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Intellectuals in America

by Suzanne Warsinsky | 29 Aug 2017
Resource Description: This is the introductory lesson for a content unit on intellectualism in America. In this lesson, the students will have pre-read the article “What Happened to America’s Public Intellectuals?” from the July 2017 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine. In pairs and small groups, they will learn about American intellectual history and influence while experiencing the reading skills of scanning, looking for organizational structure and comprehension, and identifying multimodal writing type.
Audience: University
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced, Intermediate
Duration: 75 minutes
Language Skill: Reading, Speaking
Content Area: philosophy, culture, history, EAP
Materials and Technology: Article, Blackboard or Whiteboard, chalk or markers, paper, pencil, pen, projector and smart board if available or docu-projector if available
Objective(s): Students will be able to
  • work in pairs and small groups
  • identify information in an article that includes ambiguity
  • identify organization in article that includes ambiguity
  • comprehend the salient points of an article that includes ambiguity
  • be able to discuss notions that come from an article that includes ambiguity
  • practice autonomous learning techniques
  • reflect
  • have a positive classroom experience
  • Students will create a timeline of the development of American intellectual input 
  • Students will identify the author’s argument as to when the public intellectual’s role in society changed, what this change is, the author’s counter-argument, current situation, and conclusion
  • Students will begin researching specific intellectuals of interest to them, knowing the meaning of “public intellectual”
  • Students will name parts of multimodal writing and compare print and online versions of this article
  1. Write objectives on board. 
  2. Break students into groups. Students scan the article and circle all dates/years. Students read the article again and underline all people mentioned. Then ask them to look at the paragraphs with neither and see if they can find any cultural references. For the last two instructions, if students do not know a time period, have them google the people or cultural references to find a time period and write it in the margin. One group presents its findings on the top of a white board or blackboard as a timeline. Presenting group asks other groups to discuss their findings and come to a consensus.
  3. Students reread the first five paragraphs and ask themselves why each paragraph is there, why it is relevant, and what new information it offers. A new group becomes the presenting group and lists consensus on the board underneath the timeline.
  4. Students go through the next four paragraphs and do the same. The third group will lead this time.
  5. Teacher asks the whole class what words stand out in paragraph 10. Teacher then asks them to find similar or the same words in the preceding paragraphs. Students should define how these words are being used. They may use their phones, computers, and/or dictionaries.
  6. Ask the whole class where paragraph 11 belongs on the timeline and what content it offers.
  7. Ask groups to discuss the conclusion and what is being proposed.
  8. Have each group see if they can identify any of the persons in the illustration of public intellectuals. If not, teacher will give background on those with whom she is familiar. Have each group google a different rising star. Present orally to the class, group by group.
Assessment: Informal assessment of student work and interaction
Differentiation: This lesson can be pre-assigned with tutors, or partially pre-assigned. It can also be split over two class periods. It can be combined with a biographical source with a similar list of people to begin differentiating between biography, autobiography, memoir and personal narrative, such as the Time 100 Most Influential Americans List or the Smithsonian’s Meet the 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time list. Students can pick a person, read the short bio, and research the person to find an autobiography, memoir or personal narrative example.
TESOL Interest Section: Higher Education