Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 2. “Read All About It”: Primary Source Reading in “Chronicling America”

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 read several investigative newspaper articles leading to the landmark legislation of the Roosevelt Administration the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.  These documents provide an opportunity for close reading of complex informational texts as well as understanding the historical and political context of reform.

Progressives in Congress had been frustrated with passage of a pure food and drug bill for decades. Harvey Washington Wiley, the chief chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture had been the leading advocate for reform. To bring his cause to the public, Wiley organized a volunteer group of healthy young men, called the Poison Squad, who tested the effects of chemicals and adulterated foods on themselves. 

The sensation caused by the publication The Jungle changed the dynamic in Washington D.C.  Within a few months of publication of The Jungle, Congress passed two landmark pieces of legislation: the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, the most successful and enduring legislation of the Progressive Era.

There is also an optional excerpt from Roosevelt’s “Man with the Muck-Rake” speech from which this style of investigative journalism gets its name.President Roosevelt took the view that hard hitting investigative journalism was necessary where there were problems that needed to be exposed, but he warned against unsupported attacks on the good character of public figures and institutitions.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will read primary sources that take a clear stance of a critical issue of the Progressive era and should be able to present that argument to a small group of students
  • Students will understand the role that newspaper journalism played in informing and shaping public opinion in the Progressive era

Preparation and Resources

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Reading Newspapers

Project the political cartoon to begin the lesson. Discuss what students see in this drawing and what they think the cartoonist is advocating.

  • Sample questions for cartoon:
    • Name what you see in the political cartoon, people, and objects.
    • When do you think this political cartoon was printed?
    • Why was the political cartoon drawn?
    • What is the message of the cartoonist?
    • Did the artist convey his or her message clearly?
    • What question would you ask the artist?
  • Questions for newspaper articles. Teachers should give out copies of these questions, or one’s of her own choosing, and direct students to work independently to answer them. Afterwards they will work in small groups going over their answers 
  • What clues show you the position of the author?
  •  Point to the evidence presented in the article
  •  What reasons does the author give his position?
  •  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?

Place students into groups of four, have each of them present their analysis of his/her article. Each group shoud then try to synthesize the finding of their group about the group of articles they have been assigned. What have they learned as a group about the passage of the legislation?

Differentiation Option 

Consider giving a fifth group member (or a small group) an excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man with the Muck-Rake” speech to analyze along with the articles. Roosevelt’s speech was delivered after he had read The Jungle but before the passage of the legislation. The speech explains the origin of the term “muck-rake” and shows the complex way he viewed this type of journalism. On the one hand, he outlines the virtues and benefits of hard hitting investigative journalism when it is necessary to expose scandal, corruption or other evil. On the other hand, he denounces mud-slinging and sensationalism reporting when it undermines faith in public figures and institutions. Tell students that Roosevelt was at first convinced that Upton Sinclair had exaggerated conditions in the factories but after commissioning his own study of sanitary conditions, he became convinced of the need for legislation.

Consider using paragraphs 3–5 from the speech for this purpose.

Questions to Consider:

  • What does President Roosevelt mean by “the man with the muck-rake?”
  • When is investigative journalism necessary? Why?
  • When is investigate journalism dangerous? Why?

After students read their articles, have them discuss what they read within their group. They should each take notes on what is said by other members of their group. Set a time limit for each student’s turn in the discussion. They should summarize their findings to the class.

Formative Assessment

Students will respond to the prompt:

What do you learn from reading the newspaper articles that you could not have learn from only reading your textbook discussion of The Jungle and its impact. Students should be able to offer at least two to three points that are new and signficant to them.



Students will respond to the prompt:

Analyze what stand each article took and what you believe to be the two strongest points made in the article. Be sure that you give reasons and evidence for all your points.

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 > Reform
  • Critical thinking
  • Persuasive writing and speaking
  • Textual analysis
  • Using primary sources
  • Rona Johnson, Rocky Mountain Middle School (Idaho Falls, ID)