Sample Unit Plans

The New Brunswick Literature Curriculum in English (NBLCE) is designed to support several of the approaches to teaching English that are discussed in the Atlantic Canada English Language Arts Curriculum: High School. Specifically, the NBLCE’s Module structure supports “Historical Geographic/Cultural Exploration”; its Author Pages support “Author Study”; and the Themes and Motifs Units support “Theme” and “Issue” approaches. Everything teachers will need is in the NBLCE, from background materials that establish historical context, to the primary literature, to interpretative frameworks, to classroom strategies.

Below are three sample unit plans that illustrate possible uses of this curriculum. Following the unit plans is a list of suggestions for culminating projects should teachers choose to teach a longer unit or an entire course based on the material in this curriculum.

As well, we encourage teachers to develop their own lesson and unit plans using the content of this curriculum. We have created space for the addition of teacher-created plans in this web resource. Teachers who are interested should contact us (see Credits & Contact). We will work with teachers to shape and publish their plan(s) for the benefit of other users of this resource.

Teachers should read Information for Teachers (under Resources) as a supplement to Sample Unit Plans.

Issues Unit Plan: Economic Hardship in New Brunswick

Students explore provincial literature to examine some of the sources of economic inequality and hardship in New Brunswick. They then consider whether current measures designed to combat poverty are effective.


The Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes that are addressed directly in this plan are:

  • Speaking and Listening: articulate, advocate, and justify positions on an issue or text in a convincing manner, showing an understanding of a range of viewpoints
  • Reading and Viewing: make informed personal responses to increasingly challenging print and media texts and reflect on their responses
NBLCE Resources

“Atlantic Development” by Elizabeth Brewster (Confessional Humanism)

“George Ernst” by Fred Cogswell (Modernism and the Fredericton Ferment)

“On Lotteries” by Antonine Maillet (The Acadian Renaissance)

Lesson 1
  • Read “Atlantic Development” (Elizabeth Brewster)
  • Whole class discussion: Is this scene familiar to students? Where have they seen such a place? For what reasons have the young people left? Where did they go, and why? Do students plan to stay in their hometowns or leave when they are able? Why? How does outmigration feed the process of economic decline?
  • Small group or independent: Brainstorm solutions for improving economic opportunity in New Brunswick
Lesson 2
  • Whole class discussion: What form does predatory lending take in contemporary New Brunswick?
  • Watch brief video or read news article on payday loans
  • Whole class discussion: Why would people choose or be forced to accept such interest rates? Why is it so hard to get out of this trap? Where are payday loan centres located, and who is most vulnerable to them?
  • Small group or independent: Brainstorm solutions for helping people avoid the predatory lending cycle
Lesson 3
  • Read “On Lotteries” (Antonine Maillet), or a portion thereof
  • Whole class discussion: Why doesn’t Frank-à-Thiophie’s win create long-term change in his life? Why is he more vulnerable to financial predation than people who were born rich? Who benefits the most from his sudden windfall? Why do so many lottery winners end up broke or dead within a matter of years?
  • Small group or independent: Brainstorm long-term solutions for addressing wealth inequality
Summative Activity

Option 1: Students debate for or against a current economic initiative in the province, drawing on evidence from the texts identified above to defend their positions. Would the initiative benefit these literary characters? If so, how? How could the initiative be improved?

Option 2: Students write a persuasive paper advocating a novel approach to economic hardship in New Brunswick, drawing on evidence from the texts identified above to support their policy.

Author Study Unit Plan: Alden Nowlan

Students situate the poetry of Alden Nowlan in its historical, literary, and personal context.


The Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes that are addressed directly in this plan are:

  • Reading and Viewing: examine how texts work to reveal and produce ideologies, identities, and positions
  • Reading and Viewing: note the relationship of specific elements of a particular text to elements of other texts
NBLCE Resources

“Here in the East” by A.G. Bailey (Modernism and the Fredericton Ferment)

“They Go Off to Seek Their Fortunes” by Alden Nowlan (Confessional Humanism)

“Beginning” by Alden Nowlan

“It’s Good to Be Here” by Alden Nowlan

“Daughter of Zion” by Alden Nowlan

“He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded” by Alden Nowlan

Lesson 1
  • Hook students with this Nowlan quotation: “If . . . truck drivers read poetry, mine will be the poetry they read.” Based on this comment, what do students expect from Nowlan’s poetry in terms of content? Form? Vocabulary? Why don’t most people read poetry for pleasure?
  • Small groups: Students compare the similarly themed poems “Here in the East” and “They Go Off to Seek Their Fortunes.” Have students predict which poem is Nowlan’s, offering at least three arguments to support their choice.
  • Whole class: Reveal authors of each, and then discuss. Which did they prefer, and why?
Lesson 2
  • Nowlan’s style of poetry didn’t emerge in a vacuum. His literary, socioeconomic, and personal context influenced his writing.
  • Lecture: Nowlan’s literary context (relationship and differences between Modernism and Confessional Humanism – see Background and Context for these modules for information). Use brief illustrative examples for each.
  • Small groups or independent: Students compare “Beginning” with the later “It’s Good to Be Here” (written twenty years apart) to discover how Nowlan’s style changed over time. The content is personal/confessional in each case; how did the style change? How does the later poem reflect the confessional humanist concern with clarity and accessibility?
Lesson 3
  • At the same time that confessional humanism was emerging in the literature of New Brunswick, and Nowlan was developing as a writer, a political sea change was also underway in the province.
  • Pairs or independent: Students explore the Louis Robichaud topic on the CBC digital archives.
  • Whole class: Discuss links between Robichaud’s humanist policies and humanist literature. Share another example of Nowlan’s poetry to illustrate concern for the marginalized, perhaps “Daughter of Zion.”
Lesson 4
  • As teachers and students will learn, Louis Robichaud was not universally beloved – he inspired great anger in some people. Living in the Robichaud era did not guarantee a humanist perspective; other factors had to be present. What, then, was the impact of Nowlan’s personal life on his art?
  • Whole class: Watch and discuss National Film Board video featuring Nowlan speaking about his life and poetry. Why would it be important to Nowlan that his poetry be accessible?
Lesson 5
  • Whole class: Read “He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded.” Collaboratively consider how this poem relates to Nowlan’s personal, political, and literary context. How do we know that this was not written by poet x, y, or z that we have previously read? What are the content and style connections with the other poems of Nowlan we have encountered?
  • Pairs: In pairs, students repeat this exercise with an additional Nowlan poem, sharing their conclusions with the class.
Summative Activity

Option 1: Students individually respond to a new Nowlan poem in an independent version of the exercise in Lesson 5.

Option 2: In an independent project, students select another writer (including songwriters), researching his/her personal, sociopolitical, and literary context. In a written or spoken presentation, they illustrate how one sample of writing is related to the writer’s context. Students in French Immersion might select Acadian songwriter Calixte Duguay. Students might also consider Stompin’ Tom Connors, who was born in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Option 3: Students analyze a piece of their own work, reflecting on how their context has influenced their writing. What makes the piece theirs, of their era, of their place? How does it reflect (or reject) the social morality of the times?

Concept Unit Plan: Characterization

Students examine how New Brunswick writers have created memorable characters, and then apply what they’ve learned to improve a piece of their own creative writing. (This plan assumes that the end goal is improving an existing piece of writing, though it could easily be adapted to create a new piece of writing from scratch.)


The Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes that are addressed directly in this plan are:

  • Writing and Representing: make effective choices of language and techniques to enhance the impact of imaginative writing and other ways of representing
  • Writing and Representing: demonstrate a commitment to the skilful crafting of a range of writing and other representations
NBLCE Resources

Nights Below Station Street by David Adams Richards (The Literary Miramichi)

Before the Flood by Alan Wilson (Current and Contemporary Voices)

“Pain Was My Portion” by Elisabeth Harvor (Current and Contemporary Voices)

Lesson 1
  • Think, pair, and share: What is your favourite character in literature? Your least favourite? And why? (During sharing, try to cut through the specifics to get to the underlying principles – a teacher might say, for example, that “what I’m hearing from a lot of people is that they like characters that are flawed, in a relatable way, and are frustrated by ones that are too perfect.”)
  • Whole class: Collaboratively create a list of dos and don’ts for writing character. Prompt and interject as appropriate for the needs and tendencies of your class (for example, “avoid idealized versions of yourself”).
  • Independent: Students return to a previous piece of their creative writing to consider how their characters fare against the dos and don’ts list.
Lesson 2
  • Writers make characters compelling by the ways in which they reveal personalities and traits. An excellent way to improve our own writing of character is to study the masters.
  • Whole class or small group: Share passages from one or more of the NBLCE resources listed above, analyzing characterization. Possible guiding questions: What did the authors do to make characters realistic and interesting? Can students pick out examples of direct and indirect characterization? Which method does each writer prefer: telling what the character is like, or showing what the character is like based on his/her dialogue, body language, actions, reactions of others? Can students identify a sentence or passage that establishes particularly effective characterization? How do the characters fare when compared to our list of dos and don’ts (Lesson 1)? Should the list be expanded or amended?
  • Independent: Students should once again consider their previous piece of creative writing, reflecting on improvements that could be made in characterization.
Lesson 3
  • Present a short piece of writing that could use improvement in terms of characterization.* Walk students through why you feel it is lacking, and then demonstrate what you would do to change it and why.
  • Small groups: Assign each group a short piece of writing, perhaps an introductory paragraph, with a poorly drawn character.** Challenge the group to turn the characterization around, either by giving the character more appropriate traits, or by presenting traits differently, or by working on the writing style.

*Past pieces of your own creative writing would work well for these activities, if you have them. Or, for a comically awful example, consider selecting an appropriate passage from the novel Atlanta Nights (manuscript pdfs can be easily found online).

**Alternatively, challenge students to intentionally write a paragraph of bad characterization. They can then trade these negative models with other students, who can try to improve the writing.

Lesson 4
  • Groups share their edited version of the piece, explaining the rationale behind their changes. Other students offer constructive feedback.
Summative Activity

Students independently revise a previous piece of creative writing to improve characterization. Perhaps students can track their cumulative work on this piece of writing in a process portfolio.

Ideas for Culminating Projects

Should teachers choose to teach multiple units or an entire course based on this curriculum, some ideas for culminating projects are listed below.

  • A new Canadian literature curriculum is being created. Each province is to be represented by five poems/stories, written by five different authors. You are chosen to design the New Brunswick submission. Which authors and poems/stories do you choose? Write a brief lead-in to each selection, justifying why that author and text is not only significant but also representative of New Brunswick.
  • Research a New Brunswick writer that is not included in this curriculum, but that warrants inclusion. Then construct an original Author Page, following the template (from biography to bibliography) that is used in the NBLCE.
  • Select an author that was not covered in the class, reading his/her Author Page. Design a creative and informative presentation on the author in a format of your choice. Be sure to share at least two of the author’s texts, explaining their place in provincial literature.
  • Write a creative story, poem, or reflection in which characters from at least three different poems or stories we have read meet. Possible contexts for meeting include a dinner party, theatre audition, radio discussion, or public transit ride. How do these New Brunswick characters react to each other? How are they connected? What are the sources of their conflicts? How is their humour revealed and what does it reveal about them? What are their goals and aspirations, sense of limitations, hopes for the province?
  • Curricula are always controversial groupings of texts – what limitations can you identify in this curriculum? Create and deliver a convincing argument (in speech or writing) in which you justify why one author should be removed and another author included. Root your arguments in literary fact and merit and not in popular and shifting trends that filter inclusion and exclusion through the politics of the moment.
  • That students and citizens of New Brunswick do not know their own literature is a problem that has existed for a long time. Develop a plan to address this problem, and then take one concrete step in your own community to advocate for provincial literature. For example, start a book club featuring provincial authors; partner with a library to create an appealing local literature display; write a letter to the editor, the Department of Education, or your MLA/MP decrying the lack of provincial literature in New Brunswick schools; create a Twitter feed or Facebook page linking monthly to a celebrated piece of New Brunswick literature.