126 Self-Reliance Lesson Plan

Ben Sarkis; Monique Horne; and Autumn Farrow

Lesson Outline — Self-Reliance (Emerson)


In this lesson on Emerson’s Self-Reliance, students will be analyzing quotes and seeing how they fit into certain themes present in the essay. We will have them do this through an opening prompt, a discussion about the opening prompt, group work analyzing 4 quotes and seeing how they fit into themes (transcendentalism, non-conformity, nature, other). To close the class, we will also have a closing discussion about the group’s answers and discuss why groups thought differently than each other.


After this lesson, students will be able to understand transcendentalism and how it connects to Emerson’s, Self-Reliance essay. Students will be able to also connect themes like non-conformity and nature. They will be able to fully understand these concepts and their importance.


Background: One of us will open the class and give the students some background on the essay and some of the themes present.

Opening Prompt: We gave students this quote from the essay and asked them what this quote is saying and how it relates to one of the essay’s main themes, transcendentalism. We gave students ten minutes to work on this opening prompt. We then will talk about it in a class discussion for about 15 minutes.

  • “To believe your own thought, to believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius” (Emerson).

Group Work: After we talk about the opening prompt as a class, we will split the class into four groups and have them look at four separate quotes. Group 1 would start with quote 1, group 2 with quote 2, etc. They are to look at each quote and write what the quote is saying. They will also choose a theme (transcendentalism, non-conformity, nature, other) that the quote matches the most with. They will write all of this in a separate word doc, so groups will not be influenced by other groups answers.

  • Quote 1: There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.”
  • Quote 2: I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions”
  • Quote 3: “The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a rever- ence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.”
  • Quote 4: “it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Closing Discussion: After the class completes their group work, we will come back as a class and discuss the quotes and which theme was chosen for each and why.



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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Ben Sarkis; Monique Horne; and Autumn Farrow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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