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Teaching Guide

Teaching My Ántonia

This ain't your grandfather's prairie.

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Prairie life isn’t all Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon. (And if any of your students get that reference, you’re already ahead of the game.) It’s hard work—as Willa Cather shows in My Ántonia—but teaching it doesn’t have to be.

In this guide you will find

  • a lesson exploring just what type of novel this book is.
  • modern resources like a literary tour through Nebraska.
  • discussion questions on themes of romance, ethnicity, and more.

Our guide can help you teach this pioneering classic without breaking a sweat.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

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: This one's a fun one. You'll use the song stylings of the great Emmylou Harris to shed light on My Ántonia. In the process, your students will get to bust some musical chops, exercise their analytical minds, and then put those minds to use in a comparative essay.

Length of Lesson: 1 class period (approximately 60 minutes) + an essay for homework. You may also use part of an additional class period to wrap it all up after the essays are done by giving students a little time to share their work.

Materials Needed: 

  • Emmylou Harris's song "My Ántonia" 
  • Printed copies of the lyrics (or individual online access to them)
  • Chart paper and markers

Step 1: Have the students lend you their ears and play Emmylou Harris's song "My Ántonia" for them. Full blast, of course. Before you play it, you should hand out copies of the lyrics for students to read as they listen.

Step 2: Now its time for everybody to get up out of their chairs. And no, it's not for dancing. Your students are going to play a little game of Opposite Corners.

How's that work? Here are the basics:

  1. Have your students gather in the middle of the room. 
  2. Ask them to decide whether or not the book and the song are "Similar" or "Different" in terms of their narrative style and content. 
  3. The students should move either to one corner of the room labeled "Similar" or to the opposite corner of the room labeled "Different," depending on their opinion.

Once students have settled into their corners, it's time for a little group work. Have them talk to each other about why they chose that corner, and drum up some supporting examples from the song (music and lyrics) and the novel (using actual quotes).

Be sure to let them know that this discussion will be followed by a brief presentation from both camps, so they'll need to keep track of their conversation. Students can write their explanations on chart paper at each camp during discussion, and then use the chart paper to guide them in their explanation to the class.

To guide their discussion, give them the following questions:

  • Is the use of landscape imagery similar or different in the song and the book? How?
  • Is the narrator's voice similar or different? How?
  • Is the tone of the book similar or different to the tone of the song? How?
  • Is the treatment of women similar or different? How?
  • Is the treatment of men similar or different? How?

Step 3: Regroup. Have each camp present their findings to the class. Each presentation should try to be as convincing as possible. Then, once the presentations are done, take a quick vote. Which camp has more takers?

Step 4: To bring it all together, have the students sit down and write a brief one-paragraph summary of how the song compares to the novel. This should help them prep for the longer essay, which they'll write at home.

Step 5: Ask the students to use their summaries as notes for a larger essay that compares the song to the text on a specific topic, which they'll complete for homework.

Shmoop's got your back. Give your students the following prompt:

"What do these two Ántonias have to do with each other? Is the song clearly inspired by the novel? Is the song a reinterpretation of it? Are they stylistically and thematically similar? Or do the two have absolutely nothing in common aside from the title?

In a 2-3 page essay, tackle these questions by comparing the song to the novel. You should focus on a specific theme, like, say, landscape or the depiction of women as you compare and contrast the two works. And you should use at least two quotes each from the novel and the song."

Step 6 (Optional): When the students hand in their essays, be sure to have a wrap up discussion about the comparing they've done. You might even offer your own take on how Emmylou has shaken things up with her tune.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th and 10th grade: Literary Response & Analysis 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.11, 3.12; Writing Strategies 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9; Writing Applications 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5; Listening & Speaking Strategies 1.1, 1.7, 1.11, 1.14; Speaking Applications 2.4. 11th and 12th grade: Literary Response & Analysis 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.8, 3.9; Writing Strategies 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.9; Writing Applications 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3; Listening & Speaking Strategies 1.1, 1.11; Speaking Applications 2.3)

Instructions for Your Students

Shmoop's got a question for you. If you were to turn My Ántonia into a song, what kind of song would be? A pop hit? A reggae jam? A jazz riff? A power ballad?

Today, you can ponder that question while listening to one singer-songwriter's interpretation of the novel. Emmylou Harris's famous tune "My Ántonia" takes the Cather novel as its inspiration. It's your job today to figure out how the song stacks up against the novel in more ways than one.

Step 1: Open your ears and take a listen to Emmylou Harris's song "My Ántonia". Be sure to follow along with the lyrics your teacher hands out.

Step 2: Put on your dancin' shoes—it's time to get moving.

Okay, we were kidding about the dancing part. But you are going to play a little game of Opposite Corners.

How's that work? Here are the basics:

  1. Gather with your classmates in the middle of the room. 
  2. Decide whether or not the book and the song are "Similar" or "Different" in terms of their narrative style and content. 
  3. Once you've made the call, move either to one corner of the room labeled "Similar" or to the opposite corner of the room labeled "Different," depending on your opinion.

Settled in? Awesome. Get together with your likeminded compadres and discuss why you chose this corner. Be sure to drum up some supporting examples from the song (the lyrics and the music itself are fair game) and the novel. That means quotes.

As you and your groupmates talk it out, jot down some notes about your discussion on chart paper. This will help you when it comes time to present your findings to the opposite camp, which you'll be doing next.

Be sure your conversation tackles the following key questions:

  • Is the use of landscape imagery similar or different in the song and the book? How?
  • Is the narrator's voice similar or different? How?
  • Is the tone of the book similar or different to the tone of the song? How?
  • Is the treatment of women similar or different? How?
  • Is the treatment of men similar or different? How?

Step 3: Once your discussion is all wrapped up, and you've got some good notes on your chart paper, present your camp's opinion to the other corner. Your presentation should be as convincing as possible, because when both corners have presented, your teacher will take a vote.

Step 4: Vote's over. Now it's time to write. Jot down a brief one-paragraph summary of how the song compares to the novel. This step will help you prep for the longer essay you'll write for homework, so make it count.

Step 5: At home, use your summary as notes as you complete the following prompt:

What do these two Ántonias have to do with each other? Is the song clearly inspired by the novel? Is the song a reinterpretation of it? Are they stylistically and thematically similar? Or do the two have absolutely nothing in common aside from the title?

In a 2-3 page essay, tackle these questions by comparing the song to the novel. You should focus on a specific theme, like, say, landscape or the depiction of women as you compare and contrast the two works. And you should use at least two quotes each from the novel and the song.

Step 6: All done with your essay? Great, get ready to hand it in and, if there's time, have a quick wrap discussion by sharing what you wrote in your essay with your classmates. Be sure to ask your teacher for their take on how Emmylou has shaken things up with her tune.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING MY ÁNTONIA?

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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