Teaching Students About The Algonquin Round Table

The Algonquin Round Table, also known as the Algonquin Wits, was a group of brilliant writers, critics, actors, and wits who met regularly for lunch at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel throughout the 1920s. The group’s cutting wit and intellectual conversations continue to captivate audiences today. Educators can leverage the fascination with these figures to create an engaging and informative lesson plan for students.

Introducing the Members

Begin by introducing the most prominent members of the Algonquin Round Table, such as Dorothy Parker, one of America’s greatest humorists and poets; Robert Benchley, a gifted humor columnist; and Alexander Woollcott, a well-known literary critic. Discuss their backgrounds, careers, and unique contributions to American literature and culture.

Contextualizing the Roaring Twenties

Place the members’ works within their historical context to help students understand the cultural milieu of the Roaring Twenties. Draw attention to how their writings reflected popular sentiments of that time – particularly notions of excess, hedonism, and creativity. Encourage students to consider how both world events like World War I and trends in fashion, music, art, and literature contributed to their perspectives.

Analyzing Literary Works

Introduce selected literary works from each member. For Dorothy Parker, consider discussing her short stories like “Big Blonde” or her witty verse such as “Resume” or “One Perfect Rose.” For Benchley or Woollcott, share some of their most potent and engaging criticism pieces. Let students analyze these works for themes reminiscent of post-WWI sensibilities: disillusionment with society and institutions as well as a search for authenticity.

Understanding Their Collective Impact

Discuss how The Algonquin Round Table impacted American literature during its heyday and beyond. Teach students about how this legendary group influenced not only popular culture through their wit and criticism but also established a literary legacy that continues to inspire.

Creating a Mock Round Table Discussion

Wrap up the lesson by organizing a mock Algonquin Round Table discussion where students take on the personas of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, and others. They can exchange witty banter and discuss contemporary issues using the same sharp wit for which the original Algonquin Wits were known.

By teaching students about the members of this legendary group, their historical context, and their literary contributions, educators can not only instill an appreciation for their wit and wisdom but also inspire critical analysis skills in students. The Algonquin Round Table provides a fascinating lens through which to explore American literature and history.

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