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Teaching Guide

Teaching Little Women

Marmee's the word.

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If your students have little interest in reading Little Women, we can give you a little help. 

In this guide you will find

  • a lesson on the historical and ideological contexts of Little Women; namely, the Civil War and transcendentalism. 
  • an activity writing personal ads for the March girls. 
  • modern pop culture connections like book clubs, biographies, and movie adaptations.

Actually, our teaching guide offers a lot of help, even if this book isn't called Lot of Women.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Goin' to the chapel and we're gonna get married… At least, that's what the March sisters are hoping for. Unfortunately, finding love ain't easy for a girl in post-Civil War America. The pickings are slim and the competition is tough for eligible young men, so we're going to help these sisters out.

In this lesson, students will conduct a character analysis of the four March sisters in order to write personal ads to help each girl reel in a mate. This writing assignment can be given as homework or an in class assignment and should take one to two class periods to complete. If you want to have more time for discussion, give the assignment for homework, and then use class time the next day to read and talk about the results.

Materials Needed: 

  • Copies of Little Women

Step 1: So who are our eligible bachelorettes? Start things off with a brief class discussion about our four leading ladies. You may want to put some of this brainstorming on the board and encourage students to take notes to help with the writing portion of the assignment.

  • What are each sister's primary qualities or characteristics?
  • What does each sister value most in life and relationships?
  • How does each sister change over the course of the novel?

Step 2: Explain to the students that they will be writing personal ads for each of the March sisters, presenting each girl to the world as she would present herself. Would Beth's ad be modest and self-effacing? Would Amy angle for a rich catch, but express a little doubt at the last moment?

One thing to mention to the class is that the March girls change quite a bit over the course of the novel, so students will have to decide if this is an ad Amy would place while she is taking art lessons at home and planning a career as an artist or after traveling Europe for a bit with Aunt March. What Amy wants in life and in a possible beau would be different depending on the timing, but of course, she is always Amy. Tell students to write a brief line at the top of the page to indicate their timeframe: "Jo during her year away from home" or "Amy touring Europe."

Step 3: Now that the writing part of the assignment is done, let's make things interesting. Collect the papers, shuffle a bit, and read an ad without naming a sister. Ask the class to guess who the ad represents and what the clues are. This may lead naturally to disagreement about the characters, and that's all good. The whole point here is character analysis, so get students talking with questions like:

  • How does this make Jo sound? Fun, or a bit domineering?
  • Which traits of Amy's does this ad show?
  • Would Meg say something like this?
  • What does Beth want according to this ad? Does that fit with the text?

Step 4: Take it back to the text: We're going to let the students evaluate each other on how well their ads line up with the book.

Every student should get a set of ads (not their own) to analyze. You can pass them out at random, have students trade with a partner, or have students choose from those read in class.

For each personal ad, students will decide if they believe the ad accurately reflects the character as presented in the text or not. They'll need to support their evaluation with two to three pieces of text evidence. For example, if they think the ad is accurate, they'll find text evidence in support of the writer's choices; if they believe the ad is inaccurate, they'll find evidence to refute the writer's choices.

  • Where does this portrait of the character line up with the book? Evidence?
  • Where (if anywhere) does this ad miss the proverbial boat? Evidence?

(Notice how we have students doing some of your grading leg-work for you in the form of a peer review? You can thank us later.)

To navigate around the novel, direct students to Shmoop's summary for help in remembering just when Jo and Laurie had that big fight, or when Amy decided to marry for the money.

Instructions for Your Students

The back cover of Little Women all too often sums up the four sisters with something like: "Pretty Meg, Tomboy Jo, Housewifely Beth, and Vain Amy." Yes, that is from an actual cover. Blame the publisher.

We can do better. The March girls can't be summed up in just one word each; they are far more nuanced and complicated than that. And it's a good thing too since they are all out to snag an eligible bachelor for a husband, and nobody wants a flat, one-sided mate. The girls have their work cut out for them though, what with most of the eligible young men having perished in the Civil War, the numbers aren't working in their favor.

To help these ladies out, you will take on the voice of each March sister in turn, and write a personal ad that will be discreetly published in the local newspaper. (Or perhaps discreetly hidden in the back of a drawer, where many personal ads have gone before.) A personal ad, of course, is one where the writer looks for a date or a love interest. How someone writes a personal ad is quite self revealing. So reveal away; show what you know about our girls.

Step 1: So, who are our four eligible bachelorettes? Let's refresh. Oh, and you might want to take notes here to help when it comes time to write your ads.

  • What are each sister's primary qualities or characteristics?
  • What does each sister value most in life and relationships?
  • How does each sister change over the course of the novel?

Step 2: You will be writing personal ads for each of the March sisters, presenting each girl to the world as she would present herself. Would Beth's ad be modest and self-effacing? Would Amy angle for a rich catch, but express a little doubt at the last moment?

For each ad, a good solid paragraph of 200-300 words or so will do nicely. And we don't want to hear any whining about the length; that's actually not much space to reveal a whole complex character, so you'll need to be concise and get right to the juicy stuff.

Important points to hit are each girl's description of herself and how she views a potential partner. What does she tell about herself (and what does she not tell)? What does she say she wants (and what does she leave out)? You probably know that people sometimes reveal things about themselves that they don't realize in something like a personal ad. Think about how you might get this across without coming out and saying it directly. Does this girl worry about the future? Value independence? Is she shy but trying to hide it? What really strikes you about each of the March girls? Now work those details into your ad.

As you write, remember that the girls change quite a bit through the novel, so you'll need to choose a time when your ad is written. For Beth maybe it's after she has recovered from scarlet fever but before becoming very weak. For Jo, perhaps it's before her year away from home. Write a brief line at the top of the page to indicate your chosen timeframe: "Jo during her year away from home" or "Amy touring Europe."

Step 3: Guess who? Let's read a few of your ads out loud, sans name. Your job is to guess which girl the ad is for based on the clues the writer has provided.

First, what does the ad say about Meg, Jo, Beth or Amy? Second, do you think the novel supports that view of Meg, Jo, Beth or Amy? If you don't agree with an ad, speak up! If you thought an ad was right on the money, say why. Don't be shy about sharing your opinion. We're not afraid of a little debate.

Step 4: Now for some heavier analysis; you know, with proof from the text and all that (you didn't really think you were going to get out of this assignment without hunting down some text evidence, did you?). We're going to let you all evaluate each other on how well your ads line up with the book. Each of you will get a set of ads (not your own) to analyze. For each personal ad, you will write a short response explaining whether you think this ad describes the sister really well—or not. You'll need to support your evaluation with two to three pieces of text evidence. For example, if you think the ad is accurate, you'll find text evidence in support of the writer's choices; if you believe the ad is inaccurate, you'll find evidence to refute the writer's choices.

  • Where does this portrait of the character line up with the book? Evidence?
  • Where (if anywhere) does this ad miss the proverbial boat? Evidence?

To navigate around the novel, check out Shmoop's summary for help in remembering just when Jo and Laurie had that big fight, or when Amy decided to marry for the money.

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING LITTLE WOMEN?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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