• Understanding the Salem Witch Trials

    "Witchcraft Victims on the Way to the Gallows,"by F.C. Yoyan, appeared in  the Boston Herald, May 14, 1930.

    In 1691, a group of girls from Salem, Massachusetts accused an Indian slave named Tituba of witchcraft, igniting a hunt for witches that left 19 men and women hanged, one man pressed to death, and over 150 more people in prison awaiting a trial. In this lesson, students will explore the characteristics of the Puritan community in Salem, learn about the Salem Witchcraft Trials, and try to understand how and why this event occurred.

  • Lesson 1: Kate Chopin's "The Awakening": No Choice but Under?

    Kate Chopin. Image from the archives of the Missouri Historical Society.

    Students will explore how Chopin stages the possible roles for women in Edna's time and culture through the examples of other characters in the novella.

  • Women Aviators in World War II: "Fly Girls"

    Jackie  Cochran, one of America's leading aviators

    This lesson plan explores the contributions of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II, and their aviation legacy.

  • Lesson 2: The Battles of the Civil War

    Created July 17, 2010
    "A Harvest of Death."

    Through the use of maps and original documents, this lesson will focus on the key battles of the Civil War, Gettysburg and Vicksburg and show how the battles contributed to its outcome. It will also examine the "total war" strategy of General Sherman, and the role of naval warfare in bringing about a Union victory.

  • Lesson 3: The Gettysburg Address (1863)—Defining the American Union

    Photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg dedication. Lincoln is highlighted in this image  in the middle of the crowd at the dais.

    This lesson will examine the most famous speech in American history to understand how Lincoln turned a perfunctory eulogy at a cemetery dedication into a concise and profound meditation on the meaning of the Civil War and American union.

  • Lesson 1: Fragment on the Constitution and Union (1861)—The Purpose of the American Union

    Library of  Congress image of 1860 campaign illustration of Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln

    How did Abraham Lincoln understand the relationship between principles of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? In this lesson students will examine Lincoln's "Fragment on the Constitution and Union" a brief but insightful reflection on the importance of the ideal of individual liberty to the constitutional structure and operation of the American union written in the last days of December 1860 when his election as president had brought the crisis of the American "house divided" to a head.

  • Who Were the Foremothers of Women's Equality?

    Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (seated) and Susan B. Anthony.
    Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8
    Curriculum Unit

    Life in the North and South 1847–1861: Before Brother Fought Brother (5 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    More Americans lost their lives in the Civil War than in any other conflict. How did the United States arrive at a point at which the South seceded and some families were so fractured that brother fought brother?

    A complex series of events led to the Civil War. The lessons in this unit are designed to help students develop a foundation on which to understand the basic disagreements between North and South. Through the investigation of primary source documents —photographs, census information and other archival documents—students gain an appreciation of everyday life in the North and South, changes occurring in the lives of ordinary Americans, and some of the major social and economic issues of the years before the Civil War.

    Guiding Questions

    • What differences existed between ordinary Americans living in the North and those living in the South in the years before the Civil War?
    • What important issues are reflected in the differences between life in the North and the South?
    • What kinds of changes were taking place in the United States at the time?

    Learning Objectives

    • List three differences and three similarities between life in the North and the South in the years before the Civil War.
    • Discuss how these differences contributed to serious disagreements between the North and South.

    Preparation Instructions

    The Civil War erupted after a long history of compromises and sectional debates over representation, federalism, tariffs and territories. Though many of the political differences are beyond the scope of the intermediate curriculum, students can use their analysis of archival documents to begin to appreciate the differences between the North and South and the changes afoot in the United States that contributed to the developing conflict.

    Before you begin to teach this unit, review the suggested activities and familiarize yourself with the websites involved. Select, download and duplicate, as necessary, any documents you want the class to use.

    For the census activity in Lesson 3, either the teacher or students will need to keep a calculator at hand.

    You may wish to provide students with a copy of the Document Analysis Worksheet, available through the EDSITEment resource The Digital Classroom, to guide them as they review the documents in this unit.

    The purpose of this lesson is to prepare students with background information for understanding the causes of the Civil War. You can find information on the causes of the Civil War, accessible through a link from the EDSITEment resource The Internet Public Library.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    6-8

    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > People > African American
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
    • History and Social Studies
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
    • History and Social Studies > Place > The Americas
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Demographic Changes
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
    • History and Social Studies > World > The Modern World (1500 CE-Present)
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Economic Transformation
    • History and Social Studies > People > Other
    • History and Social Studies > People > Women
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Slavery
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
    Skills
    • Compare and contrast
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Debate
    • Discussion
    • Evaluating arguments
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Textual analysis
    • Using primary sources
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    Letters from Emily Dickinson: 'Will you be my preceptor?' (3 Lessons)

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    Overview

    In 1862, Emily Dickinson, one of the most innovative poets of the 19th century, ventured a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an editor, writer, and longtime contributor to the Atlantic Monthly who would become her long-time correspondent and mentor. She asked, "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?" Long perceived as a recluse who wrote purely in isolation, Dickinson in reality maintained many dynamic correspondences throughout her lifetime and specifically sought out dialogues on her poetry. These correspondences—both professional and private—reveal a poet keenly aware of the interdependent relationship between poet and reader.

    Similarly, Dickinson's letters expose a poet fully engaged in the process of crafting a persona. In another note to Higginson in the first year of their correspondence, Dickinson wrote, "When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person." For students of writing, who often struggle to develop a distinctive voice, and then to modify that voice for different audiences, Dickinson's dialogues offer an instructive model. Ultimately, reading Emily Dickinson's letters alongside her poems helps students to better appreciate a remarkable voice in American literature, grasp how Dickinson perceived herself and her poetry, and-perhaps most relevant to their own endeavors—consider the ways in which a writer constructs a "supposed person."

    In this curriculum unit, students will explore Dickinson's poetry as well as her letters to Higginson and her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. They will work individually and in groups to reflect on Dickinson's views and the process by which she writes; assume the role of a critic/correspondent and analyze Dickinson's poetry, specifically noting the effectiveness of her persona; and, finally, emulate her writing style while, at the same time, synthesizing what they've learned about poetic voice in a poetry-writing exercise on "There's a certain Slant of light."

    Guiding Questions

    • How does Emily Dickinson perceive herself as a poet, especially as reflected by her correspondences with Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson?
    • In what ways does this perception manifest itself in her poetry?

    Learning Objectives

    • Recognize Emily Dickinson's poetic style
    • Engage in textual analysis and critical thinking
    • Reflect upon the concept of artistic persona and the creative process
    • Adjust their writing style to different purposes
    • Use imaginative writing techniques

    Preparation Instructions

    • For Lesson One, download the pdf worksheet, Emily Says, and cut out each individual quotation for distribution to student groups.
    • For Lesson Three, download and copy the PDF worksheet, Emulate Emily.
    • Re-read a number of Dickinson's poems to reacquaint yourself with her unique style. The poems used in this lesson are "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" (216, 1859 and 1861 version), "They shut me up in Prose-" (613), "I dwell in Possibility-" (657), "There's a certain Slant of light" (258). More Dickinson poems are available at the Academy of American Poets or the American Verse Project. Note Dickinson's use of metaphors to express her ideas and her rejection of grammatical conventions, and her dependence on poetry to achieve understanding.
    • Since this lesson addresses Dickinson's persona, it is also helpful to review a few essays on how Dickinson is perceived today. You may want to read the Dickinson biography on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Academy of American Poets, and explore a few of the pieces, specifically Sandra Gilbert's essay, at Titanic Operas, Folio 1, available on the Dickinson Electronic Archives through the Academy of American Poets site. Central to this lesson is the well-known myth of Emily Dickinson as a ghost-like figure, dressed entirely in white and confined to her father's home in Amherst. Conversely, it's significant to note the extent of Dickinson's formal education and the value she placed on literature. Dickinson was well-versed in the poetry and prose of the 19th century, having read and appreciated, among others, the Brontës, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Carlyle, and George Eliot. As you read the biographies, pay attention to disparate views. While some scholarship portrays Dickinson as a romantic, heartsick figure (i.e., as someone weak who was acted upon), more recent feminist readings tend to view her as deeply aware of the image she actively created of herself.
    • Read at least pages 444 through 447 of Emily Dickinson's Letters, Thomas Wentworth Higginson's article for the October 1891 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, at the EDSITEment-reviewed American Memory Project. Higginson excerpts many of Dickinson's letters to him in this piece. Consider the ways in which Dickinson simultaneously seeks Higginson's input and resists his recommendations. Also, note her particular writing style and think about her views on poetry. Her letters suggest that, for her, writing poetry was instinctive, but they also reveal that she understood her writing in the context of other literary works. (As you read this piece, know that Higginson corrected, so to speak, Dickinson's grammar when he published her letters. For a better look at her unadulterated style, see the manuscripts in the Dickinson Electronic Archives, discussed below.)
    • In his essay, Higginson writes, "Even her letters to me show her mainly on her exaltee side; and should a volume of her correspondence ever be printed, it is very desirable that it should contain some of her letters to friends of closer and more familiar intimacy." For a glimpse of this intimacy, explore the "Emily Dickinson Writing a Poem" site, part of the Dickinson Electronic Archives, which is available through the EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets. Read the "Introduction," the letters between Dickinson and her sister-in-law Susan, and the manuscript excerpts. Pay particular attention to how Sue comments on Dickinson's poetry, how Dickinson in turn responds to Sue's suggestions, and how she expresses an awareness of herself as a poet writing for a greater audience. Think about how this exchange is more personal than the one between Dickinson and Higginson.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > AP Literature
    • History and Social Studies > People > Women
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
    Skills
    • Creative writing
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Interpretation
    • Literary analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Poetry writing
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Textual analysis
    • Using primary sources
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: A House Dividing (4 Lessons)

    Created July 17, 2010

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    The Unit

    Overview

    Our political problem now is “Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently—forever—half slave, and half free?” The problem is too mighty for me. May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution.

    —Abraham Lincoln to George Robertson, August 15, 1855

    In this unit, students will trace the development of sectionalism in the United States as it was driven by the growing dependence upon, and defense of, black slavery in the southern states. Initially seen as contrary to freedom but tolerated in order to produce the U.S. Constitution, by the 1830s the "peculiar institution" found advocates who saw it as a "positive good." Its expansion into Missouri, southern outrage over federal tariffs, and westward expansion into new territory produced a volatile and persistent debate over slavery that increasingly threatened to divide the American union. By 1860, the nation found an old Democratic Party split over the right to extend slavery into federal territory, and a new Republican Party nominating an anti-slavery, though not abolitionist, president. When Abraham Lincoln's election produced no national consensus to settle the matter of slavery's future, a southern "secession" sealed the fate of the Union.

    What characterized the debates over American slavery and the power of the federal government for the first half of the 19th century? How did regional economies and political events produce a widening split between free and slaveholding states in antebellum America? Who were the key figures and what were their arguments regarding the legitimacy of slavery and the proper role of the national government in resolving its future in the American republic? This unit of study will equip students to answer these questions through the use of interactive maps, primary texts, and comparative biographies.

    Guiding Questions

    • How did the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Nullification Crisis a decade later illustrate the widening divide between northern and southern states?
    • What were the leading arguments against slavery in the antebellum era and how did slaveholders defend the "peculiar institution"?
    • How did Senator Stephen Douglas try to reduce the growing sectionalism of America over the slavery controversy through the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and its policy of popular sovereignty?
    • In the 1860 presidential election, what political options regarding the spread of slavery did the American people face, and how did Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party differ from advocates of immediate abolition, popular sovereignty, and national slavery?

    Learning Objectives

    Upon completing the lessons in this unit, students should be able to do the following:

    • use maps of the 1820 Missouri Compromise and the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act to understand political and economic changes in the U.S. and why those changes provoked a debate over the expansion of slavery in America
    • list the main provisions of the 1820 Missouri Compromise and 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act
    • highlight the basic economic differences between the commerce of the North and the South
    • explain John Calhoun's theory of nullification, Andrew Jackson's view of national sovereignty, Stephen Douglas's policy of popular sovereignty, and Lincoln's understanding of constitutional self-government
    • identify influential opponents and defenders of American slavery
    • explain the reasons given for and against the morality and legitimacy of slavery under the U.S. Constitution
    • articulate the different solutions to the controversy over slavery in the territories proposed by Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and William Lowndes Yancey
    • distinguish the priorities of the Republican Party from those of the two factions of the Democratic Party and the Constitutional Union Party during the 1860 election
    • explain how the differing views regarding slavery in the territories eventually produced a southern secession and a civil war
    • discuss whether or not the American Civil War was an avoidable war or "an irrepressible conflict"

    Preparation Instructions

    Review each lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.

    Download the blackline masters for this lesson, available here as a PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.

    Each activity in this unit of study is designed for use as a stand-alone lesson, comprising three forty-five minute class periods. Taken all together, the lessons provide an overview of the causes of sectionalism that led to the American Civil War. Since available time and curriculum needs vary by classroom, the following guidelines for use are provided:

    Another approach you can use is to skim each lesson plan to see what specific activities each offers and choose only those that suit specific course objectives and content. Each lesson plan indicates how best to streamline that lesson's content and will suggest essential versus more rigorous treatment of a given subject.

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > People > African American
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
    • History and Social Studies
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Civil Rights
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Demographic Changes
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Economic Transformation
    • History and Social Studies > People > Other
    • History and Social Studies > People > Women
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Slavery
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
    Skills
    • Compare and contrast
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Debate
    • Discussion
    • Essay writing
    • Evaluating arguments
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Map Skills
    • Online research
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Using primary sources
    • Visual analysis
    • Writing skills