Cultural Studies Unit Plan
Social Acceptance in High School

Books: Emma by Jane Austen and Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Materials: Clueless, “Emma”, “Prozac Nation”, composition journals
Summary: Every high school school student finds them-self trying to fit in, coping with depression, finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc. In this unit plan we will be identifying different themes and social aspects of being in high school. This will be learned through the two novels “Emma” and “Prozac Nation” as well as reading of other short stories that incorporate these themes.
Learning Objectives:
  • Students will be able to gain a knowledge of social acceptance and how to treat others.
  • Recognition of how peers are being treated.
  • Students learning to reach out to people who are not in their friend group./ Broaden friendship horizons.
Created by: Holly Bruning, Western Michigan University
Teaching Unit/Overview:
Popularity and social acceptance by peers are two things that are very important to every high schooler. Every teenager finds themselves looking at the Seventeen, Teen Vogue and Sports Illustrated magazines and watching the ‘cool’ television shows such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Fashion Police. These magazines and shows have created a delusional picture of how the “normal” are supposed to behave and how we should dress. So many people of all age groups have developed a strong focus on how to be trendy and act like the stars. Because so many people have become obsessed with wearing the right clothes, listening to the right music and being “Hollywood fabulous” there has been a disconnection between students. This disconnection includes bullying, social acceptance amongst peers, social class and family life. Because social acceptance and popularity are two very important issues to any high schooler it should therefore be important to bring these issues into the classroom. Many writers have incorporated themes of social acceptance, popularity, and social class into their literary compositions. In this unit plan there will be a discovery between these relevant themes and important literary works. This unit plan will be taught from a cultural studies approach and will include several different methods in order to convey the message of social class, popularity/social acceptance and single parent homes.
This cultural studies approach to popularity and social acceptance will be learned through the primary reading of “Emma” by Jane Austen and “Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Both novels will also be focusing on other cultural issues such as social class and the effects (pros/cons) to living in a single parent home, dealing with depression and bullying. This unit plan will also include the reading of “Separating” by John Updike, “Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
This cultural unit has been designed for an eleventh or twelfth grade English class. Even though the cultural issues that will be learnt during this unit plan are not “complex” the material is substantially heavier. Therefore this curriculum could be completely adapted to a younger audience. In fact I would encourage middle school teachers and 9th and 10th grade English teachers to use this cultural studies approach to teach these themes in their classrooms.
“Emma” by Jane Austen is a very complex novel. Within the 381 pages of text there are many instances of social issues between different classes, love triangles, and a strong need for social acceptance amongst the characters. In the novel, Emma comes from a higher class society where she is accustomed to having a nanny and a chef but she has grown to be painstakingly judgmental on others because of limitations and understanding of how other social classes behave. Emma has also lost her mother at a young age and relies heavily on her nanny, father and Mr. Knightley for support and guidance. Because Emma has always looked to others for guidance she naturally assumes that her peers want to mentor her. “Emma” incorporates all of our cultural studies themes.
I also am using “Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald in my unit plan. “Babylon Revisited” would be an excellent mini source for the unit plan because it incorporates single family homes and parents loosing their children due to unforeseen circumstances as well as social class issues. In “Babylon Revisited” the reasoning for the single parent home is because of drinking and fitting in. In this story we meet a father, Charlie who has just traveled back to Paris to visit his daughter and try to bring her back to America. Charlie’s daughter, Honoria has been taken away from Charlie because of his serious drinking problem and his partying. Honoria has also lost her mother and is residing in Paris with her Aunt and Uncle. In order for Charlie to get his daughter back in his custody he has to prove that he has enough money to “properly” take care of her, stop drinking completely and already have established a home for her back in the States. This story really fits with the overall themes of “Emma” because of the urgency to fix a personal characteristic in order to become a better person. Both Emma and Charlie share a lot of similar personality traits and both need to rediscover themselves in order to better the people around them.
“Prozac Nation” will be a terrific read for many students because it shows the diligence and obstacles that are necessary to overcome this illness. It also in fact goes very in-depth of how adolescents manage to deal with separating parents and the day to day troubles that happen in a public school. Another reason for this being a terrific read for some high school students is because it teaches bullies how it feels to be constantly put down; it also provides another choice other than committing suicide but using medication to help. The reasoning for choosing “Prozac Nation” for a classroom read is that students will start changing their opinion on how they treat others.
Some of the supporting materials that I will be using in class will be several different movie scenes. I would like to show clips from Clueless. I would like so show Clueless at the end of reading the novel because the movie was based off of the novel, “Emma.” I think that students will really appreciate the connection between the book and the movie.

A project that I am really interested in completing with the cultural studies unit plan is dividing the class into four different groups. Each group would be given a theme from the unit plan and on a piece of cardboard paper they will have to write down how they define each of the themes. The students will next need to address if social acceptance, popularity and if social class are issues in our school. I would then like to have an open discussion about the material that will be presented in the unit plan. Discussions about current trends and how students at our school are seemingly outcasted for their choice on clothes, music and hobbies will be frequent throughout the unit plan and what can be done to help. Throughout the unit plan I plan on having many discussions and active lessons that incorporate the central themes. I would also like to have the students organize something that could help bring awareness to the entire school. The classes objective for the discussions is to find a way that we can give back to the school and start preventing bullying and cliches within the student body. During these discussions I will be playing different musical compositions that will reflect on the time period. Students will have to listen hard to see if there is any congruency between the time period and the literature.
Students will be able to choose between their reading of “Prozac Nation” or “Emma.” Because of the students having the option to choose which novel that they would like to read it will be necessary to complete several group projects and engage in many literary circles. These literary circles will be graded on participation and discussion value. The grades will either be a credit or no credit. Way to maintain good participation in literary circles will be students writing down one topic of discussion, something they liked or found interesting. These cards will be collected by members of respective literary group and the students will be grading each other on the card topics and richness of discussion and participation.
After each discussion or reading time students will have to write a one page reflection in their composition journal. This reflection will be written at the end of each class period. These reflections will be graded by the teacher. Students will be graded on content and too see if they have kept up on their outside reading of their novels.
A quick warm up mini-lesson plan that would be completed from class to class would be a game of charades. Each student will be given a card with an adjective or a stereotype, such as, affliction; wealthy; cocky; stubborn; jock; band geek. The goal for this warm up activity is to see how students view each other and what persona each student has to obtain in order to act out the adjective or stereotype.
For the final project of the unit plan I would like students to either work together and create a service learning opportunity on how we can stop cliche behavior and get students connected. This could be achieved by students creating an organization, website, blog (a facebook page, or livejournal account for students at only our school). Another option is for students to reenact their favorite scene from their respective novels. This project will need a group of two or more students and will need to have costumes and props to correlate with the scene. Each student will need to write a reflection addressing the following questions.
  1. What changes have you made in your thinking of social acceptance and bullying?
  2. If you have changed your thought pattern about these cultural issues, how are you going to make a difference in day to day life?
  3. What have you learned from grading your peers?
  4. What have you learned from reading the novel “Emma” or “Prozac Nation”?
  5. What did you like or not like about this unit plan?
  6. What would you have changed about the assignments or reading?