Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Finding Self-Reliance

Carla Lovett


Using Emerson's “Self-Reliance,” students relate what is read to their own experiences and feelings and use active listening to respond to other students' comments. Students synthesize other responses into their own thoughts about “Self-Reliance”.


The student applies a variety of response strategies, including rereading, note taking, summarizing, outlining, writing a formal report, and relating what is read to his or her own experiences and feelings.

The student uses effective strategies for informal and formal discussions, including listening actively and reflectively, connecting to and building on the ideas of a previous speaker, and respecting the viewpoints of others.


-Excerpt of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (in most American literature texts)
-List of sample quotes from “Self-Reliance” (See Associated File)
-Copies of Active Listening Chart (See Associated File)
-Pen or Pencil


1. Download the Active Listening Chart from the associated file and make copies for each student. (Two copies per student are recommended.)
2. Read “Self-Reliance” by Emerson. Most American literature texts have similar excerpts. Just be sure the excerpt you use contain the paragraphs which contain the sample quotes in the associated file.
3. Download the Sample Quotes from “Self-Reliance” from the associated file. Choose one from the list (or one of your own from “Self-Reliance”) and write your personal response (agree/disagree/how quote fits your definition of self-reliance/other).
4. Before class begins, write the sample quotes from “Self-Reliance” on the board or on chart paper.
5. Before class begins, draw a chart similar to the Active Listening Chart on the board to use as an example.


1. Read students the dictionary definition of self-reliance. (The Reader’s Digest Oxford Dictionary defines reliance as “trust, confidence,” so self-reliance would be trust or confidence in one’s self. The same dictionary defines self-reliance as “independence”.) Ask students to think of a person from history, popular culture, or their own lives (family, friends, etc.) whom they consider to be self-reliant. Tell students that today’s lesson will focus on listening actively and reflectively for the main idea of their classmates and relating others’ ideas to their own. (5 minutes)

2. Have the students read the excerpt from Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” After reading “Self-Reliance,” have the students choose a quote (a sentence or short passage) from “Self-Reliance” that they agree with, disagree with, or otherwise feel strongly about. Have students write their chosen quote on a piece of paper, along with a short paragraph that expresses what they feel Emerson is trying to say. Students write their personal feelings about the quote. Point out to students that they may choose one of the sample quotes from “Self-Reliance” which you have already written on the board or chart paper. (15–20 minutes)

3. Distribute the Active Listening Chart (two copies per student are recommended). Discuss the importance of listening carefully to the opinions of others and ask students to think about how others’ opinions relate to their own. Model how to use the Active Listening Chart by asking one student to share his or her quote and feelings about the quote. Demonstrate on the board how you would summarize that student’s main idea into a sentence. Next, read your own quote and statement to the class. Then formulate a response to the student’s opinion in comparison to your own. Write this on the board in the second column in order to model to students how to use the Active Listening Chart.(15 minutes)

4. Ask for another volunteer to share his or her response to a quote (or choose someone). After this student shares orally, pause to allow students a few minutes to summarize the main idea of the comments on their Active Listening Chart. Explain that after summarizing the main idea, students should make their own response in the second column of the chart. Allow approximately three minutes for students to complete their chart before going on to the next student. (5 minutes)

5. Select another student to orally share the main idea of the previous presenter and then to make a connection between that idea and their own. (They may say the previous presenter’s idea is in agreement with his or her idea or opposite or anywhere in between.) After this student shares his or her ideas, provide oral feedback as to whether the student successfully identified the main idea of the previous presenter and successfully made a connection between the previous presenter’s idea and their own. Pause for approximately three minutes for students to record the main idea of the second student’s ideas and to make their own response on their charts. (5 minutes)

6. Continue this process, moving from student to student, providing oral feedback after each presenter, and allowing approximately three minutes between each presenter for students to record on their charts until the end of the period. Allow as many students as possible to speak during the class period. (40 minutes)

7. At the end of the period, collect all students’ Active Listening Charts and writings about a quote from “Self-Reliance” as formative assessments.


1. Use the Active Listening Chart to formatively assess the student’s ability to:
-listen actively for the main idea
-listen and reflect on another student’s comments
-connect to and build on the ideas of a previous speaker

Rubric for Active Listening Chart
A: Summarizes the main idea for each speaker effectively. Responds to each speaker reflectively and connects to and builds on the ideas of each speaker in a critical/creative manner which shows mature thinking.

B: Completes summary of main ideas for each speaker with moderate accuracy. Responds to main ideas and attempts to make connections to own thoughts even though may not always be successful.

C: Has a few blanks on main ideas and/or own responses and/or has not accurately identified the
main ideas or made a connecting response in many instances.

D/F: Has not completed most of the main ideas of the speakers and does not have most or any of
their own responses OR main ideas are weak attempts to summarize the speaker and their
own responses show little or no effort to connect others’ ideas to their own.

2. Use the quote from “Self-Reliance” and student’s personal response to formatively assess the student’s ability to:
-apply the response strategy of summarizing
-relate what is read to his or her own experiences and feelings

Rubric for Emerson Quote and Paragraph
A: Quote chosen from “Self-Reliance” has meaningful content. Student has accurately
summarized Emerson’s idea into their own words along with providing a clear, specific
personal response that relates what has been read to the student’s own experiences and

B/C: Quote chosen has meaningful content, and student has attempted to summarize Emerson’s
idea into their own words. Student has also attempted to provide a personal response to the

D/F: Quote chosen has no significant content and/or student has chosen a quote, but has not
written any summary or personal response.

Since these are intended as formative assessments, the grades indicated on the rubrics are merely for guiding student progress. However, if students have had adequate practice with the standards, then the assessments could be summative, in which case the grades on the rubric could be used.


1. This lesson could be modified for use with any piece of literature that lends itself well to student response.
2. As an extension to this lesson, students could write an essay using their Active Listening Chart to compare and contrast their personal opinions regarding “Self-Reliance” to the opinions of their classmates.

Web Links

A neat interactive site on Emerson. This site also includes the full text of “Self-Reliance” plus many other works by Emerson.
Tribute to Ralph Waldo Emerson

Web supplement for Finding Self-Reliance
Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Guide to Resources

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