Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 1. Upton Sinclair, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harvey W. Wiley

Created March 28, 2016


The Lesson


The Jungle Teddy Roosevelt image

Theodore Roosevelt displayed his vigorous campaigning style before the newsreel cameras

Credit: Library of Congress

In this lesson, students learn how Progressive reformers in government used the public outrage over Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle as a catalyst for legislation. The story of how two progressives, Theodore Roosevelt and Harvey W. Wiley, worked together within the federal government is not as well-known as the role played by Sinclair’s The Jungle, but it provides the needed historical and political context for the landmark Progressive era legislation

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to identify two reasons why the Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle
  • Students will be able to identify President Theodore Roosevelt and Harvey W. Wiley and explain how they worked together to pass legislation to protect consumers 

Preparation and Resources

Print or make available an excerpt from chapter 14 of The Jungle, available under “Hypertexts” section of the American Studies website at University of Virginia.

A timeline of key dates for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act can be found through the topics menu for Chronicling America pages at the Library of Congress. 

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Upton Sinclair's “The Jungle”

Pre-class: When students enter the classroom, project an image of several different types of meat to engage their interest.

  • Generate a short discussion, connecting what students ate for their last meal and its source.
  • Explain that food supplies were once not as safe and reliable as they now are.
  • Pass out copies of an excerpt from chapter 14 of The Jungle. After reading and clarifying the questions below, ask the students to engage in a close reading discussion. This can be completed in small groups of three or four, based on the familiarity of the class with the task. Questions might include:
    • What clues show you the position of the author?
    • Point to the evidence presented in the book.
    • What reasons does the author give for reform? What examples support these reasons?
    • Share a sentence that supports the author’s view.
    • What is the purpose of this piece? What are the clues that tell you about this?
    • What does the author propose as reform? What evidence is given?
    • What do you predict happened next? What are the clues that make you think so?

Group Discussion

Preface the discussion with the comment that Upton Sinclair was largely unhappy with the reaction to his book. He had hoped to focus on the ways that immigrants were being exploited in Chicago; most Americans instead focused on the section that discussed the meatpacking industry, in which many of them worked.

Ask students

  • Why would Sinclair be disappointed with the public’s reaction to his novel?
  • Why did Sinclair think his novel would help lead to a wider revolution of the working class in America?
  • Why was the working class reluctant to push for more government regulation of labor conditions in the U.S.?

Formative Assessment

Give students an exit card on which they explain several reasons why Sinclair wrote his book and also why he was disappointed with the reactions of readers.


Activity 2. Two Progressives in Government: Theodore Roosevelt and Harvey Washington Wiley
  • Direct students to a poster of President Theodore Roosevelt from Humanities Texas.
  • Have students read a background essay on the role of Harvey Washington Wiley (focus on paragraphs 3–5)
  • Have students work in small groups to read both essays and answer the set of questions below
  • Questions for the poster might include:
    • When was Theodore Roosevelt president?
    • What can we learn about his presidency from the poster’s subtitle? (Hint: What is the meaning and significance of the word “vision” in this context?)
    • What message does the large photograph in the center convey?
    • What ideas are conveyed by the other pictures?
    • What does the quote from Roosevelt mean? How does it relate to the overall message of the poster?
    • Which picture relates to the journalist/novelist Upton Sinclair?
    • What sentence in the text relates to the book The Jungle?
  • Questions for the Wiley article
    • What information do we learn from the first paragraph that is relevant to this lesson?
    • What does the second paragraph tell us about the context of Wiley’s long career?
    • Do you think it is important that Wiley had a medical degree and taught chemistry? If so why?
    • What was his “passion” according to the fourth paragraph?
    • In the next paragraph we learn about Wiley’s role in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act? How would you state that role in your own words?
    • What does the newspaper headline on Wiley’s retirement from the government tell us about his impact?

Formative Assessment

Have student write short five paragraph essay responding to this prompt: Does what you learned about the “vision” of Theodore Roosevelt and the “passion” of Harvey Washington Wiley change how you think about the role of Upton Sinclair’s Jungle in the fight for Progressive reform?


Have students write a short five paragraph essay that grapples with this prompt: The focus of this lesson is the twin passage of the landmark Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act in June 1906. What can be learned about the role of investigative journalism, the role of science and the importance of political leadership from this achievement. 

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Common Core
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Demographic Changes
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Economic Transformation
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Immigration/Migration
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • Critical thinking
  • Persuasive writing and speaking
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Rona Johnson, Rocky Mountain Middle School (Idaho Falls, ID)