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American Literary Movements Lesson Plans

American literature periods have changed and evolved in step with the technology available, events of the time period, and story-tellers themselves. Here, Storyboard That offers a literary movements timeline of American literature, starting from the Native American era through to the present day. Periods of American Literature differ vastly, but some periods are more well-known than others. Storyboarding is the perfect way to analyze the timeline of literary movements and these big ideas about literary periods in American literature with your English Language Arts students!


Student Activities for American Literary Movements




American Literature Timeline

Students can create a literature movements timeline using the timeline layout in Storyboard That! By creating illustrations and writing text to describe each literary period, students can demonstrate their understanding of the American literary movements timeline effectively and are more likely to retain what they’ve learned. Students can then project their finished timeline of American literature onto the board or print them out and present them to the class to add a public speaking component to the lesson.

During the school year, as students read and discuss writing and poetry which are examples from various American literary periods, they can use their timelines as a handy reference! In addition to their literature movement timeline, they can also expand their learning by creating a poetry movements timeline!

Being able to categorize what they read into the different types of American literary history, and inputting them into a literary movement timeline, helps students to gain a deeper understanding of the work itself. Literary movements in American literature are learned by students as a part of their high school English curriculum. These are categorized by periods and can be studied as a part of American literature courses, which focus on the works of American authors and the movements in American literature.



American Literary Periods and Their Characteristics

Below, literary periods in American literature have been broken down into American literary eras. The American literature period started with the Native Americans, and then the periodization of American literature finished with Contemporary/Postmodernism, taking us to the present day.

The literary periods’ timeline highlights the dates for which the American literature period was conducted, although there are sometimes questions about the exact dates by historians. The American literature movements are each chronologically listed and have a brief American literature summary for each of the periods. This is great for the children to get a quick overview, which gives them a great foundation for starting this storyboarding exercise.



Types of American Literature

Native American (Before 1600)

The traditional oral and written literature of the indigenous peoples of North America is known as Native American literature, also called Indian literature or American Indian literature.

Characterized by different types of genres such as oral traditions, epic poems, creation myths, songs, and poetry. In addition, there are ancient hieroglyphic and pictographic texts that were passed down for generations through storytellers and survived in contemporary American Indian writers’ language works.

Native American literature was well-established long before European settlers arrived. Recently​, authors like Sherman Alexie have revived the tradition​ with insightful stories about life on reservations.


Puritanism or Colonial (1620-1750)

The first American literature was actually written by the British, who colonized America in the 1600s. The best-known example from this time is the Bible, which was translated into English and widely read. Other popular works included religious pamphlets and diaries.

Motivated by a desire to “purify” the Church of England with the simple worship of God, Puritans left to colonize the New World. As settlers, they recorded their experiences through diaries and historical accounts.


Revolutionary, Age of Reason, Enlightenment (1750-1800)

Consisting mostly of philosophers and scientists, Enlightenment writers sought to understand the world around them through reason and deduction rather than faith. The types of literature of this period were frequently satirical and skeptical.

One of the most notable figures during this time was Benjamin Franklin. In addition to his published autobiography, he wrote many articles that advocated for things like free speech and religious tolerance, which were not common at the time.


Romanticism, American Gothic (1800-1865)

This era valued feeling, intuition, and idealism. It placed faith in interior experience and imagination​. Individual freedom and worth were paramount, and poetry was seen as the highest expression of the mind. The Dark Romantics, or American Gothic writers, combined these values with dark supernatural themes and settings.

Edgar Allan Poe was the most famous writer of this genre. His work often explored death and despair, which he saw as an inevitable part of life.


Transcendentalism (1840-1860)

Transcendentalists advocated self-reliance and individualism over authority and conformity to tradition, believing institutions and organizations were responsible for corrupting the inherent goodness of people. ​​In their poetry, drama, and prose writing, transcendentalists commonly reflect on nature, a unified “divine spirit,” common to all people and community.

Henry David Thoreau was a notable figure of this movement. He is best known for his book Walden, which reflects upon living the simple life in nature, as he did on Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.


Realism, Naturalism & Regionalism (1865-1914)

As America suffered from growing pains, this movement was marked by feelings of disillusionment. Familiar types of literature subjects included ghettos of rapidly growing cities, the Industrial Revolution, and corrupt politicians. The authors focused on painting a realistic setting of everyday life and ordinary people, including local color, while also seeking to explain human behavior. ​​

This era valued accuracy over emotion and downplayed idealistic notions of human nature​. It was motivated in part by the Industrial Revolution, which resulted in a new urban way of life. One of the most famous realist writers was Mark Twain, whose novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are still beloved today.


Modernism (1914-1945)

On the American literary timeline, Modernism began as an extension of realism but made efforts to break with literary and poetic traditions. Authors of this era were bold and experimental in style; an example of this is the “stream of consciousness.” Commonly dealing with the struggles of individuals, modernist literature can seem bleak but is characterized by the optimistic belief that people can change the world around them.

Ernest Hemingway was one of the most notable modernist writers. His work is characterized by terse, straightforward prose and accessible, relatable characters.


Lost Generation, Jazz Age, Roaring 20s & The Harlem Renaissance (1917-1937)

Alongside modernism, African American culture in Harlem, New York, was flourishing. Much of the style is derived from poetry rhythms based on spirituals, jazz lyrics on the blues, and the use of slang in everyday diction. These influences intersected with prohibition, reactions to WWI, and the sultry nightlife of the big city to produce an energetic progressive culture.

Langston Hughes was an influential writer of the Harlem Renaissance. His poetry often dealt with racial injustice and celebrated African American culture and history. He is also known for his work as a playwright, novelist, and journalist.


Beat Generation (1950-1965)

The Beat Generation was a small group of authors whose literature explored and influenced American culture in the post-World War II era. The Beats were against the prudery of their parent’s generation and promoted sex and sexuality as healthy topics of discussion. Beat hipsters defied modest America with their hedonistic bohemianism and celebration of nonconforming creativity.​

Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac are two of the most famous Beat writers. Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” is one of the most influential works of this period, and Kerouac’s novel On the Road has become a countercultural classic.


Contemporary/Postmodernism (1950-Present)

Literature since WWII has been heavily influenced by studies of media, language, and information technology. It rejects the idea that anything is truly “unique,” proposing that culture endlessly duplicates itself. Postmodern literature especially is marked by irony in the form of parody, unreliable narrators, absurdity, self-awareness, and deconstruction.

Postmodernist literature frequently reminds the audience that they are reading a work of fiction or supplies other “meta” commentary. New literary forms and techniques focused on intense dialogue, blending fiction with nonfiction, and the overall appearance of the work.

Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, Bret Easton Ellis, and Margaret Atwood are some of the most well-known contemporary and postmodern writers. Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is a prime example of postmodern fiction, with its large cast of characters, non-linear plot, and extensive use of pop culture references. Morrison was the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and her work often deals with race relations in America. Ellis is known for his novels Less Than Zero and American Psycho, which explore the dark side of celebrity culture and consumerism. Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in a near-future theocracy, which has been turned into an Emmy-winning television series.


Multiculturalism & Globalization (1960s-Present)

Since the civil rights movement and second-wave feminism in the 1960s, America has become increasingly accepting of diverse voices and perspectives. This is reflected in the rise of multiculturalism and globalization in literature. Multicultural literature tells stories from various cultures and perspectives, while globalization deals with the interconnectedness of people and cultures around the world.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Junot Diaz are some of the most well-known contemporary writers who explore multiculturalism and globalization in their work. Adichie’s Americanah tells the story of a Nigerian woman who moves to America to attend university, while Lahiri’s The Namesake follows the life of a Bengali man living in America.

Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the story of a Dominican-American family living in America. All three authors explore the experiences of immigrants and the children of immigrants caught between two cultures.



Why Children Need to Learn About American Literary Movements

There are many reasons why children should learn about American literary movements:

  • First, it helps them understand the development of American literature.
  • Second, it introduces them to different writing styles and genres.
  • Third, it helps them appreciate the diversity of American literature.
  • Finally, it helps them understand the social and historical context in which various literary works were produced.

Learning about American literary movements also has practical benefits. For instance, it can help children become better readers and writers. It can also help them score higher on standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT. Furthermore, knowledge of literary movements can help children analyze and interpret works of literature more critically.

In short, there are many good reasons for children to learn about American literary movements. By doing so, they can develop a better understanding of our country’s literary heritage and acquire valuable skills that will serve them well in school and life.


How to Get a Deeper Understanding

To get a deeper understanding of the timeline of American literary movements, you need to start reading. A great way to do this is by checking out your local library or bookstore. Many libraries have sections devoted to American literature, and you can usually find a wide variety of books by different authors in these sections.

In addition to reading, many websites can provide you with more information about American literary movements. The website for the American Literature Association, for instance, has a section devoted to literary movements. The website for the Modern Language Association also has a helpful overview of American literary movements. Finally, the website for the Academy of American Poets provides concise definitions of various poetic terms and genres.

By reading and doing some research online, you can develop a deeper understanding of American literary movements and how they have shaped the course of our country’s literature.

It would be best to start chronologically so that you can get a sense of how each literary movement developed in relation to the others. However, you can also focus on specific movements that interest you the most. Whichever approach you take, make sure to have fun and enjoy the process.


How to Create a Literature Movements Timeline

1

Research and Gather Information

Read about the different American literary movements mentioned in the content and familiarize yourself with their characteristics, key authors, and notable works. Take notes on the important details for each movement.

2

Choose a Timeline Format

Decide on the format for your literature movements timeline. You can use a digital tool like Storyboard That to create an interactive timeline with illustrations and text, or you can opt for a traditional paper-based timeline.

3

Organize the Timeline

Arrange the literary movements in chronological order, starting from the earliest period (Native American) and progressing to the present day (Contemporary/Postmodernism). Ensure that each movement is clearly labeled and separated on the timeline.

4

Add Illustrations and Descriptions

For each literary movement, create illustrations or find relevant images that represent the characteristics or key elements of that period. Write brief descriptions or captions to provide an overview of the movement's features.

5

Review and Refine

Review your literature movements timeline for accuracy, completeness, and visual appeal. Make any necessary revisions or additions to improve the clarity and coherence of the timeline.

6

Present and Discuss

Share your completed timeline with others, such as your classmates or teacher. Use it as a visual aid to explain the different American literary movements, highlighting their significance, key authors, and notable works. Engage in discussions about the connections and influences between the movements and their impact on American literature.

Frequently Asked Questions about American Literary Movements

What are the main types of American literature?

The main types of American literature are: The Colonial period, The Romantic period, Realism and Naturalism, The Modernist period, and The Contemporary period.

Who are some famous authors of American literature?

Some famous American literature authors include Edgar Alan Poe, Langston Hughes, Margaret Atwood, Jack Kerouac, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Mark Twain to name a few!

Why is it important to learn about American literary movements?

It is important for children to understand the history of American literature because it introduces them to a variety of writing styles. It is also important because students need to understand the social and historical context in which books were written in order to appreciate what the novel is truly about.

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