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My Antonia

Willa Cather

Theme: Family and Heritage During the Pioneer Age
Grades: Grade 10-11

In this novel, Bohemian immigrants experience growing pains as they struggle for survival and acceptance on the rough Nebraskan plains. Antonia Shimerda arrives in Nebraska as a young girl and befriends Jim Burden, the book's narrator. Burden describes the strength and determination Antonia maintains as she adapts to the changes and challenges in her life.

  1. Concept Chart.
    Ask students to imagine themselves 20 years from now. Ask students to identify to what extent they think the following will still be an influence on their lives: childhood, friends, family, hometown, education, and other. Have them draw a pie chart showing how big an influence each will have. Discuss why students predicted what they did.
  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: Pioneers.
    Students can work together in small groups to collect information they already have about pioneers. Have them record their knowledge on posters to be used later as references as they work through the novel. Conclude by telling students that they will add to their knowledge of pioneers while reading this novel.
  1. A Road Map.
    Have students study geographical maps of the United States. Encourage students to discuss the geographical land forms Jim encounters, and the difficulties they present, when he travels from New York to Nebraska. Students can create a road map of Jim's trip at the end of the book, labeling important locations such as New York, Boston, Lincoln, and other Nebraska towns such as Red Cloud (Cather's hometown and the basis for Black Hawk).

  1. A Blast from the Past.
    American culture and society have changed greatly during the last 100 years. Ask students to go to the library and find "advice" or etiquette manuals from the turn-of-the-century that instruct young men and women on proper moral behavior. Have students meet in small groups to discuss such issues as dating and marriage, farming, dancing, clothing, and entertainment. Have them make lists to compare and contrast these issues from 100 years ago to today.
  1. The Bohemian Life.
    Have students reread the excerpts about Mr. Shimerda in Book One. Then instruct them to do research on Bohemians and their way of life in the old country. Have them write a research paper, giving information about the land, occupations, foods, recreation, and special skills or interests of the people. They might want to conclude with a paragraph explaining why Mr. Shimerda had such a difficult time adjusting to life on the prairie.

  2. Pioneering Women.
    Willa Cather portrays the lives of a number of the women who settled on the prairie farms and towns. Have students research original documents, letters, and journal entries of women who moved west with the Homestead Act of 1862. Instruct them to prepare and present a sample of statements in an oral report.