Teaching: Age of Reason Unit (American Literature)

Architect of the Capitol - Founding Fathers - Declaration of IndependenceIntroduction/Background:

The Enlightenment
Brief historical background of Enlightenment, including lesson plans using excerpts from English thinkers (Hobbes’ The Leviathan and Locke’s Of Civil Government) and French Philosophes (Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws & Rousseau’s The Social Contract). Comparing Hobbes and Locke might be useful for American Lit teachers as entry into examining Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, heavily influenced by Locke.

Dr. Paul P. Reuben’s (CSU Stanislaus) Early American Literature (1700-1800) page
Valuable introduction to American Enlightenment writers, including their common beliefs, characteristic elements of their works, and overview of Deist beliefs. Also includes bibliographies for long list of writers of the period.

Most Obvious Works:

Thomas Jefferson – Declaration of Independence
Benjamin Franklin – excerpts from his Autobiography and Poor Richard’s Almanac
Thomas Paine – Common Sense
Patrick Henry – “Speech in the Virginia Convention”

Age of Reason Units:

Mrs. Follis’s Teaching Page
Plenty of ideas to begin for a mini-unit. Follis’s page features an assignment where students use Ben Franklin’s aphorisms and proverbs to create skits and illustrative posters and a songwriting culminating assessment using Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” as model.

Steve Kahl’s (Mountain View HS) Age of Reason Study/Writing Prompts

Gwinnett County Schools (GA) Age of Reason Instructional Plan
Focuses on Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, Number 1, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and Patrick Henry’s “Speech in the Virginia Convention.” Includes Rationalism guided notes handout, Declaration.. & Crisis… & “Virginia Convention” speech graphic organizers, “Writing about Persuasion” assignment, “Read-Around Peer Edit” activity, and Age of Reason quiz.

Lesson Plans:

Two activities (2-3 day lesson plan) for comprehending Paine’s arguments for American Independence and debating/developing arguments and counterarguments on hereditary monarchy using excerpts from Common Sense.

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