“I was surprised, as always, be how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road.
· Time: 60 minutes.
· Level: B1
· Topic: American Culture, traveling, the freedom of movement.
People throughout the world think about Americans in a certain way. American tourists are sometimes seen as loud and insensitive to other cultures. Nevertheless, they can be warm and friendly, too. People around the world watch American TV shows and films, so students are quite familiar with American culture. Moreover, Freedom is the United States’ most sacred myth, and its most visible manifestation is freedom of movement. The belief that it’s possible to change your life by packing your bags and hitting the road is one of the key elements of the American Dream.
Write on the board the following words in the centre of the board: “American Dream”. Ask your students what it suggests to them, invite them to come to the board and write anything that comes to their minds. By experience, they tend to write “big house”, “huge cars”, “perfect family”, “a house in the suburbs”, “earn a lot of money”, “good job”, “be successful”, etc. Tell them they’ve forgotten one of an essential basis of the American Dream: the freedom of movement. One of the most popular re- presentation is the Route 66.
1. Project a political map of the United States of America and draw the journey step by step while you explain the following: “Route 66 is one of the essential icons of America, both for Americans and for people abroad. It represents a multitude of ideas: freedom, migration West, and the loneliness of the American heartland. The highway was first opened in 1926, although much of the route was not paved for decades afterwards. It soon captured America’s imagination. John Steinbeck, in his 1940 novel Grapes of Wrath, chronicled the migration along Route 66 of thousands of farmers leaving the Dust Bowl of Kansas and Oklahoma during the Great Depression, trying to reach a better land in California. Steinbeck considered the road as an almost hostile force, draining money, energy, and enthusiasm from the optimistic Okies. The route starts in Chicago, go through the state of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, California and ends in Los Angeles”.
2. Travelling ‘on the road’, in particular through the immense spaces of North America’s deserts can give a sense of openness and freedom that are difficult to find anywhere else. But these landscapes can also seem strangely familiar, perhaps because we have already seen them so often in films. Although Jack Kerouac only mentions 66 briefly in his book On the Road, it acquired something of the aura of Beatnik cross- country driving. In fact, a film adaptation has just been released this year. Play the video of the trailer available on youtube.com http://youtu.be/DZhM-AcCzNU
3. The freedom of the American highway has also been celebrated in cinema. Classics of the road movie genre range from Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper’s 1969 homage to Californian motorcycle gangs ( trailer with Spanish subtitles here http://youtu.be/ 4nkmsJWnZOY ), to Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise, a feminist reworking on the outlaw western that ends in Grand Canyon itself, trailer: http://youtu.be/PRr0HY9MPZ0 .
4. After playing the trailers, ask your students the similarities they find in all three shorts. The expected answer is that a road movie is a cinematic genre in which the action takes places during a road journey, the characters try to change their lives by traveling in search of something they lack.
5. Tell them that the freedom of movement is not only represented in films but in many regular people’s lives.
Announce that you are going to tell them a true story of a friend of yours while you project the US map on the board again. Draw the journey while you tell the story.
Write on the board the words in bold in case they’ve got any difficulties with them.
“My friend Paul is from St Paul Minnesota. He got excellent marks in High School, and he got a grant to study a university degree, he applied to the University of New York City to study architecture (here you can make a reference to How I Met Your Mother and its main character ed Mosby). He finished his degree and got involved in an environment-friendly housing project in Atlanta, but he came back to New York very often to see his girlfriend, a Spanish girl from Barcelona, who studies Fine Arts there. The crash of 2008 happened, and the project in Atlanta was cancelled. But she got a job as a film decorator in Vancouver (explain the American cinematographic trend to shoot in Canada or Mexico). Instead of going by plane, they decided to cross the country by car visiting different states in a couple of weeks. After one month, she quit her job, and they move to Seattle. Both work in bars and restaurants for one year until he got a job at a power plant in Austin Texas. They spend three years living there and one weekend they took the car and went to Las Vegas to get married and come back. After a few months, they split up: she came back to New York, and he’s now living in Barcelona”.
6. Introduce some road idioms like: “hit the road”(you can play the song ‘Hit the road, Jack’ by Ray Charles, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, “go down that road”, etc. Explain what an idiom is and give different examples to explain those as mentioned earlier.
7. Tell them that you’re going to project on the board three very significative landscapes located in California, Colorado and Utah. Firstly, you can talk about California’s Death Valley. Its floor is almost 300 feet (91,44m) below the sea level. Geologists recognise it as the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and one of the hottest places on earth (summer temperatures in Death Valley can reach 54oC).
Then, Grand Canyon is the most famous tourist site in Arizona and one of the most evocative natural beauties in whole North America. 277 miles (445,79km) long, 10 miles (16km) wide, and 1 mile (1,6km), the Grand Canyon is a breathtaking alternation of vividly coloured rock strata eroded over thousands of years by the Colorado River. Last but not least, Monument Valley is one of the truly iconic places of the United States. The setting for hundreds of Western movies, its unique sandstone formations are instantly recognizable the world over. The Valley is home to Navajo families that have lived there for generations. Monument Valley is a part of the Navajo Nation. It is located on the Utah/Arizona border.
A good way to conclude this lesson is by playing the song ‘A horse with no name’ by America while students read the lyrics. Ask them the following questions to answer on a piece of paper. ‘How is the American desert described in the first verse?’, ‘Why do you think the singer says that in the desert you can remember your name?’How do you interpret the end of the song?’ You’ll see that answers will be entirely different from a student to an another, and this is fascinating to study. As for the assessment, don’t count if it’s right or wrong but if it’s well justified or not. Encourage the diversity of explanations. You will be surprised!