Grade: Senior
Subject: Literature

#4064. Thoreau and Emerson pre- and post-read

Literature, level: Senior
Posted Thu Dec 6 06:32:56 PST 2007 by Steven Avalos (
Hollywood Senior High, Los Angeles, CA USA
Materials Required: pencils, paper, handouts
Activity Time: 2 class periods
Concepts Taught: accessing Transcendentalism

The following questions are given to students before and after reading excerpts from Thoreau's Civil Disobedience and Emerson's Self-Reliance as contained in the Literature and Integrated Studies textbook.

PRE-READ, designed to access prior knowledge:


1. How do you know right from wrong?

2. Do all people know right from wrong?

3. Does everyone have the same idea about what is right and wrong? In other words, do all people share the same values about what is right and wrong? Explain:

4. Is it wrong to obey an authority higher than yourself, such as God, your parents or the government? Explain your position:

5. Can you count on yourself to always do what is right? Explain:

6. In Christianity, the devil is known as a great deceiver, someone who lies and deceives. With that in mind, how do you know that what you believe to be right is not actually wrong?

7. Does truth ever change? In other words, can something be true for you but not for someone else? Explain:

8. How do you know that something is true?


Directions: Using the text in your book, answer the following questions. You will find most of the answers in the text:

1. Emerson says, "What is true for you in your private heart, is true for all men;" Explain what he means:

2. "Imitation is suicide." Explain what Emerson means by this:

3. According to Emerson, what have "Great men" always done?

4. Explain what Emerson means by "self-reliance:"

5. According to Emerson, who should you trust and why?

6. When Emerson is told that his impulses might be from hell, how does he respond?

7. How does Emerson define "good and bad?"

8. According to Emerson, What are the two things that will bring a person peace?

Civil Disobedience:

1. Why does Henry David Thoreau refuse to pay his taxes?

2. Define civil disobedience:

3. Thoreau lists two characteristics that make "a majority of one." What are they?

4. What does Thoreau mean when he says, "it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel?"

5. Why was Thoreau let out of prison?

6. How does Thoreau describe the authority of the government?