Death of a Salesman

Students read Arthur Miller's classic play Death of a Salesman, which offers a scathing critique of the American Dream and of the competitive, materialistic American culture of the 1940s.

This unit has been archived. To view our updated curriculum, visit our 7th Grade English course.

Unit Summary

Students will read their first play of seventh grade, Death of a Salesman, a tragedy about the differences between the Loman Family’s dreams and the reality of their lives. Willy Loman stars as the protagonist—an ordinary white middle-class man who tries to hide his averageness behind his hallucinations as he pretends to be a “success.” The play is a critique of the American Dream and of the materialistic American culture of the 1940s. This unit is a continuation of the seventh-grade analysis of what it means to succeed in the United States.

Students will practice skills and habits including vocabulary/idiom building, annotating text, collaborative conversation, and evidence-based writing. As students read, discuss, and write about the texts, they will also examine how an author makes deliberate decisions to control the tension between the characters, the shifts between past and present times, and the ultimate downfall of the protagonist.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 14 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep


  • Read and annotate the Unit Summary and Essential Questions. 
  • Read and annotate the text with essential questions in mind. 
  • Take unit assessment. Focus on questions 2 (tragic flaw), 3, 8 (points of view), 4, 9 (symbolism), and 5, 10 (theme). Write the mastery response to essay question. 
  • Lessons that align directly with the assessment:
    • Lessons 3, 4, 11 (symbolism)
    • Lessons 8 (theme) 
    • Lessons 2, 5 (point of view)
    • Lessons 13, 14 (tragic flaw)
    • Lessons 5, 7, 13, 14 (link to essential questions)
  • Grade the Target Tasks of Lessons 3, 5, 8, 14.

Essential Questions


  • Has Willy Loman achieved the American Dream? If so, at what cost?
  • Does Death of a Salesman attack the American Dream? If so, how?
  • Can Willy be called a tragic figure in the same way that this term applies to various characters in Greek drama (Oedipus)?

Writing Focus Areas


In this third unit of the year, students will focus on organizing their work when comparing two texts. They will continue to dissect the prompt to ensure they fully understand the task at hand. Then, they will concentrate on the writing process of brainstorming, outlining, and drafting for on-demand prompts (test-taking style prompts). Students will not be given graphic organizers but will be instructed on creating their own outlines from a blank piece of paper. They will ultimately be assessed on whether they addressed the prompt itself, made a structured and accurate claim, provided strong reasons backed by relevant evidence, and grouped information into meaningful paragraphs.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

Focus Correction Area #1 - Overall

  • Addressed the prompt
  • Made a structured and accurate claim
  • Provided one or two pieces of evidence for each reason (can be paraphrased or a direct quote)
  • Each part of the text built the argument and led to a conclusion without redundancies

Focus Correction Area #2 - Elaboration

  • Supported their claim by giving at least three accurate reasons/examples and information to support their reasons that were parallel and did not overlap  
  • Discussed and explained the way that the evidence went with the claim in at least two sentences. 
  • Put reasons in an order that he thought would be most convincing
  • Provided context for evidence/introduced quotations.

Focus Correction Area #3 - Organization

  • Grouped information and related ideas into paragraphs. 
  • Put the parts of their writing in the order that most suited their purpose and helped prove their reasons and claim
  • The order of the sections and the internal structure of each section made sense
  • Used topic sentences, transitions, and formatting (where appropriate) to clarify the structure of the piece and to highlight their main points.



Literary Terms

dialogue, apron, stage directions, act, scene, cast of characters, playwright, thespian, tragic hero, tragic flaw, foreshadowing, monologue, allusion

Roots and Affixes

im, in, il = not 
sub = under
re = again
mor = death


trepidation (2), iron repression (2), vital (4) (ROOT ALERT “vit-“ life; vitamin, vitality, vital signs), crestfallen (5), reminisce (6), caliber (49–50), spite (88), ominous(ly) (97), in vain (111) self-deception, coping mechanism

Tone words: ornery, irritable (review from When I Was Puerto Rican), delusional

Idioms and Cultural References

“To make mountains out of molehills” (p.7); “Open sesame” (p. 19 Ali Baba); “The world is an oyster” (p. 28); “To take blood from a stone” (p. 61); “To blow full of hot air” (p. 105); “You’re a dime a dozen” (p. 105)

Content Knowledge and Connections


  • The American Dream
  • Capitalism
  • Tragic Heroism
  • Oedipus

Lesson Map


  • Death of a Salesman pp. 11 – 23



Analyze the purpose of the stage directions. 


  • Death of a Salesman pp. 58 – 69


Analyze how Biff and Happy’s dialogue contributes to the mood.


  • Death of a Salesman pp. 116 – 127


Explain Willy’s motivation to commit suicide.

Common Core Standards

Core Standards