American Literature Unit: Film Studies, Poetry Analysis, & Essay Writing

Grade Levels
9th - 12th, Homeschool
Formats Included
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46 pages
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Want to add diversity and perspective to your American Dream Unit?

The pursuit of the American Dream is a classic theme in literature, but often, when students only examine canonical texts, they get a limited understanding of it. The reasons why the American Dream is not always attainable for all are complicated, but if your classes are only reading and discussing the voices of dead white males, they will lack compassion as well as depth of understanding.

This diverse unit will engage your students with the powerful poems, fascinating contemporary non-fiction and short stories, and one of the greatest documentaries ever made. They’ll dig deep on important essential questions and add complexity to their understanding of those issues.

This sixteen-day unit includes multiple texts, a graded discussion, and a timed essay in which students will bring together everything they have learned from the unit.

Resources included in this unit, at a discount when you buy them together:

Langston Hughes "I Too Sing America" and Walt Whitman Paired Texts Poetry Lesson (normally priced at $1.97). In "I Hear America Singing" by Walt Whitman and "I Too Sing America" by Langston Hughes, the two poets present parallel views of the American experience. Whitman’s poem is joyous and celebratory; Hughes’ poem is more skeptical, but it is not without hope. Questions encourage close reading, analysis of poetic elements, as well as deeper thinking and discussion about the themes and big ideas of the poem. You can view the full-priced version of this resource by clicking here.

Harlem Renaissance Poetry Unit: Race & the American Dream | A Dream Deferred (normally priced at $3.99) The questions on "Harlem" (also known as "Dreams" or "A Dream Deferred") by Langston Hughes, “Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem,” by Helene Johnson, and "We Were the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar will get your students exploring themes of race, culture, and heritage. You can view the full-priced version of this resource by clicking here.

"Let America Be America Again," Langston Hughes | Creative Writing | Questions (normally priced at $1.97) This poem expresses disillusionment as well as hope. While Hughes points out all the problems, all the ways that less powerful groups suffer in the United States, he also has hope that the people will one day rise up and make the country great, fulfilling its potential in a way that they have not done yet. You can view the full-priced version of this resource by clicking here.

"Richard Cory" & "If and When Dreams Come True” | The Great Gatsby Poetry Unit (normally priced at $1.97) These poems explore themes of class, money, and dreams. “If and When Dreams Come True” suggests that it is the pursuit of our dreams that give meaning to our lives, rather than the obtainment of those dreams. “Richard Cory” suggests that money doesn’t buy happiness, and that we don’t really know what other people are feeling on the inside. You can view the full-priced version of this unit by clicking here.

Zora Neale Hurston, Harlem Renaissance Short Story Unit Plan (normally priced at $5.97). These lessons on “John Redding Goes to Sea” by Zora Neale Hurston will push your students to dig deep, get creative, and fully appreciate Hurston’s brilliant work. This lovely and tragic piece was Hurston’s first published story. The tale of a man who longs to reach the horizon is a great story for discussing dreams and what keeps us from achieving them. The main character wants to leave his small town and travel the world, but just like the wooden boats that he plays with as a child, he gets caught up in the weeds and prevented from reaching his destination. You can view the full-priced version of this resource by clicking here.

Two Kinds by Amy Tan | Short Story Unit Plan | Close Reading & Creative Writing (normally priced at $2.97). This classic story of a parent’s expectations and a daughter’s willful desire to be accepted is a great choice for discussing themes of communication, culture, parent-child relationships, and hard work. It’s also a wonderful story for examining figurative language, point of view, and characterization. This rigorous and fun unit will take your students through autobiographical writing, discussion of relevant and important themes, a close reading of the story, and innovative creative writing exercises. You can view the full-priced version of this resource by clicking here.

Film Studies: Hoop Dreams Mini Unit (normally price at $3.99) Students will watch a powerful documentary and complete close reading questions on a challenging, short, lyrical nonfiction essay on the film. “Hoop Dreams” was named by Roger Ebert “the great American documentary.” The filmmakers followed two boys from the inner city for six years of their lives, documenting their struggles, heartbreak, and triumphs. You can view the full-priced version of this resource by clicking here.


—a suggested unit schedule

—instructions and a rubric for a graded discussion

— a prompt for a summative essay

— a graphic organizer for the essay

Get your students reading engaging contemporary non-fiction, studying film, analyzing poetry, writing argument essays, and looking for answers to some of the most important questions of our nation.

"Great resource! I added a lot of these texts as supplemental to our strictly canonical unit and the students enjoyed hearing different voices."--Buyer

Total Pages
46 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
2 Weeks
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.
Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task.
Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.
Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.


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