Critical Literacy: Women in 19th-Century Literature

The teacher will introduce students to fundamental ideas of critical literacy through a reading and critical analysis of two pieces of literature from the 1800s, focusing on each author's intent and intended audience.  Selections from Louisa May Alcott and Godey's Lady's Book will be included. Students first read and discuss two chapters from a story by Louisa May Alcott. Each student then chooses a literary piece for individual analysis from the online archives of a popular magazine from that era. After reading and studying the two selections, students write an essay in which they compare each author's purpose and voice.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
CLE 3003.1.4
Consider language as a reflection of its time and culture.
CLE 3003.3.1
Write in a variety of modes, with particular emphasis on persuasion, for different purposes and audiences.
CLE 3003.8.1
Demonstrate knowledge of significant works of American literature from the colonial period to the present and make relevant comparisons.
CLE 3003.8.3
Recognize the conventions of various literary genres and understand how they articulate the writers vision.
CLE 3003.8.4
Analyze works of American literature for what is suggested about the historical period in which they were written.
GLE 0501.5.1
Refine logic skills to facilitate learning and to enhance thoughtful reasoning.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

Students will:

  • Develop an understanding of the concept of critical literacy.
  • Practice skills involved in being critically literate as they integrate the ideas of voice, perspective, and author intent into their reading.
  • Explore perspectives of critical literacy in a guided class discussion of an assigned text.
  • Develop individual skills of critical literacy through critical analysis of a self-selected text.
  • Demonstrate persuasive writing skills in a comparison essay.
  • Demonstrate an ability to critically read and respond to 19th-century literature through class discussions and writing assignments.

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • Have one or several students read the rest of Behind A Mask. A student who does this could give an oral summary to the class, telling what occurs in the rest of the story, to earn extra credit.
  • Have students read (critically!) other "blood and thunder" tales by Louisa May Alcott (find a number of them listed at Louisa May Alcott: Biography and Works) and share their impressions about these stories with the class through a traditional book report or an informal oral report.
  • Have students learn more about the Alcott family and Orchard House, their home in Concord, Massachusetts, at the website of the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association. Groups of students could work on individual members of the Alcott family and present a paper or oral report to the class on what they learn.
  • Invite students to learn more about Godey's most famous editor, Sarah J. Hale, and her beliefs in the importance of women's education, by reading the essay Godey's Lady's Book and Sarah Josepha Hale. A student choosing this assignment could then present his or her information to the class as an oral report to earn extra credit.
  • Have students read a selection (or the entirety) of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights as an example of the work of an earlier 19th-century writer. Students can then write a comparison essay comparing Brontë's writing with Alcott's. The website Emily Brontë (1818-48): An Overview offers an analysis of themes and family in Bronte's work. (This activity could also be the foundation for another lesson unit).

Helpful Hints


  • Computers with Internet access and printing capability (preferably one computer for each student)
  • Overhead projector (optional)