Teaching English Units 


 Jenny Pierce

Website for online work: www.d.umn.edu/~pierc179


Prefatory Statement


The aim of this unit is to teach students the psychoanalytical, Marxist, and feminist critical theories. Within a three week period, the students will be learning and applying these theories to a text they choose.


The study of critical theory allows students to examine literature through different lenses as well examining society through those lenses. In this unit, it is the aim of the teacher to ask the students to look at texts in a new and different way, and then to ask them what they see. This critical theories unit will also allow the student to become more analytical readers of texts and of their world. The Marxist and feminist theory lend themselves particularly well to this issue.


Class Specification


This unit is designed for students who have a really good foundation in interpreting texts; this unit is designed for an AP 12 class, or, an advanced 12th grade class.

 This is for students who are strong in English and can remove themselves easily from the text. Inappropriate for students who struggle with English,  this unit requires quick understanding of the concepts of critical theories instead of, say, focusing on the basics of paper writing. However, if students are not strong in writing, that is fine. They can still learn! This unit is designed with the students writing a final paper.


If a teacher wanted to change this unit, they could incorporate different theories to teach in place of the theories that are built into this unit. They could also modify this unit to be more of a lecture based unit, rather than a group based unit. Also, the final assessment does not have to result in a final a paper. This can be changed if you have students that might not write that well, but the teaching of literary theory is important to you. The teacher can also provide more or less scaffolding and practice in interpretation based on the students’ strengths and prior knowledge.


Significant Assumptions


The students who can benefit most from this unit will be those who can easily remove themselves from the text. They can see past their own “ego” and look through different critical theories to further understand a text. The students that this unit is designed for can also formulate strong arguments in a paper; they know to use many examples from the text to back up what they are trying to prove as well. They also are accomplished or exemplary in the task of literary analysis. Students in this unit will also know how to work well in groups and communicate effectively.


Another significant assumption: students could/should be familiar with a lot of different texts. For example, later in the unit, the students can pick excerpts from different texts, such as: Native Son, Frankenstein, Hamlet, Herland, Heart of Darkness, and 1984. They do not have to have read all of these; however, because they will be looking specifically at an excerpt, they should be familiar with that text to understand what is going on in the context of the entire novel/play.


Desired Outcomes/Standards to be Met


The Minnesota standard this unit is covering is: D.7, “Evaluate a literary selection from several critical perspectives.” This is the main idea that the students will be trying to understand. This lesson is designed so the students will walk away understanding three different literary criticisms and understand how to apply them to different texts. Other outcomes will be clearly explaining their interpretation in the form of a paper. The students will have to develop a sound argument using information about the specific literary theories as well as using examples from the text.


Possible Whole-Class Activities

Possible Small-Group Activities

 Possible Individual Activities

Ongoing Activities




Student Resources




Paper for notes, different texts (listed below), worksheets (attached), and access to the internet and computer lab (for online activities and for gathering images). 




Possible texts to choose from (note: Most of these can be found on the internet. The students can possibly print their choice text out and bring it to class.)




“The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop

“Biathantos” by John Donne

“Father Death Blues” by Allen Ginsberg

Pick an excerpt from The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Pick an excerpt from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Pick an excerpt from Hamlet




“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman

“Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath

“To His Coy Mistress” By Christopher Marlowe

Pick an excerpt of Hamlet with Ophelia or Queen Gertrude as the focus

Pick an excerpt from Heart of Darkness that depicts a woman

Pick an excerpt from Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gillman

Pick an excerpt from The Great Gatsby




“Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes

“Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath

“The Necklace” by Guy De Maupassant

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

Pick an excerpt from Native Son by Richard Wright

Pick an excerpt from 1984 by George Orwell

Pick an excerpt from The Great Gatsby


Unit Launch

(Also may look to Lesson Plan for Day One)


First 10-15 minutes of class (This is taken from Deborah Appleman’s Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents):

There will be different sunglasses out on the table. Certain sunglasses are tinted to bring out different colors (it is my understanding that different sporting goods stores will sell these). Have one of the students come up and try on different pairs of sunglasses and ask them what they see. Hopefully, they will say something like, “This makes the purples stand out.” And then, the teacher will make the connection: when looking at a text through different “lenses,” different things will pop out.


Rest of the class period:


Get the students down to the school computer lab and have a webquest set up. This webquest will have good resources on the different theories you will be covering. This is not going to be assessment; rather, the students are gathering some background information on the different theories so they have some context on the theories to build upon when the teacher starts giving them more information.


Organization of the Unit


Day One:

Stage One—Desired Results

Content Standard:

D.7, “Evaluate a literary selection from several critical perspectives.”

Understanding Goal(s) (Focused on WHOLE UNIT):

  • The students will understand three different critical approaches to literature.
  • Students will understand that looking at literature in through different lenses can add to the understanding of a text

Essential Question(s) (Focused on WHOLE UNIT):

  • What does looking through different lenses do for us as a reader?
  • Do we get a better understanding of texts by looking through different lenses?


Student Objectives (Outcomes) (For Daily LP):

Students will be able to:

  • Understand the very basics of each of the three theories by doing the webquest

Understand that looking through different “lenses” will make things in a text “pop”

Stage Two—Assessment Evidence

Performance Tasks:

  • Final Paper happening at the end of unit
  • Analysis of “The Slant”

Other Evidence:

  • Discussion held the next day on feminist theory. The teacher can gage how well the students did on the web quest by the discussion held in class and the information the students provide on the white board.

Stage Three—Learning Plan


  • Sunglasses that bring out different colors in things. *These can be found at different sporting goods stores.
  • Online Activity (www.d.umn.edu/~pierc179)
  • Need computer lab
  • Students will need their notebook and pencil for the online activity
  • For end of class, have prepared the Feminist Theory Worksheet
  • Ask the students to bring images that they associate with the feminist theory. (These will be put on a bulletin board)


Basically, just tell the students that they’re learning something new today. Have the sunglasses out on the table. Tell them that through the sunglasses, they will learn a new way to look at texts.

Developmental Activities:

  • Ask the students what sunglasses usually do. Maybe they will answer something like, “Make things so we can see easier when the sun is staring us in the face.”
  • Then, have a student volunteer come up and put on a pair of sunglasses that make certain colors pop. Ask the student what they see. They may say something like, “These make the purples pop.” Or, “This makes the bright colors seem brighter.”
  • Ask the students to consider looking through different lenses. Do they think that this could have anything to do with literature?
  • Tell the students that we’ll be learning about different “lenses” to look through when it comes to literature.
  • Let other students look through the different sunglasses to experience what the other volunteer student experienced.
  • Have the students move up to the computer lab and do the online activity.


  • Tell the students they are responsible for understanding this information. They won’t be “tested” on it. This is just to enhance their learning experience. It is for their benefit that they do this.
  • Give the students a handout (titled Feminist Theory) and ask them to fill it out and bring it to class. They are expected to participate in discussion.


  • Have students bring in images that they associate with the feminist theory (These will be put on a bulletin board).



Day Two:

Students learn about feminist theory. At the beginning of class, in groups, the students share the information they found about the feminist theory with each other. They also post the images that they associate with the feminist theory to a bulletin board at the very beginning of class. While the students are doing this, the teacher is putting up large sheets of paper on the chalkboard with some questions from the worksheet. After they are done discussing their findings, they appoint a writer who will write down some of their findings on the large sheet of paper (no repeats allowed). Then, the class forms a circle and discusses as a large group the feminist theory and any questions they have. The teacher helps to clarify any questions and acts as a guide during the discussion.

Day Three:

The students are given “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou. In small groups (made up of male and females), the students look at this poem from the feminist perspective. They try to find meaning in this poem. The students will work from the worksheet they were given out on day one to act as a guide. The students will work together to help solidify their understanding of the theory. At the end of the day, the students are given “The Slant” by Ani Difranco. They are to write up a paragraph or two that dissects the poem from the feminist perspective. This is due the next day at the beginning of class. The teacher will then read them over and assess whether the students are starting to understand the theory. If not, more time should be spent on the theory. If they understand pretty well, move on.

Phenomenal Woman”

By Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

 “The Slant”

By Ani Difranco

The slant
A building settling around me
My figure female framed crookedly
In the threshold of the room
Door scraping floorboards
With every opening
Carving a rough history of bedroom scenes
The plot hard to follow
The text obscured in the fields of sheets
Slowly gathering the stains of seasons spent lying there
Red and brown
Like leaves fallen
The colors of an eternal cycle
Fading with the
Wash cycle
And the rinse cycle
Again an unfamiliar smell
Like my name misspelled or misspoken
A cycle broken
The sound of them strong
Stalking talking about their prey
Like the way hammer meets nail
Pounding, they say
Pounding out the rhythms of attraction
Like a woman was a drum like a body was a weapon
Like there was something more they wanted than the journey
Like it was owed to them
Steel toed they walk
And I'm wondering why this fear of men
Maybe it's because I'm hungry
And like a baby I'm dependent on them
To feed me
I am a work in progress
Dressed in the fabric of a world unfolding
Offering me intricate patterns of questions
Rhythms that never come clean
and strengths you still haven’t seen



Day Four:

The students learn about the Marxist critical theory. The teacher asks them to reference back to their online activity information and piece together what they think Marxist theory is trying to point out. They are also to bring in some images that remind them of the Marxist theory and stick them to the bulletin board they are creating. The teacher can start out asking some basic questions like:

At the end of the class period, have the students fill out an exit slip (titled What did you learn about the Marxist Theory?) This is used to assess that the students understand what to look for in a text when looking through the lens of the Marxist theory.


Day Five:

Give the students a copy of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Using their notes from the previous day, they are to read “Little Red Riding Hood” and dissect it using the Marxist theory. They will be writing out a paragraph or two sharing their interpretation. This is given to the teacher. The teacher will assess whether the students understand the Marxist Theory. If not, the teacher will spend more time going over it. If the students understand it, the teacher will move on.


Day Six:

Stage One—Desired Results

Content Standard:

  • D.7, “Evaluate a literary selection from several critical perspectives.”

Understanding Goal(s) (Focused on WHOLE UNIT):

  • The students will understand three different critical approaches to literature.
  • Students will understand that looking at literature in through different lenses can add to the understanding of a text

Essential Question(s) (Focused on WHOLE UNIT):

  • What does looking through different lenses do for us as a reader?
  • Do we get a better understanding of texts by looking through different lenses?


Student Objectives (Outcomes) (For Daily LP):

Students will be able to:

  • Show an understanding of the psychoanalytical approach
  • Apply the psychoanalytical approach

Stage Two—Assessment Evidence

Performance Task(s)

  • Using the psychoanalytical approach to explain the actions of the main character in “The Tell Tale Heart”
  • Write a short paper (2-3 paragraphs) demonstrating their understanding of the psychoanalytical approach by incorporating the theories they learned about in class

Other Evidence:

  • Discussions within groups
  • Questions raised in class
  • Carry on their understanding of the psychoanalytical approach to other texts (later in the unit)


Stage Three—Learning Plan


  • Copies of “The Tell Tale Heart” for the whole class
  •   Can be found on http://www.literature.org/authors/poe-edgar-allan/tell-tale-heart.html
  • PowerPoint Lecture

(The students will also bring in images that make them think about the psychoanalytical theory and post them to the bulletin board before class “officially” starts.


  • Have you ever read something and asked yourself, “Why in the world would the character do that?!” Today, we’re going to be learning some different ways to examine why a character would do something. Or, even why an author would make a character do such a thing. We’re going to “get in their head” and “find out what makes an author or character tick”.
  • “At the end of this lesson, you will be able to look at a text and be able to better explain why a character may taking the actions he/she is doing.”

Developmental Activities:

  • PowerPoint Lecture (answering questions from the students along the way)
  • The students should be taking down notes from this lecture, too.
  • At the end of the lecture, the students are to get into groups and come up with some questions that they need clarified.
  • The teacher will respond to the questions and help guide the students to a better, more solid understanding of the theory
  • The rest of the hour will be devoted to the students reading “The Tell Tale Heart” and working together to find meaning in it while looking through the psychoanalytical lens.
  • The homework for the day will be to write a short paper (two to three paragraphs) of the psychoanalytical interpretation on “The Tell Tale Heart”.

Closing Activities:

  • Ask the students if there are any questions which need clarification. Ask the students how they feel their understanding is coming along.



PowerPoint (also available on my website):

*PowerPoint constructed from notes taken in Methods of Literary Study course, 2007


Day Seven:


The students come in with their interpretation of “The Tell Tale Heart.” They get into groups and discuss what they “saw” in the text when looking through the lens of psychoanalytical criticism. They also discuss any difficulties they had. When they are done doing this, the teacher fields any questions they have and clarifies anything. Then, teacher moves on to discussing the culminating assignment with the students. The teacher gives them a sheet (titled Lit. Crit. Final assignment(s)). The class then discusses what their requirements are and gets into groups based on what their favorite theory is.


Day Eight:

If groups are still large (more than 4 or 5 students), break down the groups. Ideally, there would be four students in each group. Then, the students are to pick out a text (from the list above) that they think would work well. Each student in every group is to pick out a different text to examine. The purpose of the “expert groups” is to help form and strengthen the interpretation of each student’s texts. This day is designed for the students to clarify any questions they have about their theory within the expert group. It is also designed so the students can look over texts and pick one they feel most comfortable analyzing.


Day Nine:

Students are to check in with their expert groups and share what they are finding in their assigned texts (what they are now seeing in the text). They are also to pose questions for clarification on their interpretation and ask their peers for help. This day is designed primarily to be a work day. The students can work in groups or individually to strengthen their interpretation.


Day Ten:

The students should be finishing up their argument/interpretation of the text. They check in with their expert groups to once again clarify anything they are having trouble with. This day is another work day for the students. They should be getting some of their arguments down on paper (this is the beginnings of their paper).


Day Eleven:

The students are put into different groups. These groups contain students who are covering different theories. Ideally, there would be two students per theory; hopefully, there will be 6 students per group. In these groups, the students are to go one-by-one and give a summary of their text and present their argument. If possible, and if the text is short enough, the students will be able to skim through the work and then the student will present their argument.


Day Twelve:

This day is a continuation of day eleven. The students should still be presenting their arguments.


Day Thirteen:

The students are given the rubric for the paper. Then, they go to the computer lab to start a draft of their paper.


Day Fourteen:

This is another work day for the students. They are to continue writing their paper. If some are done, then peer editing can be done on the paper.


Day Fifteen:

This is the final day of the unit. Students will have their paper finished at the beginning of class. Then, as a class they discuss the following questions.


Supporting Materials

The main source that I found and worked off of was Deborah Appleman’s Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents (2000) New York: Teachers College Press and National Council of Teachers of English.


Otherwise, much of the information I found is located on my online activity. This is basically a clarification of the three different theories.


Hand Outs


Feminist Theory (Note: you can also use the info you found off of the internet activity to put on this worksheet)




Name some famous Feminists:




What does feminism aim to do?




What is the definition of feminism?




What is the definition of patriarchy?




Compare and contrast the two definitions.





What do critical feminist readers try to examine while looking at a text through a feminist lens?






What are the three waves of feminism? What did each wave do? What wave are we in right now?









List some interesting facts you found about feminism or feminist literary theory.




What Did You Learn About the Marxist Theory?




Tell me three things you learned about looking at a text through the lens of a Marxist reader.















Lit. Crit. Final Assignment(s)


Y’all have been doing so well on this unit. It’s a tuffy, so, congrats! Now that you’ve learned the three theories that we’ve covered, it’s time to go out on your own…sort of.


The run down for the rest of this unit is as follows:


Today, you will be getting into groups based on what literary theory you feel most comfortable with. These will become your “expert groups.”


This “group work” will NOT be graded. However, it is in your best interest to use these groups to further your understanding of the lenses. To use the groups to your best advantage you will:


Your expert group will be meeting for two or three class periods. Use your time wisely.




You move out of your expert groups to groups that have other different literary criticisms in them. You will have seminar style discussion in these groups. What does this look like? Well, let me tell you.




There is paper due! Yes, a paper! All of the above steps are working toward your building a solid and strong argument. There will be a separate handout on this later.



Guidelines for the Final Paper and Rubric


It’s that time folks, where all your super hard work is distilled into a final paper.


You’ve done the expert groups and strengthened your argument there. You’ve also done/are doing the seminar style groups and have further strengthened your argument/interpretation.


Now that you have your super strong argument, it is time for ME to read it.


What should this paper look like you wonder? Well, let me tell you.


An awesome paper will:


                            What critical theory you are using

                            What piece you are interpreting

                            What I should understand about your literary theory






On the back of this page is a rubric to help you with your wonderful creation.




Final Paper Rubric

Letter Grade.

Note: A “B” or a “D” will consist of not strictly circling an “A” or a “C”. There will be some from “C” circled and some from “A” circled.



F (Unacceptable. You will get this paper back and have to fix it up!)

Flow and Grammar (10% of Grade)

There are little (3) to no mistakes in grammar, and flow is not disruptive (does not distract in any way from the argument).

There are 6-8 mistakes in grammar. Also, there is some disruption in flow. Because of this distraction, less attention was paid to the overall argument.

There are too many (over 8) mistakes in grammar. The flow was choppy and the argument was severely weakened because of this.

Use of text (40 % of Grade)

Abundant use of text with in the paper. A general statement about the text is always backed up using a quote from the text.

There could be more use of text in the paper. Sometimes, a general statement about the text was made without being backed up by a quote from the text.

Hardly any quotes are used from the text. The text is only talked about in vague generalities.


(50% of Grade)


Reference to the specific literary theory is made often. There is also a good discussion about how the literary theory impacted your interpretation. Also, there will be references to specific ideas within the theory. For example: The Id, or The Death Instinct.

Reference to the specific literary theory is made. There is also some discussion about how the literary theory affected your interpretation of the text. There is no discussion about specificities within the theory. 

There is no reference to the specific literary theory and therefore, none of the other objective could be achieved.



There is not much grading in this unit. In fact, most of this unit is tons of build up for the final paper. Most of the things that the students are doing will be mainly practice. The items that they turn into the teacher are practice. The teacher gives comments that help further their understanding, or, the teacher guides the students to a “better” understanding through the comments made on the paper. Otherwise, a lot of participation grades are given, it is possible for a student to earn a “+” or a (-) letter grade in this unit as a result of poor or excellent participation. It is also up to the students to save the papers the teacher has written on. Because they are taking a college level course, the teacher is placing the burden of learning squarely on their shoulders.