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Teaching Guide

Teaching A Room of One's Own

One is never the loneliest number.

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Everyone, especially your students, want a room of their own. But Virginia Woolf is here to huff and puff and blow in the walls of everyone's little self-contained pre-conceived notions about society, gender politics, and sexuality.

We're prepared for gale-force winds of change with this teaching guide. Here's what we've got for you:

  • Arguments for and against the points raised by Woolf—just in case your class isn't loud enough.
  • Biographical information about Virginia Woolf, who was a lot more than just a giant schnoz.
  • Connections between Woolf's epic essay and fiction like "The Yellow Wallpaper" and The Handmaid's Tale.

With Shmoop's resources, you'll feel confident teaching this essay in a classroom of your own.

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  • 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: Long before gender studies programs in America started introducing terms like "demiplatonic non-binary genderqueer" or seriously discussed a person's ability to be trans-racial (I look white but I identify as Pacific Islander), Ginny Woolf was tossing around simpler concepts of female independence and identity during a time when women were expected to sit quietly and have babies.

Woolf's book-length essay is an argument directed at an unfriendly audience with serious stakes for the lives and work of women. Woolf may be weaving in some fictional characters, but A Room of One's Own is a thesis-driven text if ever we saw one, and she employs some pretty cool and creative rhetorical techniques to get her point across.

In this lesson, students will analyze the rhetoric of Woolf's argument in order to write a counterargument to her position. The highest form of praise is debate—okay, we might have just made that up, but we think students will better understand and appreciate what Woolf does in this text if they try to take her on as an opponent. This is a tall order for students (we certainly wouldn't want to be on the business end of Woolf's writing), so plan at least two or three class periods for this activity—more if you really want to dig into a unit on rhetorical technique.

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of A Room of One's Own
  • Computers with Internet access

Step 1: Fear not, we're not expecting anyone to write a rebuttal for the entire book. Instead, have student students reread selected portions of the text and choose a section where Woolf makes a specific argument. The "Judith Shakespeare" portion and the section that clearly mentions "financial freedom and a room of one's own" are two good options.

Step 2: If you haven't yet insisted that your students become experts in rhetoric (as if they aren't already masters of persuasion), now's the time to introduce/refresh those concepts. Check out Shmoop's explanation of rhetoric and our handy list of rhetorical devices. (Psst! If you really want to dig deep into this rhetoric stuff, Shmoop has a new online course on logic and rhetoric you can check out. Put your own persuasive skills to the test and maybe you can get your principal to spring for it on your behalf.)

Step 3: Now that students have a section of the text to work with and some rhetorical terms under their belts, it's time to get down to business. Have students make a T-chart (it's a chart that looks like a T—not just a clever name, eh?). In the left column, students should list Woolf's central claim (specific to their assigned section of the text), and the reasons, examples, and evidence she uses to support her claim. In the right column, students should list their counterclaim, followed by counterarguments and objections for each of Woolf's points (those listed on the left—you with us?). These counterarguments could be logical problems with the argument, flaws in her evidence or line of reasoning, or counterexamples to Woolf's point.

Step 4: Time to take on the mighty feminist argument that is A Room of One's Own. Students will create a counter-essay in the same style as Woolf, arguing against her points and supporting their position with examples and evidence (some research may be necessary). Students may take varying levels of opposition; some might think she's not demanding enough, or that the text doesn't solve real problems facing women writers, or that her arguments are unrealistic (Yes, but how does one achieve financial freedom?).

Now before you get all hot under the collar, Shmoop isn't advocating slandering feminism, but we like critical analysis and intellectual rebelliousness—it's our jam (that's why we're such Woolf fans over here). Encourage respectful dissent, and we're betting students will come away with a whole new appreciation for Woolf's ideas and the structure of her argument.

Step 5: You know us; we love a good sharing circle. When students finish their arguments, set aside some time for them to share or present to the class. You could have students share in small groups or with the whole class in order to critique one another's arguments (ever sharpening their rhetorical skills). Or, returning to our kooky claim that debate is the highest form of praise, you could hold a debate. Have one student present his/her argument while another stands in for Ms. Woolf, defending her position—see who comes out on top.

Instructions for Your Students

Long before gender studies were even a thing, Ginny Woolf was tossing around simpler concepts of female independence and identity during a time when women were expected to sit quietly and have babies. Woolf's book-length essay is an argument directed at an unfriendly audience with serious stakes for the lives and work of women. She may be weaving in some fictional characters, but A Room of One's Own is a thesis-driven text if ever we saw one, and she employs some pretty cool and creative rhetorical techniques to get her point across.

In this lesson, you will analyze the rhetoric of Woolf's argument in order to write a counterargument to her position. That's right, like something dead you found as a kid, you'll be poking it looking for holes (gross, why would you do that?). After all, the highest form of praise is debate—okay, we might have just made that up, but we think you will better understand and appreciate what Woolf does in this text if you try to take her on as an opponent. And we're not gonna lie, this is a tall order. We certainly wouldn't want to be on the business end of Woolf's writing, so gear up for some serious critical thinking and analysis.

Step 1: Fear not, we're not expecting you to write a rebuttal for the entire book. Instead, reread selected portions of the text and choose a section where Woolf makes a specific argument. The "Judith Shakespeare" portion and the section that clearly mentions "financial freedom and a room of one's own" are two good options, or hunt for more possibilities here.

Step 2: If you haven't yet become experts in rhetoric (as if all teenagers aren't already masters of persuasion), now's the time to review those concepts. Check out Shmoop's explanation of rhetoric and our handy list of rhetorical devices.

Step 3: Now that you have a section of the text to work with and some rhetorical terms under your belts, it's time to get down to business. First, make a T-chart (it's a chart that looks like a T—not just a clever name, eh?). In the left column, list Woolf's central claim (specific to your assigned section of the text), and the reasons, examples, and evidence she uses to support her claim. In the right column, list your counterclaim (read: disagree with her), followed by counterarguments and objections for each of Woolf's points (those listed on the left—you with us?). These counterarguments could be logical problems with the argument, flaws in her evidence or line of reasoning, or counterexamples to Woolf's point.

Step 4: Got all your beef with Ginny Woolf written down? Good. Now create a counter-essay in the same style as Woolf, arguing against her points and supporting your position with examples and evidence (some research may be necessary). You can take varying levels of opposition here; some of you might think she's not demanding enough, or that the text doesn't solve real problems facing women writers, or that her arguments are unrealistic (Yes, but how does one achieve financial freedom?).

#RealTalk: Here at Shmoop we love healthy dissent and intellectual rebelliousness —it's fun and you learn stuff. But we hate disrespect. So if you take a side that is very different from The Woolf, avoid name-calling and general mean-spiritedness.

Step 5: You know us; we love a good sharing circle. So, when you finish your arguments, you'll share or present to the class. You might share in small groups or with the whole class in order to critique one another's arguments (ever sharpening your rhetorical skills). Or, returning to our kooky claim that debate is the highest form of praise, your class might hold a debate where one student presents his/her argument while another stands in for Ms. Woolf, defending her position—see who comes out on top. However you present, make it impassioned! Avoid the Billy Madison approach.

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