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Teaching Guide

Teaching Our Town

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Our Town is probably nothing like your town—or any of your students' towns. This play is like Pleasantville; and just as Reese Witherspoon learned to appreciate that black-and-white town's inhabitants, your students can learn to love the residents of Grover's Corners.

No Tobey Maguire here, but you will find

  • an activity about tombstones and mortality.
  • modern pop culture connections, like a version of Our Town starring that woman from the Mad About You marathons on late-night Thursdays (Helen Hunt).
  • essay questions exploring what makes Our Town so gosh darn American.

When you visit Our Town, don't forget our teaching guide. It's more valuable than Fodor's.

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.

Instructions for You

Objective: As the title suggests, the setting in Our Town is one of the central concerns of the play. (Check out the "Setting" section for more info.) It's not always easy to get students to realize the importance of place in this play though. In this activity you'll facilitate this understanding by having the students create their own travel brochures for Grover's Corners. This way they'll get a hands-on feel for how Grover's Corners functions as the all-important environment in which the characters of Our Town live their lives.

Thorton Wilder provides plenty of description of Grover's Corners in the opening monologue of the Stage Manager. He addresses everything from the longitude and latitude of the town—it's in New Hampshire—to the location of the churches and the composition of the crops in the Gibbs' garden. The students can really mine these rich descriptions for content for their travel brochures. Also, it'll give them a launching off point to expand the world of Wilder's play and add their own elements to Grover's Corner. This way, they'll learn to make distinctions between the kinds of things that make sense in the world of Our Town (e.g. a fair) and those that could never happen there (e.g. an alien abduction).

Length of Lesson: 1 class period + homework (students may need up to a week to complete their brochures)

Materials Needed: 

  • Copies of Our Town 
  • Internet/Library access for research
  • Publishing software (MS Word, Pages, etc.); apps (LucidPress has a free online brochure maker that allows you to save/print your brochure if you sign up for a free account); or art supplies
  • Sample travel brochures—scoop some up at your local Visitor's Center or travel office, or use the resources below:

Step 1: Let students know they'll be creating travel brochures for Grover's Corners, and then show them an example or two to get them thinking (see the materials list above).

As they look at the samples, have students identify the important components of the brochures, such as word choice, fonts and colors, photos and illustrations, subheadings, and of course factual information.

Step 2: Have the students get into groups of three or four and go through the play, making a list of all the sights of Grover's Corner. 

NOTE: Each group member is going to want a copy of this list when they're done, so they either all need to be writing/typing or have another way to ensure copies for all (photocopies, online sharing, etc.).

Step 3: Bring the groups back together and have each group share one or two of the items from their lists with the class. The more ideas they all have to work with going forward, the better. 

Step 4: Make sure everyone understands the assignment. Here's a prompt: 

Now it's time to begin working on your own travel brochure for Grover's Corners. You have one week to put it together and publish it for the class to see. Try to include all of the following:

  • An introductory paragraph (or two) explaining why the town is a worthy tourist destination
  • Pertinent facts about the town
  • Attractions 
  • Events
  • At least three photographs or illustrations

You should definitely base your brochure on facts from the play, but don't be afraid to be creative. The play may not give a specific fun event that could attract tourists, but it's perfectly okay for you to expand Wilder's world by making up something of your own. Just make sure it something that would actually happen in Grover's Corners (i.e., no theme parks or skyscrapers).

Step 5 (Optional): Give students a chance to view one another's brochures. If you have extra class time, they can pass them around and discuss them in a large group or in smaller groups. If there's no class time to be had, stick them on a bulletin board or set up an Our Town travel brochure display in your classroom. All you need are a few old tissue boxes. Maybe your art teacher could hook you up....

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade: Literary Response & Analysis: 3.3, 3.4, 3.11, Writing: 2.2, 11th and 12th grade: Literary Response & Analysis: 3.2, 3.4, Writing: 2.2)

Instructions for Your Students

You couldn't have the Harry Potter series without Hogwarts, and you can't  have Our Town without Grover's Corners. In some works of literature, the setting is so important that it's almost like another character. 

In Our Town, Thornton Wilder manages to capture the universal feel of all small towns in this imaginary place known as Grover's Corners. So we're going to take some time exploring the town of Our Town in depth, by imagining that the Grover's Corners tourist board has hired us to create a new travel brochure for their town. 

Step 1: It'll be easier to create a travel brochure if you have a sense of what one should include. In class take a look at a few examples—you can find some here: 

Step 2: Got your head around the whole travel brochure concept? Great. Now you'll get into groups of three or four and go through the play looking for any facts about the setting that you might want to mention in your brochure. Dig deep and really look for details.

NOTE: Each member of your group is going to want a copy of this list when you're done, so you either all need to be writing/typing or figure out another way to ensure everyone has the list at the end of class (photocopies or online sharing perhaps?).

Step 3: Share a few of your group's ideas with the class and see if anyone else mentions something you didn't come up with. The more ideas you have to choose from for your brochure, the better. 

Step 4: Now it's time to begin working on your own travel brochure for Grover's Corners. You have one week to put it together and publish it for the class to see. Try to include all of the following:

  • An introductory paragraph (or two) explaining why the town is a worthy tourist destination
  • Pertinent facts about the town
  • Attractions 
  • Events
  • At least three photographs or illustrations

You should definitely base your brochure on facts from the play, but don't be afraid to be creative. The play may not give a specific fun event that could attract tourists, but it's perfectly okay for you to expand Wilder's world by making up something of your own. Just make sure it something that would actually happen in Grover's Corners (i.e., no theme parks or skyscrapers).

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING OUR TOWN?

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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