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Lesson 1
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The Voice of Dreams

by Elizabeth de La Garza Vargas

Overview | Procedures for Teachers & Organizers for Students

Grade Levels: 9-12

Time Allotment: Eight to 10 45-minute sessions

Since the arrival of the earliest settlers, the United States has been known as a place where people come seeking new, better lives. From the arrival of the Puritans to the current influx of immigrants from Latin America, Southeast Asia, and other parts of the world, the United States has held the promise of unlimited possibilities.

AMERICAN MASTERS: NOVEL REFLECTIONS ON THE AMERICAN DREAM explores the notion that anything is possible in the United States, as seen in stories produced by American authors.

In this lesson, to be used as both a pre- and a post-viewing activity, students will explore the idea of the "American dream" in the past and present, and through real and fictional human stories. They will consider what the American dream is, if anyone still believes in it, if it is still achievable, and what drives people to pursue it.

Through the use of rich American literature and their own writing and discussions, students will examine the American dream through the lens of the American novel -- its authors and its characters.

Subject Matter: Language Arts & History

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:
  • describe the concept of the American dream;
  • listen to and record real stories of people who are working toward the American dream;
  • and write a dramatic version of an American dream story.
National Standards:

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) curriculum standards available online at
  • Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

  • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

  • Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

  • Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

  • Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

  • Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

  • Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

  • Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

  • Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) curriculum standards available online at
  • Culture/high school #c: Apply an understanding of culture as an integrated whole that explains the functions and interactions of language, literature, the arts, traditions, beliefs and values, and behavior patterns.

  • Time, Continuity & Change/high school #e: Investigate, interpret, and analyze multiple historical and contemporary viewpoints within and across cultures related to important events, recurring dilemmas, and persistent issues, while employing empathy, skepticism, and critical judgment.

  • Individual Development & Identity/high school #c: Describe the ways family, religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, and other group and cultural influences contribute to the development of a sense of self.

  • Individuals, Groups, & Institutions/high school #b: Analyze group and institutional influences on people, events, and elements of culture in both historical and contemporary settings.

  • Civic Ideals & Practices/high school #a: Explain the origins and interpret the continuing influence of key ideals of the democratic republican form of government, such as individual human dignity, liberty, justice, equality, and the rule of law.
Materials and Media Components:
  • computers and Internet access for the class
  • chalkboard/white board
  • chart paper
  • handout -- (PDF) Guide Questions for Portrait of American Author
  • handout -- (PDF) Character Sketch Guide
  • handout -- (PDF) American Dream Monologue Summary
  • tape recorders for each student, or a few that can be shared by the class over a few sessions. (If tape recorders aren't available, then students can take notes -- perhaps given reporters' notebooks.)

    1) beginning of the program which gives an overview of the American Dream
Prep for Teachers:

Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

  • Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom.
  • Preview all of the video clips and Web sites used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students, currently available, and accessible from your classroom.
  • Download video clips used in this lesson onto your hard drive.
  • Make copies of the handouts in the "Materials" section for your students.
Next: Procedures for Teachers

The American Novel