Self-Reliance Teaching Guide
- 9 pages
- Subject: Allusion, Historical Context, Rhetorical Devices, Themes, Lesson Plans and Educational Resources
- Grade Levels: 10, 11, 12
Additional Self-Reliance Resources
Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance" has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its problematic spots, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into Transcendentalism, the personal essay as a genre, and important questions surrounding individualism, social conventions, and the sources of genius.
About This Document
Owl Eyes Teaching Guides have been designed to help first-time and veteran teachers open up classic works of literature for their students. Our guides provide rich background information, identify key themes and topics, and offer creative and practical approaches to teaching the text.
The main components of each guide include the following:
- A concise history of the text
- An explanation of significant allusions
- Teaching approaches and discussion questions
- Tricky issues to address while teaching
- Alternative teaching approaches
- A list of complementary texts
These Teaching Guides offer valuable context and promote meaningful discussions about novels, plays, poems, and stories that have captivated English Language Arts students for generations. Each guide is comprehensive and concise, thought-provoking and practical.
Approaches and Discussion Questions
The Value of Nonconformity: Emerson argues that social conformity (or what we might now call peer-pressure) inhibits achieving greatness. Society and its institutions amount to a form of censorship because individuals make concessions to the group. Nonconformity requires self-emancipation; one precisely cannot count on change from the outside or through social means; individuals must actively pursue their best selves.
- For discussion: What risks are involved with the common advice to “be yourself”? What compromises are students willing to make to please other people? How do students balance conflicting impulses to “fit in” and “stand out”?
Additional Discussion Questions for Understanding Emerson’s Genres:
- Consider using students’ experiences keeping journals, diaries, or blogs to help understand how Emerson’s drawing from his journal might tie to the themes of his essay.
- Draw from students’ experience in lecture settings to think about how Emerson’s message might differ if they heard it in a group versus reading it privately.
- Ask how reading more than one of Emerson’s essays complicates common misunderstandings about his ideas. After reading “History,” can we still say that Emerson promotes unqualified individualism in “Self-Reliance”?