Chris Adcock
English Language Arts
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • American Dream
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Preamble to the Constitution
  • Projects
  • We the People
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Defining the American Dream

    Defining the American Dream


    In this lesson, you will begin to think about the idea of the American Dream, and you'll learn about the project and requirements for this unit.

    In this lesson, students will begin to think about the idea of the American Dream, and they'll learn about the project and requirements for this unit.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.

    When I Think of America

    • Before they begin writing, spend a few minutes sharing students’ course discoveries if that would be helpful for your class.
    • At this point you're just trying to open things up; see what observations your students make, but don't get too involved in any particular point or disagreement right now. Do notice whether your class seems to have one vision or multiple visions of America.
      • ELL: Encourage ELLs who come from other countries to share their thoughts on America. They could tell about their family's decision to come here, how things match or do not match with their expectations, and so on. This viewpoint can be especially valuable in this lesson, as it will enable American-born students to glimpse a larger view of the United States in the world.


    Complete the following sentence.

    • When I think of America, I think of . . .

    Write and share your response with classmates. Discuss the trends you see emerging. Do you and your classmates agree, or do you see a variety of opinions?

    Defining the American Dream

    • The video presents a variety of responses to the idea of the American Dream, but it shows interviews with a very narrow group of people: those in Midtown Manhattan on a beautiful spring day, which may influence their answers.
      • SWD: It can be helpful for students with language processing and/or attentional vulnerabilities to have access and time to both preview and review the video (preferably with the ability to pause and repeat sections to aid comprehension).
    • Facilitate a discussion about student responses.

    Work Time

    Watch the short video clip from The New York Times , and then respond to the questions in writing.

    What does this video reveal about the American Dream?

    • What does it imply about the “American Reality”?
    • Do these responses represent America as a whole, or would responses have been different if there had been a more diverse group of interviewees?

    Write and discuss your responses with the class.

    Journal Entry 1

    Take the time to explain the routine of journal entries here: students will frequently be asked to write reflective pieces, sometimes from personal experience, usually expressing some sort of personal opinion. They'll be able to look back at their entries to help them consolidate their thinking when they move to more formal pieces of writing.

    • ELL: It can be helpful to provide time for ELLs to discuss and organize their thoughts with a partner before writing their reflections. Allow ELLs who share the same primary language to use that language when working together and to use a dictionary (or dictionaries).

    Make sure students choose abstract nouns that will elicit thoughtful responses.

    Work Time

    Is the American Dream your American Reality?

    Choose an abstract noun, such as justice or freedom , that you feel describes the American Dream. Create your American Dream Journal in your notebook to go with this unit. Write Journal Entry 1 (use this as your title, along with the date).

    • Has this dream proven to be reality for you? Why or why not? Explain.


    When I Think of America, Part 2

    If time allows, discuss some responses. Are there commonalities in different students' replies? How do these sentences compare to those from the beginning of class?

    • SWD: Some SWDs may benefit from being provided with multiple means of expressing their ideas in this task. For example, instead of presenting ideas “live,” you may allow students to record themselves speaking using video or audio recording.

    Work Time

    Complete the following sentence.

    • When I think of America, I would like to believe . . .

    Write and discuss the differences between these responses and your previous journal entry.

    Guiding Questions

    • Invite students to explore these ideas. They will revisit these questions at the end of the unit.
    • Facilitate a brief class discussion and encourage them to reference their thinking and writing from the previous tasks.

    Work Time

    Consider the Guiding Questions for this unit and discuss them with a partner.

    • What has been the historical vision of the American Dream?
    • What should the American Dream be? (What should we as individuals and a nation aspire to?)
    • How would women, former slaves, and other disenfranchised groups living during the time these documents were written respond to them?

    Share your thoughts with the class.

    Independent Reading Selection

    Some of the selections are more challenging than others; as you take a few minutes to review each of the choices with students, be transparent about the level of difficulty as well as the appeal of each so that students can choose what they feel up for. Later in the year you can guide students based on what you know of their reading levels; for now, let them choose based on interest and self-knowledge.

    • SWD: Monitor the ability of students with disabilities to pick a “just right” text. This would be a good opportunity to have a conversation with students with disabilities about their reading level and the steps for picking texts on their level.
    • ELL: Be sure that ELLs are engaging in the Independent Reading successfully and provide support as needed.

    Work Time

    During this unit, you will choose one novel to read independently. You’ll meet twice for discussions with classmates reading the same book; you will also integrate your insights from reading and discussing this novel into your final paper.

    • Take a few minutes now to read over the list of choices.
    • Rank your top three preferences and submit them to your teacher.


    Unit Accomplishments

    If appropriate for your class, share the longer, more descriptive document detailing the Unit Accomplishments with certain students or the whole class.


    Now that you have a sense of what the unit is about, read the following Unit Accomplishments and ask any questions that you have.

    During this unit, you will complete four accomplishments.

    • Read and annotate closely one of the documents that you feel expresses the American Dream.
    • Participate in an American Dream Convention, acting as a particular historical figure arguing his or her vision of the American Dream.
    • Write a paper, taking into consideration the different points of view in the documents read and answering the question, “What is the American Dream now?”
    • Write your own argument describing and defending your vision of what the American Dream should be.

    Journal Entry 2

    If students need more assistance, take a few minutes to paraphrase the statements. SWD: Students with expressive language difficulties may benefit from audio-recording their ideas to play back as they compose their journal entries. This can be done independently, with peer partners, or with the support of a teacher.

    If students need further guidance, you can ask these questions:

    ✓ Do they remind you of your experience?

    ✓ Do you particularly agree or disagree with them?


    Choose one or two of the sentences below that resonate with you and write Journal Entry 2 explaining your response.

    • The American Dream is for every American.
    • The American Dream is one thing for people with money and something different for people without money.
    • The American Dream means having a house, a car, a spouse, and children.
    • The American Dream is different for today’s teenagers from the way it was for teenagers of previous generations.

    Open Notebook

    Make sure both journal entries are completed and submitted to your teacher before the next lesson.