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High School Lesson Plan - Counterculture and Criticism in the 1950's

By Andrew Otocka

This lesson plan is the second in a series of five on domestic happenings, trends, and events in the 1950's. It deals with literary critics and nonconformists during the decade and their impact upon the country.

Kerouac by Palumbo As culture became increasingly homogenized and many Americans seemingly were more and more obsessed with conformity and material well-being, critics emerged to challenge the status quo. Under the seemingly tranquil facade of the 1950's, many people experienced frustration, alienation, and loneliness in a country that they struggled to recognize as their own. The impact of these critics ultimately led to a greater number of people questioning American values and contributed to some of the upheavals of the next decade.

Objectives - Students should be able to describe some of the main criticisms of American society in the 1950's.


  • Class copies of each poem and excerpt below.

Lesson Procedure

1. Review the portion of the previous lesson that dealt with the flight to the suburbs and the building of the Levittowns. Then have student read the lyrics to "Little Boxes", by Malvina Reynolds, which can be found here:

Additionally, if your classroom computer has speakers, you can also have students listen to the song, which can be found here:

Discuss the song in the light of what was covered yesterday. What specific criticisms does Mrs. Reynolds put forth? Talk about the evolution of folk music, it's widening popularity in the 1950's, and it's propensity for social commentary.

2. Give each student biographies of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, which can be found here:

and here:

Have them read the biographies. Students should then compare the lives of the two men in a paragraph, bulleted list, Venn diagram, or in any other way the teacher wants.

3. Have students read some of Ginsberg and Kerouac's poetry, which can be found here:

and here:

Please Note! Both collections contain some works that are probably not appropriate for school. Read poems thoroughly before choosing ones to analyze in class.

I would suggest

"Crossing Nation" for Ginsberg (although it was written in the 1960's) and "Second Chorus Mexico City Blues" for Kerouac.

Lead students in discussion of beat poetry, touch upon themes contained and influences.

Additional Resources:

Students can read more about Kerouac and Ginsberg on Bright Hub Education.