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British Literary Movements

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Student Activities for British Literary Movements Include:

As the world around us changes, so does the way that we see the world, and express that vision. Literature, arts, and philosophy evolve to mirror their historic and social context. An appreciation of literature is grounded by an understanding of the work’s context. Looking at the literary movements helps students articulate the common approach and ideas of each movement and time period.

It is important for students of British Literature to understand the the author and characters’ attitudes. Connecting a piece of writing to the ideologies of its time is an significant component in this task.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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Prominent Literary Movements Taught in British Literature



Anglo-Saxon (449)

Characterized by an oral tradition of epic poems, songs, and poetry. Old English or Anglo Saxon literature was well established by pre-Christian Germanic settlers. One of the most well known works of this time period is “Beowulf”, an epic poem about the eponymous Geatish warrior.



Medieval (1066)

Medieval or Middle English was prompted by the invasion of the Normans into Britain, when the Duke of Normandy defeated King Harold of Britain at the Battle of Hastings. The language was a dialect was of French descent with Germanic influences, usually called Anglo-Norman. This diversion brought English closer to what we know and use today. Famous works during this period include the History of the Kings of Britain (containing the legend of King Arthur) and the Canterbury Tales. This period had a large focus on Roman Catholic church, as it was an essential part of everyday life for both royalty and peasants.



Renaissance (1485)

The English Renaissance saw the rise of the merchant class in Britain. Math, science, technology, education, and exploration became more accessible to the masses. The feudal system was slowly dissolving as middle class merchants rose in wealth. Plays became popular as they appealed to all classes. Notable playwrights include Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare, arguably the greatest dramatist of all time.



Neoclassical (1660)

Neoclassical writers tried to imitate the style of the Roman and Greeks, “Neo” meaning “new” and “classical” referring to classic works. This era was the starting point of the modern middle class and the tradition of afternoon tea. People would gather to discuss politics and other ideas of the Enlightenment. Characteristics of writing focused primarily on people's appearances rather than their true feelings or intentions. In contrast to the renaissance that saw people as inherently good, Neoclassical literature saw man as ‘flawed’.



Romantic (1798)

Romanticism shifted from reason, logic, and science to a belief in the senses. Feelings, imagination, and experiences were valued above all. Previously an emphasis was on an interest in urban society, during this movement, people focused on rural and natural life. Works consisted of extremely personal works that touched on the mysterious and infinite world.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a famous work from the Romantic Period.

Victorian (1832)

Beginning with the crowning of Queen Victoria and culminating the year of her death, the Victorian era saw a battle between Romantic/Gothic and Neoclassical/Enlightenment ideas. During this time, the middle class far outnumbered the nobles. Many upper middle class members felt that they could join the ranks of their betters and focused on acting like the dignitaries of the time. Characters and authors of this time period are often stereotyped as being stuffy, hypocritical, and narrow-minded.

Charles Dickens is a well-known Victorian author.

Modernism (1900-Current)

Modernist British authors had a sense of betrayal after being devastated by two world wars in Europe. They lost faith in their institutions of government, which they once believed in and now saw as having led them into bloody conflicts. They no longer saw their government or even their religions as reliable means to provide answers in life, therefore turning away and looking to seek the answers themselves. Sometimes using allegory or even fantasy to do so.

Disillusioned by the atrocities of war, writing became focused more on form than content. Popular British Modernists include: George Orwell, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley.

British Literary Movements Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

British Literary Movements Timeline

In this activity, students will create a timeline of all the literary movements in British literature. Have them use elements, like characters and settings, that are indicative of the time period to depict what life was like in the era. In the description boxes, students can answer a variety of questions about the time period.

Examples include:

  • What were the main beliefs of the people during this movement?
  • What significant events prompted people's rationales to change?
  • What aspects of culture derive from this movement?
British Literary Movements Timeline

Example

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Depict the Time: Characteristics of the Periods of British Literature

Using a multi-cell storyboard, ask students to show their knowledge of a time period by depicting what the people, settings, homes, and technology looked like. These categories are important to understand because literature is affected by the popular ideology, technology, advancements, people, and physical setting of its time. Depicting the characteristics of each period will also help students make real world connections. Making connections is a very important skill to acquire and practice.

Using this activity, students will make text-to-text and text-to-world connections. They will also be able to discuss commonalities between texts from a time period. By understanding the motivations of the people in the period, students studying American literature will retain and comprehend each era.

British Literary Movements - Characteristics of the Period

Example

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British Literary Philosophies

Each literary period was animated by a common philosophy, or way of thinking. Using a T-Chart is an effective way for students to understand the many differences in style and ideology between literary periods. By depicting categories like values, historical events, style of writing, and common elements, students will make connections and see the progression of culture. They will also be able to see how these values expressed themselves in the works of the period.

British Literary Movements - Philosophies of a Time Period

Example

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Author Chart for a British Literary Period

As you read a work of literature from each movement, ask students to track the author(s) and themes. By the end of the year, students will be able to reflect on themes that endured over time and distinguish them from themes that were a direct result of the period.

In the example below, a student created an author board for William Shakespeare after reading his works from The Renaissance. Students can extend their storyboards to track one author from each period or to do all the authors read during class. The options are endless!

British Literary Movement - Authors

Example

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•   (English) British Literary Movements   •   (Español) Movimientos Literarios Británicos   •   (Français) Mouvements Littéraires Britanniques   •   (Deutsch) Britischen Literarischen Bewegungen   •   (Italiana) Movimenti Letterari Britannici   •   (Nederlands) British Literary Movements   •   (Português) Movimentos Literários Britânicos   •   (עברית) תנועות ספרותיות בריטיות   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الحركات الأدبية البريطانية