I don't care if a bunch of professors in Ivory Towers want to tell you there is no canon in literature and that cultural literacy tests are biased and unnecessary. Assuming it's still true that the wealthy, cultured, privileged, and powerful in our country know and discuss certain aspects of literature, then my students are also going to know and be able to at least say they've heard of those facts.
You might think it's just trivia, but this is the literature in English that the rest is based on. This is the background information every high school kid needs in order to graduate. I would say, whatever your subject, buy the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy and make sure you are at least teaching what's recommended in your subject area, and then try to expand into others.
This download provides a 22-question quiz covering the first 15 or so entries from the dictionary. I use Wikipedia (with links) to describe each author or quote, and I also provide feedback from my own use over the years, and videos to help drive home the points.
I generally taught Cultural Literacy for the first five minutes of class, and I always forced students to take notes (based on the dictionary text). Granted, this document will use Wikipedia instead, but the list and quiz questions will still guide you.
I taught Literature in English to my 9th or 10th grade classes, while I used the World Lit and Philosophy parts of the dictionary with my juniors or seniors. But this is the most important to know (besides the Bible, but I couldn't teach that at my public high school).
Social studies, if your English Department is dropping the ball with teaching decent background info, take it upon yourself to teach it. OR combine classes. Homeschoolers will be able to discuss a lot more with others if they know this info.
I am packaging these downloads in packs of 10-15 facts. You can go buy the dictionary and figure out the best ones to use yourself, or you can download from someone who has taught this over ten years. Yes, the quizzes are just meant to test for notetaking and paying attention, but it's the whole experience that every student needs to have.
Great for adults learning our (American and British) cultures, but also for staff members who probably should know this stuff. If your own high school focused primarily on modern, female, minority authors, I think that's just fine, but you ought to know the rest of the story, too.
I have the quizzes all the way through the alphabet, but I'm only going to put in the work (and it's a lot) once I have at least a few sales. While I believe there should be great interest for this type of lesson, I am not sure how you will feel.
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Some education-related websites I have built:
Let me design your district's future at Passive Ninja
Church and School Web Design
A family blog worth checking out at Satisfamily
Looking for more stories? Maybe you'll find some on McNewsy
Brian Jaeger's Author Page
Teach others about sitcom philosophy
Vouchers and Schools
More products on Teachers Pay Teachers
More educational resources on Educabana