Activity Overview

Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were both influenced by the process of nonviolent protests set forth by Henry David Thoreau in his letter “Resistance to Civil Government”. As one of the key leaders of the Transcendental movement, Thoreau reflected some of the key themes of the movement that carried over into our modern consciousness. Sometimes it is hard for students to visualize what these key themes mean and how they connect to the world around them.

As a lesson, have your students create a storyboard for the three key Transcendental ideas that appear in King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Have them choose a part from the letter where that theme appears, and quote it below the picture that they create.

  • Nonconformity: refusal to accept or conform to common rules, beliefs, laws, or conventions
  • Intuition: the belief that every person possesses an understanding of right and wrong, of moral and immoral things
  • Self-Reliance: the practice of depending on one’s own capabilities to make decisions and meet one’s own needs

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that illustrates three key Transcendental ideas in "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

  1. Use the template your teacher provided.
  2. Find a quote from the letter that describes the theme.
  3. Write the name of the theme in the Title box.
  4. Illustrate the theme in the cell with scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.

Lesson Plan Reference


(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

5 Points
3 Points
1 Points
The descriptions are clear and at least two sentences.
The descriptions can be understood but it are somewhat unclear.
The descriptions are unclear and are not at least two sentences.
The illustrations represent the descriptions using appropriate scenes, characters and items.
The illustrations relate to the descriptions, but are difficult to understand.
The illustrations do not clearly relate to the descriptions.
Evidence of Effort
Work is well written and carefully thought out.
Work shows some evidence of effort.
Work shows little evidence of any effort.
Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are mostly correct.
Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are somewhat correct.
Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are mostly incorrect.

How to Teach Transcendentalism with a Cross-Curricular Approach


Introduction to Transcendentalism

Begin with a lecture or presentation on the origins, key figures, and principles of Transcendentalism. Follow this with reading and discussing excerpts from Emerson's "Self-Reliance" and Thoreau's "Walden". Conclude this step with a reflective writing exercise where students express their initial thoughts on Transcendentalism.


Historical Context of Transcendentalism

Teach about the historical period of Transcendentalism, particularly focusing on 19th century American society. Explore the influence of social and political issues of the time, such as the abolitionist movement and women’s rights. Have students create a timeline that links major historical events with key developments in Transcendentalism.


Transcendentalism and Nature

Discuss the Transcendentalist perspective on nature and its spiritual importance. Organize an outdoor class or nature walk to allow students to experience and reflect on their connection with nature. Facilitate a project where students research current environmental issues and discuss how Transcendentalist ideals can inform modern environmentalism.


Culminating Cross-Curricular Project

Assign a comprehensive project that requires students to incorporate elements from English, history, and science to demonstrate their understanding of Transcendentalism. Encourage them to explore the relevance of Transcendentalist ideals today, drawing connections to current social movements or environmental activism. Conclude with a class exhibition or presentation day where students showcase and discuss their projects.

Frequently Asked Questions about Concept Map for Transcendentalism

Who were the key figures in the Transcendentalist movement?

The Transcendentalist movement, primarily based in New England during the early to mid-19th century, boasted several key figures who were instrumental in shaping its philosophy. Ralph Waldo Emerson, often considered the father of Transcendentalism, was pivotal in its establishment through his essays and speeches, notably "Nature" and "The American Scholar." Henry David Thoreau, a close associate of Emerson, further expanded Transcendentalist ideas, particularly with his work "Walden," which reflects on living simply and in harmony with nature. Margaret Fuller, one of the few female voices in the movement, contributed significantly through her feminist work "Woman in the Nineteenth Century," which intertwined Transcendentalist ideals with women's rights. Other notable figures include Amos Bronson Alcott and George Ripley, who explored educational reform and communal living, respectively, inspired by Transcendentalist principles.

What is the relationship between Transcendentalism and religion?

Transcendentalism had a complex relationship with religion, primarily Christianity. While it didn’t reject religion outright, Transcendentalism advocated for an intuitive, personal spirituality over organized religion and dogma. The movement was influenced by Romanticism's reaction against the rationalist perspective of Enlightenment, and it embraced elements from Eastern religions and spirituality. Transcendentalists believed in the inherent goodness of both people and nature, seeing the divine spirit or a universal soul reflected in every individual and in the natural world. This perspective led them to emphasize personal experience and intuition as the highest sources of spiritual truth, diverging from traditional Christian doctrines regarding sin and redemption. Their views contributed to a broader religious discourse in America, influencing the development of liberal Christian denominations and Unitarianism, and later impacting the New Thought and spiritualist movements.

How can worksheets be used to guide students in exploring key Transcendentalist texts?

Worksheets can be an effective tool for guiding students through the exploration of key Transcendentalist texts. They can be structured to include a variety of activities that encourage close reading, critical analysis, and personal reflection. For example, worksheets can contain specific passages from texts such as Emerson's "Self-Reliance" or Thoreau's "Walden" followed by questions that prompt analysis of the language, themes, and underlying philosophies. Comparative questions can help students draw connections between different texts or authors within the Transcendentalist movement. Activities could also include creative responses, such as asking students to write their reflections or interpretations, encouraging them to engage with the material on a personal level. Additionally, worksheets can be used to contextualize these texts within the broader historical and cultural background of the Transcendentalist movement, providing students with a more comprehensive understanding of its significance.

*(This Will Start a 2-Week Free Trial - No Credit Card Needed)
© 2024 - Clever Prototypes, LLC - All rights reserved.
StoryboardThat is a trademark of Clever Prototypes, LLC, and Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office