems
I selected various other poems from a big book of Whitman’s work that we had checked out and had my son write paragraphs telling what he thought they meant. Among those we used were: “A Sight in camp” and “Come Up From the Fields.”
I used a number of different sources for Dickinson: the Poetry for Young People book, GradeSaver, Mr. Gunnar’s site, and the Big Read. For some of these I had my son write out answers, others we read and discussed aloud. FYI Dickinson did not title her poems; they are named by their first lines.
- Read “I heard a fly buzz” and “Because I could not stop.” Compare the two death scenes.
- Read “Success is counted sweetest” and “I’m nobody.” Compare and contrast.
- Read “To fill a gap.” What is this poem saying? How does its form contribute to its meaning?
- Read “Tell all the truth.” What is this poem saying? How does she feel about truth?
- Read “The bat is dun.” How does she describe the bat? What can we learn from him?
- Read “A light in spring.” What is the poem saying about nature? About God?
- Read “Behind me dips – eternity.” What does she say about eternity and life and afterlife? What is the tone of the poem by the end?
- Read “They shut me up in prose” and “I dwell in possibility.” How does she portray pose? Poetry? What does the house represent in the second poem? What do these two poems have in common? How can these be read as feminist poems?
- Read “Safe in their alabaster chambers.” Think back to other Dickinson poems you have read as well. Does she write more about death or life? What is her view of death and the afterlife?
- Read “This world is not conclusion” and “I know that He exists.” It has been said that Dickinson was “not entirely orthodox in her Christian faith.” How do we see that in these poems? What are her beliefs?
“The Road Not Taken”
- Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Read “setting and background information” from the Cummings guide.
- Go through the poem again. Write a summary of each stanza.Read through Cummings’ summaries and notes.
- Which road does the title refer to?
- Write responses for study questions 1,2, 3 and 5 from Cummings.
“Fire and Ice”
- Read the poem. If reading aloud, have copies for all students so they can follow along.
- See if the students can figure out the meter of the poem and its rhyme scheme. From the Cummings guide read “meter” and “rhyme.”
- Define alliteration, anaphora, and paradox. Find examples in the poem.
- Read “Dante’s influence” from the Cummings guide. What does Frost think is worse — desire or hatred/betrayal? Do you agree?
“The Mending Wall”
- Read through the poem. What is the central theme or question of the poem? What is the neighbor’s view of walls? How is the neighbor portrayed? What are the pros and cons of walls? What does the poet/speaker think of walls? What is the verdict of the poem? Why does he help his neighbor rebuild?
- Read the poem again. Can you determine the format/meter of the poem? Read “verse format” from the Cummings guide.
- From the Cummings guide read “literary devices and imagery.” Write out definitions and examples for: anastrophe, metaphor, personification and hyperbole.
- What types of walls separate people? How are walls in the Bible symbolic?
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
- Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Find specific words n the poem that tell you about the time and place. Who are the characters? Read “Intro” from the Cummings guide.
- Go through the poem again, stanza by stanza. Summarize each one and then look at the Cummings guide notes.
- Define alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor and personification. Find examples in the poem. What is the meter of the poem? Discuss end rhyme versus internal rhyme (see Cummings guide notes).
- Why does the author like the woods? Read Cummings Guide “meaning.”
- Read the poem. Summarize it. What is the form (style) of the poem? Read “Blank verse” from Shmoop.
- Reread the poem. What is the contrast being made? List the characteristics of the boy swinging and the ice storm. What do each of these represent?
Eliot was American but renounced his US citizenship. Nonetheless, I included him among our American authors. Some of his works are long and tough. Others are quite fun.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
- From the Cummings guide read “Explanation of title” and “type of work.” Read the Dante quote, its translation and the note about it. Read the first 2 stanzas. How does he describe the setting? the mood? What do you think the 2nd stanza means? How are the women portrayed?
- Read “speaker”, “characters” and “themes” from the Cummings guide. Read stanzas 3-10. Give a brief summary of each.
- Finish reading the poem. In stanza 11, who is being alluded to? (Hint: Note the head and prophet references.) Stanza 12: Read Luke 16:19-31. Stanza 14: How is Prufrock like Hamlet? How is he different? Stanza 15 to the end: How does he end it? What are his thoughts now?
- Find examples in the poem of simile, personification, metaphor, alliteration, anaphora, and hyperbole.
“Sweeney among the Nightingales”
- Read the poem. Discuss the setting. From the Cummings guide, read about Agamemnon and his connection to the poem.
- Read the poem again and go through stanza by stanza. Note the rhyme and meter.
- Read the poem once more. Discuss its meaning.
Various shorter poems
- Read “A Song for Simeon.” If you are not familiar with it, read the biblical passage on Simeon. How does Eliot portray Simeon?
- Read “Journey of the Magi.” If you are not familiar with it, read the story fo the magi from the Bble. How does Eliot portray them?
- Read “the Hippopotamus.” What two things are being compared? Does this surprise you? How are they compared? What is the end of each? What point is Eliot trying to make?
- For fun read selections from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”