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Lesson 2
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Novel Ideas: History of the American Novel

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

The American novel has reflected the mood of the United States during different periods of its short history, in terms of BOTH social context and writing style. From Anne Bradstreet's THE TENTH MUSE to Cormac MCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN, authors tell the stories of their times.

AMERICAN MASTERS: NOVEL PERSPECTIVES ON THE AMERICAN DREAM examines how American authors of various time periods have explored the pervasive quintessential idea of the American dream.

In this lesson students will discover social themes and writing styles authors have used in American novels. They will consider the history of the American novel in terms of the literary movements that have occurred within the context of American history.

Subject Matter: English/Language Arts and U.S. History

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:

  • understand the history of the American novel in the contexts of literature in general and U.S. history;
  • conduct research using a variety of resources;
  • understand literary movements/genres;
  • and write an original piece in the style of an American writer.
National Standards:

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) curriculum standards available online at
  • 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 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 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 participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 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 #b: Apply key concepts such as time, chronology, causality, change, conflict, and complexity to explain, analyze, and show connections among patterns of historical change and continuity.
  • Individual Development & Identity/high school #e: Examine the interactions of ethnic, national, or cultural influences in specific situations and events.
  • Individual Development & Identity/high school #h: Work independently and cooperatively within groups and institutions to accomplish goals.
Materials and Media Components:
  • excerpts from American literature, from 1600 to the present
  • handout -- Reading Log (PDF)
  • construction paper for time line
  • electronic and textual resources
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 handout in the "Materials" section for your students.
Next: Procedures for Teachers

The American Novel