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U.S. History Lessons

Updated – February 14, 2002

Today in American HistoryGrades 4-12 – The Library of Congress offers a daily glimpse of what happened on any given date in American history. For those who plan ahead, the listings for any day of the year are available. Text, images, and other add-ons vary by day.
America Dreams…through the decadesGrades 5-12 – A very flexible, intriguing unit that allows students to define and trace the evolution of the "American Dream." In groups of four, students each take a different role (photographer, politician, poet, etc.) and research the American Dream from that angle (finding pictures, political events, the "soul" of the Dream, etc.). The unit has a teacher’s page, a student’s page, and a resource page to outline the lesson. On the teacher’s page, you will find many suggestions for customizing the lesson, such as restricting the scope to one particular decade or a certain theme.
Conservation at a Crossroads: The Hetch Hetchy ControversyGrades 9-12 – This unit is based on the debate over damming the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park, which helped mark the evolution of the conservation movement. The unit has two parts: the first details conservation through the rationales of various historical figures, and the second outlines the case study of Hetch Hetchy. The format of the second part includes a mock hearing where students present their researched ideas. In the course of the unit, students will also compare historical ideas of conservation with current ones.
Crossroads – a complete K-16 American History Curriculum, with materials and lesson plans for each grade level. Available through the ERIC clearinghouse.
Democracy in America Grades 9-12 – This is an extensive let of lesson modules based on Alexis DeToqueville’s writings about democracy in America. Developed by C-Span, the lessons provide questions and discussion which make DeToqueville’s observations relevant for contemporary American History studies. A companion DeToqueville web site can be found in the TeachersFirst American Themes listings.
The Eye Behind the Camera: the Voice Behind the Story by Synia Carroll-McQuillan, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute – Social Studies – Grades 6-8 – The colonial period of U.S. History is explored in this five-week unit that examines various cultural and ethnic groups in America. Storytelling and film are used to contrast prevailing myths related to the ante-bellum period with factual historical information.
pzl-tiny.gif (1418 bytes) Explorers’ GraveyardGrades 4-6 – TeachersFirst offers a Halloween hallway display designed as a wrap-up to the study of early explorers in America. This lesson combines historical facts and creative writing skills.


The Great Depression and the 1990sGrades 11-12 – In this three-part unit, students will compare ideas on welfare in the 1930s and today. The first part has students research and discuss the present-day perspective on welfare. Next, they will form groups and study either a group of people affected by the Great Depression or the government programs that were designed to help those people. Finally, students research one modern government program with roots in the age of the Great Depression. A "Congressional forum" ends the unit, where students debate on which programs should be continued.

The History Project – LessonsGrades 6-12 – This is an interesting collection of U.S. History lessons created by a faculty member at the University of California at Davis. The lessons all involve students in reading and analyzing primary sources. Each lesson is available in elementary, middle school, and high school versions, and the original university teaching materials are also available on-line. This collection could be most useful in getting students to draw their own conclusions based on primary sources.

Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness by G. Casey Cassidy, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute – U.S. History(Revolution)/English (interdisciplinary)Grade 8 – This unit was written for an accelerated eighth grade class using historical fiction as a focus, but reading levels of texts are adaptable to grades 7- 11.

Manifest Destiny – Classroom SimulationGrades 6-12 – This lesson from Indiana University uses a simple classroom strategy to help students undersand Native American reactions to the westward expansion of the United States. Simple, but very effective.

Mosaic America on Film: Fact Versus Fiction by Ida Hickerson, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute – Multicultural History, Social Studies – Grades 6-8 – Use American films and fictional/non-fictional literature to increase student awareness of the values and struggles experienced by minorities and ethnic groups throughout the United States. Students will be exposed to a variety of ethnic groups and historical events as they investigate fact and fiction in American film. This unit builds greater awareness and understanding of diverse cultural groups.

My History is America’s History Grades 4-12 – Developed with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, this site offers students an introduction to family history and its place in American history. There are story collections, suggestions on how to collect and tell family histories, and opportunities to submit stories. The teacher section outlines approaches to family history for various grade levels. This site could easily be part of a history, writing, or social studies unit.

The New Deal: North Carolina’s Reconstruction?Grades 7-8 – To answer the title question of this unit, students will research and write a WPA report on an imaginary North Carolina resident who lived during the Reconstruction and Depression eras. Besides using the Internet for research, students are encouraged to interview people who were around during the Depression to get a feel for that time. For the report, students must choose a specific occupation for their "resident," and it must be historically accurate.
History lesson plans from the Social Studies School Service (commercial site) – These lesson plans are a sample of those available from the book Teaching Social Studies with the Internet, available for sale from this web site. Each lesson plan is fully useful on its own, no purchase required, and includes links to relevant Internet materials. Activities are designed for groups and utilize Internet research as an essential component for collecting information to be used in class discussions/presentations.

The Immigrant Experience: Ellis IslandGrades 4-12

Monument to Victims of Slavery on the Washington Mall: An Appropriate Memorial? Grades 7-12

The Underground RailroadGrades 7-12

Women Get to the Front: Female Journalists in WartimeGrades 9-12 – An excellent area of study for Women’s History Month, especially in conjunction with study of any wars and the role of the press.

Women’s Studies: Stereotypes and Expected BehaviorsGrades 9-12Though this lesson may open discussion of controversial topics, it could be used as part of a celebration of Women’s History Month.

History FirsthandGrades 4-8 – Subject: American History/Technology – This unit is designed to help elementary students learn to use the Internet for research, as well as broaden their understanding of history. In the first lesson, students gather and discuss personal artifacts to gain an understanding of what makes a "collection." During the second lesson, students use their local archives to discover how collections are organized, then try organizing some documents themselves. In the final lesson, students transition to a national topic and research the archives online. The gradual steps of the lesson help make it easier to search through the immense amount of material available online.

Immigration Simulation – Ellis IslandGrades 6-12 – On its surface, this site appears to be simply a "virtual tour" of Ellis Island. However, the Teacher’s section contains a good deal of information on how to create an on-site, interdisciplinary immigration experience for students. There are tips on content, involving parents, and other aspects of the project. Well worth a look if you’re studying this time period.

Langston Hughes: Artist and Historian by Medria Blue, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute – U.S. History: Grades 6-8 – This lesson explores Langston Hughes’ poetry, setting it as a "vehicle by which students are exposed to the African-American experience in the United States of the 1920s through the 1960s."
Learning About Immigration Through Oral HistoryGrades 6-8 – Subject: Social Studies, History, English – Designed as a year-long project, this unit can be adapted for a short-term lesson. The goal is to give students a realistic experience of oral history and its place in our history, focusing on American immigrants. Students will use visual and information literacy exercises to gain an understanding of how to identify and interpret primary historical sources. There are a total of six activities; each one can serve as a "stand-alone" unit. The activities cover topics such as "Oral history methodology" and "Making meaning out of an archive," and students get to work alone and in groups.

Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg AddressGrades 6-12 – This lesson plan from the American Presidents Project offers a collection of ways in which to engage students with Lincoln’s most famous speech. Lots of good suggestions and strategies. We couldn’t make the various external links work properly, but they’re not essential to the lesson.

The Asian American Experience in the United States: A Chronological HistoryGrades 7-12Study the chronology of Asian-American immigration and related socioeconomic and political factors. From the Asia Society.
Angel IslandGrades 9-12This lesson from the Ask Asian web site will teach about Chinese immigration to America in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Abraham Lincoln: The Early Life of Our Sixteenth PresidentGrades K-3 – Tammy Payton – Loogootee Elementary West, Loogootee, IN – This award-winning, web-based unit includes traditional classroom activities as well as web activities. Students may participate in a treasure hunt for information, take a quiz on what they have learned of Lincoln’s early life, or watch a web animation of Westward Expansion. Ms. Payton also provides web links for further information and a long list of choices for culminating activities.
Literature of the U.S. Civil War by Thomas E. Holmes, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute – Language Arts/U.S. History (interdisciplinary): Grades 4-5 – This unit investigates the Civil War through children’s literature, using multiple approaches to learning including reading, writing, dramatization, and music.
Lessons on the New DealGrades 7-12 – This is a collection of lessons and activities contained in the New Deal Network web site. They can also be used in conjunction with classroom study or other web resources on the period.
Mosaic America: Paths To The Present by Ida Hickerson – Val-Jean Belton, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute – Social Studies – Grade 7 – Improve students’ writing abilities and creative/critical thinking skills through a comparative study of African America, Latino, and Native American history. Using selections from literature and the arts, students discover the impact these cultures have had on American history. Activities include journal writing, analysis of literary elements and structure, Internet research, and the development of student portfolios.
Race, Language and Separation by Sandra Coleman, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute – Social Studies: Grades 5-6 – This unit combines expository writing, research, and other skills to investigate the relationship of language to segregation and integration within the American culture.
Chinatowns and Chinese Communities in AmericaGrades 9-12Study Chinese immigration and settlements in the U.S. over the past century.
FDR and the Supreme CourtGrades 9-12 – Franklin Roosevelt’s plan to pack the Supreme Court was a landmark test of the Constitution’s separation of powers. This lesson plan from the Library of Congress explores the implications of Roosevelt’s plan and asks students to argue both sides of the question.
Asian Americans and U.S.-Asia Relations: Japanese American InternmentGrades 5+This lesson from the Ask Asia web site will help develop student awareness and empathy concerning the Japanese internments during World War II.
Asian Customs & Values and Their Preservation Within CommunitiesGrades 9-12Understand a culture within the U.S. and the ways in which it maintains its identity.
Impact of War with Asia on Asian AmericansGrades 9-12This lesson from the Ask Asia series uses Political cartoons from the 1940s and 1990s as a springboard for learning about perceptions of Asians within the U.S.
Perceptions: Asian AmericansGrades 5+Separate fact from opinion in this lesson from Ask Aisa on the truths about Asian Americans.

Port of EntryGrades 6-12 – This lesson from the Library of Congress asks students to use archival images to gather impressions about American immgrants and immigration. It’s a good illustration of the instructional possibilities in using archival images and information.

Reservation Controversies: Then and NowGrades 8-12 – An interesting unit that looks at past and present issues regarding Native American reservations. There are two sections in the unit: The "Indian Agent Appointment Interview" and the "Indian Reservation Gaming Issue." In the first lesson, students role-play applying for a job as the IndianAgent for the Comanche Reservation in Oklahoma. They must prepare for their "interview" using the online resources. In the second lesson, students role-play as interns to a Congresswoman, with a task of researching the current issue of casinos on reservations.
You Be The HistorianGrades 4-8 – "You Be the Historian" can be an excellent springboard for class discussion about primary and secondary sources and the historical process. The "what about you?" sections of the activity encourage students to think about the study of history at a personal level. What can future historians learn about your students, your school, your class, etc. What evidence are you leaving behind? The activity can also be used as an introduction (or supplemental material) to life in the late 1700s. This site provides questions for your students to think about, especially if they are interested in careers with History backgrounds! Special Features include a teacher’s guide to using this web site and its contents in the classroom with or without the Internet. From the National Museum of American History.
new.gif (931 bytes)What do YOU see?Grades 5-12 – Students learn to analyze photographs for key information in the course of this unit. From selected Civil War photographs, students must answer questions about what they see, and come up with some of their own. More detailed captions are then provided, and students are expected to re-evaluate their original conclusions. Once they have learned to analyze the given pictures, they must find their own, draw conclusions, and present their findings to the class. After studying the pictures and captions in this manner, students will recognize links between the Civil War and American industrialization.
World War II As Seen Through Children’s Literature by Laura Pringleton, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute – Integrated Unit: Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science: Grades 5+ – This long-term unit uses all four academic disciplines to learn about World War II in a wonderfully integrated study. Materials are mostly middle school level but easily adaptable upwards.
Using Children’s Literature to Understand Working Women and Children During World War II by Felicia R. McKinnon, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute – Integrated Unit: Language Arts, Writing, Creative Dramatics, History, Music, Art, Science, Math, and more: Grades 1-6 – This unit uses literature, films, periodicals, and more to help students understand the experience of war.
Watergate and the ConstitutionGrades 9-12 – The Congressional investigations of the Watergate affair and Richard Nixon’s subsequent resignation tested the Constitutional relationships among all three branches of the federal government. This lesson from the Library of Congress asks students to explore this relationship and explain how and why the system worked effectively.
The Zimmerman TelegramGrades 9-12 – The Library of Congress presents this lesson plan based on the decoding of the Zimmerman telegram, one of the key events in the American entry into World War I. Includes lesson outline, sources for activities, and related information. Link to TeachersFirst W.W.I resources.

Other US History Resources:
Source Documents
Historical Chronology
American Themes

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