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Thoreau in Concord: Creating a Community of Writers

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The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

Henry David Thoreau, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right. c1879.
Henry David Thoreau, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right. c1879.

This summer I participated in a week-long National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop titled “The Concord Landscapes and Legacy of Henry Thoreau.” The experience was so professionally and personally invigorating that I have developed two ideas about how to incorporate the philosophies and work of Thoreau into your classroom or library.

This first post revolves around turning your classroom or library into a community of writers. The second, for next month, will be an abbreviated version of the lessons I developed as part of the requirements of the workshop.

If time allows, begin by asking students to seek the names of the many literary and philosophical luminaries who lived and worked in Concord, Massachusetts, at the same time as Thoreau: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. If pressed for time, create a graphic organizer to provide the names. Ask small groups to conduct basic research about the lives and work of this impressive list. Lead a discussion about what they had in common. Ask students to think about how a community of writers may have been beneficial to each of them. Expand the experience by reading works by each of the writers such as “Thoreau’s Flute” by Alcott and “Each and All” by Emerson. As you read, ask students to look for evidence in the works that the writers valued each other and the community they shared.

Next, challenge students to brainstorm how they will form a community of writers in your classroom or library. Work together as a group to compose a statement of intent that outlines the ways they will support each other as writers throughout the year. This may include actions like agreeing to read two drafts of one work as well as less concrete assurances like agreeing to be positive and encouraging as well as truthful about needed improvements. Type up this statement and create a poster as a reminder for them each time there is an opportunity to strengthen each other as writers.

How do your students support each other as writers?


  1. Thank you for this stimulating example of community for writers. I think the communal aspect of writing often goes unnoticed (by everyone).

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