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Lesson 3: Catalyst for Change

Lesson Overview:

Through reading a quote from Thoreau’s Walden and “Thoreau’s Nightmare,” a poem written by Allison Rittershaus, a 7th grade student from New Hampshire, students are introduced to the ideas of deliberate choices and living within the means of nature. Students are given background information on Thoreau to help them understand his philosophy. They begin to examine the ideas of the quote and the poem with the goal of thinking about how our world has changed since the time of Thoreau, and how each of them can be a catalyst for change by making responsible choices.

Number of class periods: 2


Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

  • RL. 7.6 Analyze how an author develops and contrast the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text. Analyze interpretations of a story, drama, or poem by authors who represent diverse world cultures.
  • RI.7.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others
  • W.7.10 Write routinely over extended time frames and short time frames for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
  • L. 7.6 Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expressions.

Education for Sustainability Core Content

  • Cultural Preservation and Transformation A4
  • Natural Laws and Ecological Principles F5, F6
  • Multiple Perspectives H11, H12
  • Inventing and Affecting the Future G1, G3

Overarching Question:

• How are we all going to live well within the means of nature?

Essential Question:

• How can we learn to live responsibly within nature to ensure a sustainable future?

Guiding Questions:

• What does one need to survive? How is that different from what wants to survive?
• How is one motivated to change?
• Can we continue to go the way that we are (in order to thrive)?

Resources/Materials for this lesson:

Journal #3 Thoreau quote (included)
• Rittershaus, Allison. “Thoreau’s Nightmare.” (included)
Suggested Socratic Seminar questions (included)
Journal #4 (included)
Catalyst for Change Journal Rubric (included)


1. Distribute Journal #3 (Thoreau quote) and read the quote to the class. Note to teacher: decide if you want to distribute this journal assignment a day in advance so students complete the response for homework or complete this as they enter the classroom.

2. Students share responses to the Journal prompt.

3. Distribute “Thoreau’s Nightmare.” An option is to give the students a sampling of Thoreau's poetry so they will have a better perspective on Thoreau’s philosophy.

4. Read the poem aloud to students, asking them to listen the first time.

5. Clarify unfamiliar words or terms.

6. Instruct students to listen to the poem a second time, with a pen in hand to annotate.

7. Students and teacher will participate in a Socratic Seminar. (class discussion)

Note to teacher:
Use the suggested Socratic Seminar questions (included) or create your own questions according to needs of the class.

  • What do we feel we control?
  • What are the consequences of being oblivious?
  • Who “distorts” history?
  • Who “tells” history?
  • Who would the author of this poem blame for the “noise”
  • How do we get rid of the “noise?”
  • What image is conveyed from a “tight fist of chaos, of hurried crosswalks/ and spilled coffee/ of stifling poison air”?
  • What would Thoreau think about the world today?
  • What would Thoreau think about ways to help our future?
  • What would Thoreau think about our future?
  • Would Rittershaus agree with Thoreau? How do you know?
  • Explain why you think Rittershaus feels this way?
  • How can one be oblivious to one’s surroundings?
  • Explain the symbolism of Starbucks.
  • Why does the author choose to italicize certain words?
  • Does this poem support sustainability? Explain your response.
  • What would Thoreau find nightmarish about the description the poet uses?
  • Which is more like the real world, Thoreau’s ideas or Rittershaus’s? Why?
  • Which world would you prefer to live in? Why? (Journal entry)
  • What history do you think the speaker sees as distorted?
  • Why don’t “they” or “we” hear the noise (look at the last 4 lines of the poem)?
  • What are the sorts of pollution Rittershaus refers to (ex: noise, emotional, environmental)?
  • What would Al Gore think about the Thoreau’s
  • What would Al Gore think about the Rittershaus’ poem? ideas?

8. Students complete Journal #4.
Note to teacher: In Journal #4, Part B, students are given the opportunity to write in IM language. Teacher may decide to take this part of the assignment out and ask students to write a more formal dialogue.

EfS Assessment/Scoring Criteria

Performance Indicator
Assessment Instrument
Scoring Criteria
Cultural Preservation and Transformation A4 Journal Reflection #3 Rubric (included)
Natural Laws and Ecological Principles F5, F6 Journal Reflection #4 Rubric (included)


PNW/BOCES Curriculum Center
Revised 2/17/13