Of Mice and My Community: Documenting the American Dream

Unit Concept / 11-12th grade ELA

The Old Tumwater Brewery

The Old Tumwater Brewery

The American Dream is concept that has been explored through some of our country’s most notable authors. From John Steinbeck, August Wilson, and Willa Cather to contemporary authors Michael Chabon and Chuck Palahniuk, we have long been fascinated by the desire, and lengths that people will go, to achieve an idealized success. History forces us to examine the triumphs and repercussions of reaching for “The Dream”; our towns and communities are living records of this struggle.

The use of photography to capture our communities’ successes and failures will help guide students through a critical analysis of what the American Dream means to them personally, and how the world around them reflects this ongoing dialogue.

Established goals:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2 Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA- Literacy.RL.11-1 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


  • Olympia-Washington-Waterfront-1The theme of the American Dream in fiction is present and relevant in our daily lives.
  • The American Dream is based on the beliefs that all people are created equal, and that hard work will lead to upward mobility.
  • The concept of American Dream has shifted over the last century.

Essential Question:
Why does the definition of the American Dream mean different things to different people? What does the American Dream mean to you?

…identify, describe, and analyze the themes of American dream.

…show with photographs how our communities represent an American dream found and/or lost.

…engage in a gallery walk and present/respond to peer work

Performance tasks:
Students will take digital photographs in their community that are evidence of the loss or attainment of the American Dream.

Within small groups, students will share photos and choose a single photo that they’d like to share with the rest of the class.

A gallery walk will give students the chance to see one image from each student. Students will leave notes for each photographer about what message they believe each image is trying to convey.

Each student will present their work and share their own perspective with the class.


1. Additional resources about photography-based technology integration in the classroom:

2. Webquest about the American Dream:

3. Three lessons from PBS that explore the American Dream within American fiction:

4. An article about the American Dream being more prevalent in parts of Europe than the US.

5. NPR article about the history and future of the American Dream with accompanying Morning Edition audio link:

Explanation of technology use:
How this use of technology would help students meet the learning objectives:mvc_015f

The concept of the American Dream can be an abstract one. Using photography allows student to deepen their understanding of this important theme from Of Mice and Men, as it relates to the lives and communities of students through comparing, contrasting, and discussing multiple perspectives of the concept.

In sharing photos with each other, students will be able to engage in a dialogue about the signifiers of the realization or shortcomings of the American Dream, and the acknowledgment that this concept may have different meanings for each student.

What I’d need to anticipate through structure or mini lessons to help students be successful in this project:

Structure of lessons would need to align with the equipment (cameras, computers, software) available to us.

Mini-lessons would need to be differentiated for those students that lacked basic camera skills and those that had basic and advanced camera proficiencies.

A mini-lesson on historical perspective within the context of the assigned fiction would be helpful for students to understand how positionality affects the perceived success or failure social ideals.

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  1. Pingback: Photography Across Content Areas | Investigations in Our Town

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