The Age of Innocence Activity/Project on Theme

An Assignment for the Story

There are several areas I highlight while teaching Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence: the influence of Wharton’s biography on her work, the role of society during the Gilded Age, how the city of New York represented the social changes happening during this time, and the changing role of women. This presentation assignment gives the students background on these topics, allowing for more animated discussion as we come across each one in the novel.

This assignment works best if given before students begin reading the novel. The project allows them to research the background of the book, which will help them to understand important themes within the work as they begin to read.

Assigning Topics for Study

Students are placed in groups and assigned one of the following topics:

  • Biography of Edith Wharton
  • Background on the term the Gilded Age and what that time period represented
  • The role of women in America during the late 1800s (what they were doing, what they wore, how women from different levels of society were different, how women’s roles were on the verge of change)
  • New York during the 1870s:what it looked like, who lived there, what people did for fun (here they could include a discussion of art and theatre), etc.
  • Victorian lifestyle and architecture (this topic ties in nicely with Martin Scorsese’s film version of the novel where the students can see a detailed representation of the homes and lifestyles of the time period)

The Details of the PowerPoint

Each group is assigned to give a PowerPoint presentation to the class on one of the topics. Some specific assignment details I give them include:

  • How many slides I expect (this will vary depending on the amount of time you have to devote to the project.)
  • Each slide must be dynamic and include illustrations as well as text.
  • Since this is a research project, all outside sources must be documented in a slide at the end of the presentation.
  • The group must be prepared to discuss each slide, going far beyond simply reading the slide’s text.
  • The group must be prepared to take questions from their audience at the end of the presentation (Part of the assignment is for the audience to take notes as they listen and prepare questions. They will receive a grade for this.).

The Grading Policy

When grading, some things to take into account include:

  • Was the information presented accurate and thorough?
  • Was the topic presented in a logical manner that was easy to understand and follow?
  • Did the group check each slide for grammar and spelling errors?
  • How well did the group members work together?
  • How well did they use any in-class time given to work on the presentation?
  • Did they seem to really know their topic? Were they prepared for questions?
  • Did the presentation itself seem polished and practiced or thrown together at the last minute?


  • Classroom experience.