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34 posts categorized "History / DBQ's"

March 23, 2011

Vermont is Yemen and Hong Kong is Egypt: A Comparative GDP Infographic Map

Us-comparatives Effective infographics enable us to see information in new ways. The Economist recently posted these two interactive maps that offer insights into the distribution of GDP and population in both the US and China. Click on maps or follow links to original maps with full functionality.  

Which countries match the GDP and population of America's states?
Original Map


Which countries match the GDP, population and exports of Chinese provinces? 
Original Map

March 20, 2011

iPad 2 - A Triumph of Capitalism Over Communism

Good morning students, your final exam in economics includes this document-based-question (DBQ)
Study these two images, and discuss how capitalism's capacity to supply consumer goods triumphed over the chronic shortages of communism.
Extra credit: Speculate on how Angry Birds might have impacted the "domino theory" of the Cold War.

Communism 1983: USSR
A queue at the footwear store to buy imported footwear. 
Note: Imports were considered to be bet­ter qual­ity and more fash­ionable ­than Soviet goods.


Source: The Real USSR

Capitalism 2011: USA 
iPad 2 line at Fifth Avenue retail store in Manhattan. (One Week After iPad 2 Launch)
Note: iPad 2 is way better than the HP TouchPad.



 Want to know why these people are still waiting?
Read my post "Steve Jobs, You Evil Genius! I - Must - Have - iPad 2!" 


February 14, 2011

Jerry Seinfeld: History Teacher - Observations in the SNL Classroom

Seinfeld-history-teacher Last week I used this classic Jerry Seinfeld piece from Saturday Night Live as part of an administrators' workshop. We had lots of fun. Here's your chance to borrow the idea.

Goal: I was working with a team of principals and district administrators who wanted to provide more consistency in their teacher observations and look for strategies for using observations to assist teachers in reflecting on their instructional approaches. We first met at district office before going out to observe a few classrooms and share our impressions. I thought it would be useful (and fun) to warm up with Seinfeld's disastrous history lesson. 

Click to view the video

Here's the process I used:

  1. We watched the video.
  2. A volunteer agreed to take the role of an administrator who just observed Seinfeld teaching. I played the role of Mr. Seinfeld as we both met for a post-observation conference.
  3. I set up a "Fishbowl" discussion group among the remaining participants. Half would pay attention to the administrator conferencing with Seinfeld. They were asked to record two types of admin questions or comments on a T-Chart - either ones that caused Seinfeld (me) to reflect on myself as a teacher or judgmental questions / comments that caused me to get defensive. The second half of the fishbowl group focused on me (Seinfeld). They were asked to record two types of comments I made - either comments where I was reflective on my lesson / teaching or comments where I got defensive / argumentative.
  4. I asked each of the fishbowl groups to compare within their two groups.  We then we shared in a full group discussion.

While there was little positives to find in the Seinfeld lesson - the activity got us thinking about ways in which an administrator can give teachers feedback that is less judgmental and more likely to cause teachers to reflect on their lesson and instructional approaches. 

Sample judgmental admin question: "You say that you want the students to 'think about history' and forget about the details, so why did you start asking a series of content questions on material they had already failed on the test?"
Similar theme explored in a non-judgmental, reflective tone:  "What are some of  the methods you like to use to gather feedback on student mastery of content? How do you use the information to design a lesson?"

It was a great icebreaker and loads of fun for everyone. Later in the day we observed some actual classrooms taught by teachers who had volunteered to host us. We came back together as a group and compared our impressions using the district evaluation instrument. We compared our results to calibrate the observation tool. Our final activity was to develop some feedback to give the teachers who hosted our visits. We crafted comments that were more reflective than judgmental. The volunteer teachers' principal later delivered the feedback to the teachers. 

Everyone thought it was valuable session. I hope you can find some use or ways to modify. 

How to set up a Fishbowl discussion group  Download Fishbowl-discussion 58kb pdf

February 01, 2011

Revising Advanced Placement: Will Thinking Beat Memorizing in the New AP Tests?

The NY Times recently showcased the proposed revamping of the AP program and testing - "Rethinking Advanced Placement" (1/7/11)

"A preview of the changes shows that the board will slash the amount of material students need to know for the tests ... The goal is to clear students' minds to focus on bigger concepts and stimulate more analytic thinking. ... Trevor Packer, the College Board's vice president for Advanced Placement, notes that the changes mark a new direction for the board, which has focused on the tests more than the courses. ...'We really believe that the New A.P. needs to be anchored in a curriculum that focuses on what students need to be able to do with their knowledge,' Mr. Packer says."

Thinking In recent years, many high schools have stopped offering AP courses, and a growing number of universities have raised AP score requirements or no longer award credit for the test. Memorization might have been a valued skill when AP testing began in 1956, but today many AP courses have become little more than relentless test prep.

As the College Board phases in the new courses and tests over the next few years, more teachers will feel free to restructure courses to support greater depth and student-centered inquiry. I urge teachers to forge ahead courageously. My experience teaching AP in "seminar approach" back in the 1990's convinced me that advanced placement can be much more engaging than memorizing loads of information for an exam.

I was fortunate to have been mentored in that format by senior members of my high school social studies department - a hat tip to Brian Bell, Jim Wittig and Pete Crooker who pioneered the seminar approach used in our AP social studies classes. BTW - Our students scored very well on the AP exams.

Class size typically ran between 24 - 36 students. All students in the class would meet one day per week in a large group session. This might be used for unit testing, or to introduce or conclude a seminar with a lecture or full group discussion. The large group was also was divided into 4 seminar groups of 6-9 students. They would meet with me one day per week. Thus each student met one day per week in seminar and another day in large group. During the remainder of their week they worked independently or with their seminar group in preparation for the upcoming assignment. Of course, there were many weeks that were modified because of vacations and other interuptions - but you get the idea. Our high school was on traditional 8 period schedule. These AP classes were taught in a double period configuration of about 95 minutes for either the seminar classes or large group sessions.

My first experience was teaching one semester of AP US History while one of my colleagues was on leave. I focused on essential questions that fostered greater depth and relevance. Thus the typical question - “Should the Constitution be ratified?” became “How powerful should the national government be?” Anyone following the reauthorization of NCLB or the proposed health care legislation knows the enduring relevance of that question. For more on that approach, see my post "Essential Questions in American History: The Great Debates." 

After my semester of APUSH, I settled into my primary AP assignment - one semester classes in AP American Government / Politics and AP Comparative Government. There I used the seminar approach to give students guided experience in research, critical thinking, collaboration and presentation. 

Visualize the typical American government lesson. Teacher standing up front asking students to follow along as they go over the diagram of "how a bill becomes a law." Contrast that with an outline of one of my AP US Gov seminars on the same topic.

Congress and the Lobbyists
This extended seminar will investigate the relationships between Congress and the lobbyists. You will develop an investigative report which will ultimately answer the question "Does Congress represent the needs of its public constituency (the electorate) or its financial constituency (its contributors)? Weekly seminar abstracts will be used to prepare Tabloid TV-style PowerPoint report in support of your investigation. To see the full seminar assignment click here.  

Students were assigned a member of Congress who sat on one of the major committees. Their task over the next few weeks included researching and developing the following:

  • Demographic / political profile of their legislator's elective constituency.
  • Profile of their financial contributors.
  • Committee jurisdiction and major lobbyists.
  • Voting record on legislation of interest to their elective constituency and financial contributors.
  • Their answer to the seminar question with supportive reasoning.  
  • Presentation and reflection

The latest word from the College Board says that they plan to delay their implementation of the new AP US History until 2012-13 See: "New Advanced Placement Biology Is Ready to Roll Out, but U.S. History Isn’t
I hope that won't delay teachers from realizing that they can get students prepared for the AP exams without resorting to a force-fed test prep model of instruction.



My SlideShare of DBQ resources / strategies for students historians



"Think" image credit flickr/Stig Nygaard

January 08, 2011

My One Day of Fame at SlideShare

Slideshare Received a nice email from the folks at SlideShare this morning. 

"Hi peterpappas, Your presentation "The Student As Historian - DBQ Strategies and Resources" is currently being featured on the SlideShare homepage by our editorial team. We thank you for this terrific presentation, that has been chosen from amongst the thousands that are uploaded to SlideShare everday."

Cute baby photo - tough competition!

January 07, 2011

The Student As Historian - DBQ Resources and Strategies

New woman-wash day Over the last few weeks I've been guiding teams of teachers on reflective classroom walkthroughs. During the course of one of our "hallway discussions" I asked a social studies teacher, "who's the historian in your classroom?" After a bit of give and take, we concluded that in the traditional classroom, the students get to watch (and listen) to the teacher be historian. 

That's certainly what you would have seen early in my teaching career. I was the one doing most of the reading, reflecting and synthesizing of historic material. I thought my job was to distill it all and simplify for consumption by my students. It took me a few years to realize my job was to get the students to do the thinking.  I have spent my career developing teaching strategies and assembling resources that foster the student as historian. 

This downloadable SlideShare accompanies my workshop in “Teaching with Documents.” Don't think of it as a presentation. It's a online guide to resources and includes strategy illustrations from my workshop.

Link to presentation at SlideShare The Student As Historian

Image "The new woman - wash day"(1901) 
Library of Congress  cph 3b22851

January 05, 2011

Work, Culture and Society in Industrial America: Teaching History With DBQs


Questions feature a selection of primary and secondary documents, graphics, cartoons, tables, and graphs. Each is keyed to a historic theme and focused on an essential question of enduring relevance. They provide students with the exciting opportunity to move beyond the passive absorption of facts and enter knowledgeably into a managed archive where they can bring sound historic perspectives and analysis to bear on the challenges of the past and opportunities for the future.

More DBQ blog posts
My site Teaching with Documents.  

The Industrial Revolution began in Western Europe and eventually spread across much of the world. It transformed humanity's age-old struggle with material scarcity by using capital, technology, resources, and management to expand the production of goods and services dramatically. In the United States, the period between the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century was one of tremendous industrial and commer cial expansion. Americans have long had faith in the idea of progress, and many people viewed this dramatic economic growth as evidence of the superiority of the American system.

But while increased production did improve the American standard of living, industrialization concentrated great wealth and power in the hands of a few captains of industry. For the thousands of Americans who actually worked in the new factories, however, this economic revo lution often meant long hours, low wages, and dangerous working conditions. As economic growth increasingly touched every aspect of American society, then, it created both new opportunities and new social problems. 

Cream separator

Rural Americans Move to the Cities: explore the world of the rural men and women who moved to the cities in search of a better life. (pdf format)

Progress and Poverty in Industrial America:  explore the impact of an economic revolution on rich and poor Americans. (pdf format)

Re-Defining the Role of Women in Industrial America: explore the ways social and economic progress impacted the role of women. (pdf format)

Election Day by CW Guslin, 1909
Sears Catalogue 1908 

January 04, 2011

17 Document Based and Constructed Response Questions For Elementary Students (DBQ CRQ)

These questions are designed to give elementary students guided practice in working with primary and secondary source material. They target grades 2 - 6 and address a variety of common social studies topics. DBQ's and CRQs help prepare students to do the work of historians and social scientists. For more of my posts for using DBQs in the elementary and secondary classroom click here. Hat tip to Kate Gillan, former K-8 Social Studies Director at East Irondequoit CSD and all the district teachers who produced this fine series of DBQ's and CRQ's.


Document Based Questions

Gr 2 Local History
Gr 3 Communities
Gr 3 Transportation
Gr 4 Colonial Period
Gr 4 Roles of Women
Gr 5 Civil War
Gr 5 The Iroquois
Gr 5 Government
Gr 5 Immigration
Gr 6 Classical Period
Gr 6 Eastern Religion

Constructed Response Questions

Grade 3 World Communities-1 
Grade 3 World Communities-2
Grade 3 Maps
Grade 4 New York State History
Grade 5 Rainforests
Grade 6 Series

Image credit: Peter Pappas

January 02, 2011

Historypin - Make DBQs with a Digital Time Machine That Layers Image, Story and Location

While planning for my next document based question (DBQ) workshop, I discovered Historypin. It's a great mashup of digital photos with stories layered over Google maps. Users can search images by geography / time and post historic photos with stories to maps. It's fascinating to view historic photographs set against the backdrop of current Google map street view.


Here's a circa 1894 photo I uploaded to Historypin showing a bridge crossing the Erie Canal in downtown Rochester NY. It's layered over a functioning "street view" in Google maps.

In Historypin's story section, I provide a brief history of the canal's impact on the growth of the city.

Then I pose a question. "I wonder if the people in the old photograph still appreciated the canal's role in creating the city of Rochester, or if they had come to see it as outmoded nuisance which divided the city in half?"

For more ideas for classroom see:  image guide | story guide | teachers' notes

What I like most about Historypin is that it adds a new dimension to the DBQ approach to instruction - students don't simply learn from historic documents - they get to document their world for future generations.

More from Historypin:

Historypin was created as part of our current campaign to get people from different generations spending more time together. From a lot testing, we found old photos are a great way of getting people talking about how their street used to look, what their grandparents were like and what's changed (or not) over time. 

We decided to create a website where people everywhere could share their old photos and the stories behind them, pinning them to a map of the world. We also thought it would be neat if you could compare these old photos with how the world looks today, making the site a bit like a digital time machine. So we asked Google if they'd help. They let us use their map and Street View functionality and helped us build the site. 

The great thing about Historypin is that when they're using the site, loads of people are spending time with someone from a different generation. Older people have attics full of old photos, younger people know when to click and when to double click.

November 09, 2010

Lesson Study: Teacher-Led PD That Works

One of the best aspects of my work is that I get to meet many talented educators. I'm on the road this week, and I invited two of them to do guest posts. The first comes from Matt Karlsen, Project Director of Teaching American History Grants at ESD 112 in Vancouver, Washington. Matt and I first connected on Twitter then recently met over coffee.  I was impressed with the success his group's Lesson Study approach.

There's a hysterical video called “Collaborative Planning” currently going viral.  It’s a "laugh until you cry" feast, one that lays bare the hypocrisy too often evident in teacher professional development where teachers are forced into “Professional Learning Teams” that are none of the above.

Ls-image1 Thankfully, I’ve been able to work with teachers for the last several years using Lesson Study, a format that is collegial, educative, and transformative.  In our Teaching American History grant funded project, Lesson Study starts with teachers learning new historical content.  They consider state and national thinking and learning targets and examine their students’ work to get a sense of their students’ strengths and struggles.  They form teams to develop a lesson trying to impact student skills and knowledge.  At the same time as helping students answer questions about the historical content, they’re research lessons – helping teachers answer questions they have about teaching and learning.  The group gathers to watch students interact with the lesson, spending the rest of the day discussing observations using this protocol.

Why does it work?

  1. It’s inquiry driven.  Genuine questions guide teachers and students, and the quality of the questions is continually refined to better the learning.  It fosters curiosity.
  2. Teachers are in control.  They decide the lesson targets, the questions they want students to consider and the “problems of practice” they want to investigate.  
  3. Students are the focus.  Ultimately, everything depends on what real students do with the lesson.  Kid-watching eyes are developed as observations become the talking points.
  4. It’s flexible and adaptable.  Regardless of who, what, where, or for how long you’ve been teaching, the process works.

Want to learn more?  

  • Catherine Lewis from Mills College has played a large role in adapting Lesson Study from Japan to the US. The Lesson Study Group at Mills College Resource Page offers links to many informative articles, videos, and books.
  • Oakland Unified School District’s Teaching American History Grants have paved the way for considering Lesson Study in History.  The two videos posted on their site are inspirational starting points for understanding the process.
  • Feel free to contact me (Matt)  to talk about Lesson Study!  It was through open collaboration with others – including Catherine Lewis, Stan Pesick in Oakland, Roni Jones in Placer County, and our TAH partners – that I’ve been able to move down this path.  Let’s extend the Lesson Study professional learning community!
  • Two useful documents for download: 2010-11 LS Review Sheet  and  LS Observation & Debriefing Protocol -Fall 2010


Interested in more teacher-friendly PD? Read my posts: 

Teacher-Led Professional Development: Eleven Reasons Why You Should be Using Classroom Walk Throughs 

A Guide to Designing Effective Professional Development: Essential Questions for the Successful Staff Developer 

The Reflective Teacher: The Taxonomy of Reflection



November 01, 2010

Need an Election Lesson? Let Student Gerrymander Like a Politician

The_GerryMander Most history and government students learn about Gerrymandering - the re-drawing to legislative districts to favor a specific political party. Gerrymandering at Wikipedia.

The 2010 elections will have a major impact on the shape of congressional and state legislative district across the country. Instead of simply telling your students about the impact of the elections - why not give them the chance to gerrymander their own district. 

Link to Gerrymandering lesson

I used this lesson for years with my students and they came up with some remarkable legislative districts that varied greatly based on which party they   were trying to promote. And of course they developed their own understanding of the process, political implications and meaning of gerrymandering.

For more of my history and social studies lessons click here. Let your students be the historian with document based questions

Image from Wikipedia  -  First printed in March 1812, this political cartoon was drawn in reaction to the state senate electoral districts drawn by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican Party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists. 

September 29, 2010

Analyzing the History of the Bicycle: A Prezi DBQ


Click here to go the Prezi.
Then click “More” to view full screen. Use arrows at base of Prezi to navigate forward and back through a predefined path. Or use your mouse to explore and zoom the Prezi. Click on hyperlinks in the Prezi to more information about the historic bicycles.
For a PDF version of the Prezi click here.

I'm pleased to have been invited by the educators at the Smithsonian Institution to do a guest blog post using museum resources. It's a great opportunity to illustrate a question that I often pose to educators – when do we stop modeling for students and free them to take responsibility for their learning? For example, the document-based approach (DBQ) can be a great way for students to “be the historian,” but too often we “over curate” the historic material we share with students. When that happens, the teacher is the active historian and the student is merely a passive recipient of information. For more on that subject see my post: Essential Question: Who is the Teacher in Your Classroom? All across the curriculum, students are told to “analyze” material, but their thinking is constrained by the mandated Venn diagram or T-chart. Developing a comparative schema is messy work – but that's where the learning takes place. When the student fills out the teacher's Venn diagram, they aren't analyzing, their filing information into predefined locations. 

Of course, students do need proper scaffolding. Opportunities to learn different analytic models – cause / effect, problem / solution, sequencing, continuity / change. It makes sense to provide them some graphic organizers to help master the models. But at some point, you must turn them loose and give them the chance to explore, discover, create. Put another way, if your entire class comes back with the same comparative analysis – you did the thinking, they didn't.

Zoe with Electra I was attracted to the Smithsonian Bicycle collection for two reasons. From an academic perspective, the images of historic bicycles could be analyzed by students without a great deal of background knowledge. My lesson provides a minimum of explanation and gives students more opportunities to develop their own model of how bicycles and bicycle culture evolved over time. On the personal side, much of the year, I live in Portland Oregon –  heartland of the urban bike culture. We don't own a car, but rely on our bikes, walking and public transport. (That's me with granddaughter Zoe on my Electra Townie bike). 

Some of my photographs of contemporary bikes are from Portland, where creative types continue to evolve new designs. I've been using Prezi on my blog and in my presentations since it was launched. For many years I've been an advocate of the DBQ. This is my first attempt to combine the two. 

Step 1: Choosing the Analytic Approach Students need experience using a variety of analytic approaches. Continuity and change is a perspective that has a central role in historic/chronological thinking and it can be used in other disciplines across the curriculum. In this lesson, students are given images of historic bicycles with a minimal amount of supporting text. Starting with concrete observations, students look for patterns of change and continuity (elements that changed, e.g., size / number of wheels, speed, stability and those that remained relatively constant , e.g., human powered, seated posture, need for brakes).  Finally, they are asked develop a way to express what they’ve learned. This gives them an audience other than their teacher.

7 dad-son Step 2: Making It Relevant To make learning relevant and set the stage for self-reflection, students need the opportunity to explore their own approaches. For this reason, I don’t provide a graphic organizer. That would mean that I, not the students, did the analysis. This opened-ended assignment invites students to develop their own graphic or narrative model to express what they’ve learned. Another aspect of relevance is authentic audience and purpose. Therefore I recommend that students be asked to think of how they would share their continuity/change model with younger students.


At left: Man astride "1882 Columbia Expert" with son?


Step 3: Making It Rigorous Students should begin by focusing on the lower level comprehension skills (What am I looking at? What materials were used? How were bicycles propelled and steered?) Next they can move to higher level skills.

  • Analysis – What patterns do I see in the bicycles – construction, design, features, uses? What elements do they share in common? How do they differ?
  • Evaluation – In my own judgment, what elements are changing? Which are staying the same? 
  • Creating – What have I learned about continuity and change in the history of the bicycle? How can I represent what I’ve learned to share with others? Should I use a graphic organizer? Flow chart? Time line? Diagram? Narrative?

Step 4: Encouraging Students to Reflect On Their Learning Students that have the opportunity to explore their own approaches have a learning experience that can be a basis for reflection. Since they will likely develop different analytic models than their classmates, they have a chance to compare and learn from each others’ conclusions. When asked to develop a way to explain their model to younger peers, students can reflect on how their model suits their audience and purpose. For reflective prompts you can use with your students see my Taxonomy of Reflection.

Step 5: Taking It Further These possible activity extensions can encourage students to think more about bicycles continuity, and change.

  • Consider how contemporary bicycles fit your continuity / change model, e.g., recumbent, mountain, fixed gear.
  • Design a bicycle
  • Apply the continuity / change model in another subject or discipline – fashion, architecture, musical styles, advertising, fictional characters… I could go on, but I hope you see the potential for learning.
  • Technology extension – Student could also be invited to view the world’s public photography archives at the Flickr Commons with a search by bicycle.They could help describe the photographs they discover by adding tags or leaving comments. The collection includes works from the Smithsonian and other leading international photographic archives.

May 10, 2010

Learning from Centuries of Play: Students Reenact Bruegel's "Children's Games"

Bruegel_games-detail I was perusing Edward Snow's "Inside Bruegel: The Play of Images in Childrens Games" and impressed with his de-construction of the painting. As a big fan of document based instruction, I got thinking about how much students could learn from a close reading of the work.  Link to painting.

After a search, I found that a group of Belgian students had researched and re-enacted Bruegel the Elder's "Children's Games" (1560) for a class project. I'm reposting it to inspire enterprising teachers and students to try their hand at a reenactment of this (or another work).

Johan Opsomer posted the reenactment in 2007 with the following description:

I developped a project with the children of our school. Each child had to choose a group and a figure. They had some tasks about their figure.  Fill in a 'friends-book' as the figure would do in the Middle ages. Discribe the game and making up the rules. Make a drawing book with the house, the family and the clothes of the figure. Telling the life-story, make a cookbook, a family-tree, etc etc, depending of the age of each of our students. It was a great project and we even were in national newspaper with the project and the picture.

Bruegel-by-Johan Opsomer  

April 27, 2010

Seeing American History Through the Artist's Eye: A Teaching and Learning Resource

Thomas Hart Benton - Boomtown The Education department at the University of Rochester's Memorial Art Gallery has just launched a new web feature which pairs works of art with teaching strategies.  

Their new teaching / learning site, Seeing America,  documents the Gallery's outstanding collection of American Art through 82 works and their connections to American history, culture, literature and politics.

The accompanying Classroom Guide integrates background information on the art, the artist and America with visual literacy classroom activities. Lesson plans and resources are readable online and available as downloadable pdfs. 

Download a pdf sample Context and Classroom Activities for
Thomas Hart Benton’s Boomtown. (above)

After you've had a chance to view the site leave a comment with your responses. I'll pass them along to my friends at the Education department.  


If your interested in world art, take a look at my blog post "Picturing the Story - An Interdisciplinary Approach to Culture, Environment, Language, and Learning."  I served as an advisor to the Education department's last teaching site - "Picturing the Story: Narrative Arts and the Stories They Tell." It uses world art from the permanent collection of the Memorial Art Gallery dating from 1500 BCE to the 20th Century. Each work has a story to tell, either visually through imagery and symbol, or indirectly through custom and ritual. The stories reflect sacred beliefs, folk traditions, common human experiences, or unique cultural practices. 

December 07, 2009

Homefront America - Engage Students with Document Based Essential Questions

Ride-hitler Recently my post: Essential Question: Who is the Teacher in Your Classroom? drew a response from a teacher looking for a more scaffolded approach to document based instruction. Here's my response ...

Homefront America in WW II is designed to improve content reading comprehension with an engaging array of source documents – including journals, maps, photos, posters, cartoons, historic data and artifacts. I developed it to serve as a model for blending essential questions, higher order thinking and visual interpretation. I intentionally refrained from explaining the documents, to afford students the chance to do the work of historians. A variety of thinking exercises are imbedded in the lesson to support reading comprehension. Graphic organizers support differentiated activities to assist the students in extracting meaning from the documents.

Hopefully this lesson serves as a model of how to infuse support for literacy into the more typical educational goal of content mastery. But more importantly, it is designed to demonstrate how student engagement can be "powered" by an essential question. 

Instead of attempting to teach the American homefront experience during WWII via the memorization of historical facts (like "victory" gardens), this lesson approaches the same subject through a more timeless question “How did Americans change their lives to support the war effort?"

This essential question invites the students into the material as they draw from their life experience to construct a response. Guiding questions direct students to construct comparisons between the American experience in WWII and the Iraq / Afghanistan war. Moreover, since the events of September 11th, the very notion the “homefront” has been redefined by new perceptions of terrorism and homeland security. 

Instruction is not simply an act of telling, it should instead be centered around creating learning experiences that provoke student reflection. In this lesson, source documents and literacy strategies combine to simultaneously teach content and comprehension. But more importantly, an essential question serves as a springboard to engage students in a deeper reflection on the notion of sacrifice in the historical context and in their own lives.

Scaffolding questions include ...

Pre Reading / Think Before You Start: 

Before you begin this lesson,think about and discuss in small groups the following questions: 

  • What resources are needed to wage a war? 
  • How could people on the home front help to supply these resources? 
  • What would you be willing to contribute to a war effort? 

Post Reading / The Question Today: 

Civilians have always been impacted by war and they are frequently called upon to contribute to national war efforts. Since the events of September 11, 2001, the United States has fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

  • How have Americans on the homefront contributed to the effort? What have they sacrificed?
  • How do those efforts compare with the home front in WWII? 
  • How did the attacks of September 11 change the nature of the “homefront?”