Walden Teaching Guide
- 9 pages
- Subject: Allusion, Historical Context, Rhetorical Devices, Themes, Lesson Plans and Educational Resources
- Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
Additional Walden Resources
So you’re going to teach Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic text has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While this text has its own problematic or controversial features, these can be addressed in ways that will reward you and your students. Overall, Walden provides opportunities to explore important historic trends like Transcendentalism as well as enduring questions about individualism, living deliberately, and defining a meaningful life.
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 Excerpt
Defying Conventions as Means Toward Good Life: The first and longest section of Walden, “Economy” provides a rationale for his experiment at Walden Pond. The section as a whole can be productively thought of as a play on the various meanings of “accounting.” Thoreau’s more literal gestures of accounting here—his oddly unliterary-seeming inclusion of cost and income lists—is an extension of his earlier sections renouncing the salaried work he claims makes “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” In other words, Thoreau playfully explores the question of how people account for the lives they lead. Thus, “Economy” is less about dollars and more about efficiently providing for the “vital heat.” Thoreau “avoid[s] all trade and barter” and instead sets off for Walden Pond on the 4th of July (Independence Day).
- For discussion: Depending on how much you can assign to your students as a chunk, “Economy” complements the section immediately following it, “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” which has the well-known quotation “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” These first two sections work well with a discussion or lecture about writing introductions: from lab reports to analytical essays, most papers begin with some gesture of explaining the reason behind a writer’s inquiry.
- For discussion: Ask students to discern Thoreau’s position of the individual toward society in these early chapters. Is Thoreau against living with other people generally, or are there more particular parts of social life that he resists?