Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

More Amazing Americans: A WebQuest

Created October 12, 2010


The Lesson


More Amazing Americans: A WebQuest

Portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory.

The Library of Congress dubs its America's Library a "fun site for kids and families." One feature of America's Library, Meet Amazing Americans, consists of biographical highlights of a few selected Americans. A number of famous people have been added to the site, including Leonard Bernstein, William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie, Cesar Chavez, King Kamehameha I, Dorothea Lange, Pocahontas and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Who would your students like to see added to the site in the future? What graphics and information about these new inductees would they incorporate?

Guiding Questions

How are famous Americans profiled in the Library of Congress's America's Library? What criteria were used in their selection? What other deserving Americans, of particular interest to young people, should be nominated for inclusion? What related information and graphics should be considered for use on the website?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to

  • Name the criteria they think makes someone an amazing American.
  • Discuss the achievements of some amazing Americans
  • Copy and paste text and graphics from websites to use in their own documents
  • Use a website search function
  • Think critically about criteria for selecting an individual to be honored for his or her achievements


A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuests are designed to use learners' time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners' thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

One of the most important preliminary steps in a WebQuest is the teacher's identification of online supporting materials appropriate for student use; student's searches are guided, then, rather than open-ended. In this unit, useful supporting materials from EDSITEment have been identified for you, and are listed within each relevant lesson plan.

IMPORTANT NOTE: While the WebQuest instructions are addressed directly to students, sections titled "Managing the Quest" are intended for the teacher. A separate student-directed version of this lesson (with teacher instructions removed) is available in .pdf format — you may wish to download it and provide copies to students to help direct them in their research (Download Adobe Reader to view document).

Analyzing Primary Source Documents

The National Archives Education section, available through EDSITEment, offers a series of worksheets for analyzing primary source documents, including written documents and photographs, that you may wish to use or adapt to assist students in reviewing the materials presented in this unit.

Preparation Instructions

    • Because this is a WebQuest, the activities in this unit require sufficient access to technology for small student groups and a certain degree of technical savvy on the part of students. Make sure your students are familiar with
      • using a Web browser
      • creating and using Web bookmarks
      • downloading graphics
      • creating short texts from research without plagiarizing
      This unit includes two teacher-directed mini-lessons within Activity 6: Downloading Text and Graphics and Using the Search Function on Websites. Your students may not need these lessons, or they may need additional instruction in using the technology.
    • Review the lessons in this unit. Create any necessary bookmarks.
      • Review the lessons in this unit. Create any necessary bookmarks.
      • Decide whether you want to customize this unit to your curriculum. For example, for a Black History Month activity, nominations could be limited to African Americans. Nominations could also be limited to Presidents, women, Revolutionary War heroes, and so on.
      • Review the Scavenger Hunt activity in Activity 3. Select the items your class will be required to find and decide how you want to manage the Scavenger Hunt.
      • Establish deadlines for each task in Activity 6 and elsewhere.
      • The product of this WebQuest is a profile of a student-chosen Amazing American to be e-mailed to the Librarian of Congress. Presenting the profile to the class is not essential, but would certainly be of interest to other student groups. Decide whether such a presentation will be part of your unit. The presentations could be evaluated by teachers, classmates, peers from other classes or a special panel of individuals (principal, local historian, high school students). The rubric model below includes a general section on assessing the presentation.
      • Use an evaluation rubric designed with your specific goals in mind to help your students understand what is expected of them and how they are being assessed. Go over the standards with students as they get started on the WebQuest. To be completely effective, the rubric should reflect your students' skill level, your curriculum and the specific assignment. The following is a sample to use when designing your own. It is designed to demonstrate the kinds of standards by which one teacher might evaluate students' research and presentations; it is not intended to set a universal standard for what makes a good research project or presentation. (Note: This rubric addresses the issue of bibliography only in the most general way, since requirements will vary from class to class. Give your students specific guidelines when you present the evaluation rubric.) Review your particular standards in class before students begin working on their projects. Download a text version of this rubric (in .rtf format), which you can modify using most word-processing programs.
Content:ExemplaryVery GoodSatisfactoryNeeds Revision
Knowledge of SubjectDisplays knowledge beyond that necessary to explain the nomination.Uses strong, relevant examples from the subject's life to support nomination.Uses examples from the subject's life to explain the nomination.Difficulty explaining the nomination.
List of SourcesMany and varied sources. Virtually perfect formatting of list.Used more than two sources of different kinds. Good formatting.Used at least two sources. Errors in formatting, but insufficient to prevent the list from being used by someone else.Not enough resources used or formatting of the list makes it difficult for someone to use it.
Selection of AnecdotesPicked anecdotes that truly revealed the individual's character and/or history. Anecdotes would be of interest to young people.Picked anecdotes that were truly important in the individual's life.At least two good anecdotes are cited.No anecdotes used or the anecdotes used didn't help the reader to understand the nomination.
Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, SpellingVirtually perfect.Some errors, but mostly in areas not emphasized in class lessons.Errors in areas emphasized in class lessons, but not enough to prevent understanding.Errors interfere with the ability of the nomination to be understood.
Selection of GraphicsChose materials that matched well with the anecdotes. Selected material accessible and of interest to young people. Offered a variety of materials.A good variety of graphics chosen.Some graphics included. Graphics do help in understanding the nomination.No graphics chosen or graphics chosen do not help the reader understand the nomination.
PresentationStrong argument for the individual's inclusion. Demonstrated extensive knowledge of subject. Made it clear why the individual is important to learn about. Speaker(s) used excellent expression. Began with an intriguing attention-getter. Audience was entertained and informed.Solid argument for the individual's inclusion. Demonstrated good knowledge of subject. Began with an effective attention-getter. Kept audience attention.Speaker(s) could be heard and understood. Reasons for the individual's inclusion were presented. Began with an attention-getter. Worked to keep the audience's attention.Difficulty being heard or understood. Difficulty explaining the nomination.
Overall Evaluation:
Very Good
Needs Revision

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. A Survey of Amazing Americans

Managing the Quest: Beacuse you know your students, decide whether this project should be completed by groups selected by you or by the students themselves. Teacher-selected groups can balance the skills of their members, while student-selected groups have a built-in motivation to work well together. In any case, offer suggestions for division of labor throughout the project.

With your group, log on to the Library of Congress's Meet Amazing Americans and spend some time exploring the biographies of the famous Americans featured here.

As a group, answer the following questions:

  • How many people are on the list?
  • How many men? How many women?
  • How many were born in the 1600s? 1700s? 1800s? 1900s?
  • How many are still living?
  • How many of the Amazing Americans would you say belong in each category below?
    • African Americans
    • Artists
    • Entertainers
    • Freedom Fighters (people who worked for freedom or equal rights)
    • Humanitarians (people who worked to help others)
    • Inventors / Industrialists
    • Military Heroes
    • Native Americans
    • Presidents and Other Politicians
    • Writers
  • What categories would you say are missing from Meet Amazing Americans?

Now gather together as a class and discuss the kind of people the Library of Congress considers Amazing Americans.

You probably noticed that the individuals profiled on Meet Amazing Americans are quite different from one another. How do you think the creators of this website decided whom to include? How did they decide what information and graphics to use? Who would you like to see added to this list in the future? What information and graphics would you include?

In About This Site, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, says, "The site was designed especially with young people in mind." He adds, "Be sure to let us know what you think about America's Story from America's Library, and please visit often."

This WebQuest challenges you to make recommendations to the Librarian of Congress about some Americans to add to Meet Amazing Americans. Your letter to the Librarian of Congress, which you will send by e-mail via the website, will

  • Recommend the inclusion of an American of interest to young people your age
  • Contain a specific proposal for an online presentation (information and graphics) you believe will be of interest to young people
  • Include an explanation of why the subject you chose is an Amazing American
  • Include student-made graphics or graphics from U.S. government websites available through EDSITEment
Activity 2. What Makes an Amazing American?

Managing the Quest: Tell the class that they will look closely at individual profiles in Meet Amazing Americans and will then develop a set of criteria for selecting candidates. Make the assignment appropriate to your groups — assigning more profiles per group will provide your students with a greater range of experience with the Meet Amazing Americans feature, but you don't want students to feel overwhelmed. Compile a list of the criteria your class believes the Library of Congress uses in selecting Amazing Americans for use in later activities.

Your teacher will assign your group one to three Amazing Americans to read about. In a few sentences, explain why you think the Library of Congress chose each person. In your group, make a list of the criteria you think the Library of Congress uses to pick Amazing Americans.

Now gather together as a class and decide which criteria you will use in selecting people to nominate for Meet Amazing Americans.

Activity 3. Looking Closely at Amazing Americans

Managing the Quest: This scavenger hunt that can be organized in a variety of ways. As described below, the student groups could be given an appropriate amount of time — a half hour, perhaps — to search for as many of the graphic and text examples listed as they can find. An alternative would be to assign one or two of the items to student pairs or individuals (e.g., one pair might search for cartoons and photos of childhood homes).

Your next challenge: Work with your group to find as many of the following graphic and text examples within Meet Amazing Americans as you can, without ever using two examples from the same person's profile!


  • A historic cartoon
  • A photo of an individual's childhood home
  • A digital version of a document (newspaper, a written statement)
  • A historical drawing
  • Something written in the handwriting of an individual being profiled
  • A map
  • Media: a sound clip or video
  • A photo of someone other than an individual being profiled
  • A photo of an individual being profiled
  • A portrait of an individual being profiled
  • A poster
  • Sheet music
  • Your idea: one more graphics feature not listed here.


  • Dates and place of birth and death
  • A story about an individual's childhood
  • A "hook" (something unique to an individual that is used to get the reader's attention)
  • A question at the end of one page that is answered at the beginning of the next page
  • A quiz question
  • Information on how an individual's career started
  • Information on how an individual's talents or good deeds became recognized
  • A story about a setback or failure in an individual's life
  • The story of an individual's greatest achievement
  • Your idea: one more text feature not listed here.

As a class, discuss the features of the Meet Amazing Americans profiles. Make a summary of the kinds of elements the Library of Congress likes to include in its biographies.

Managing the Quest: Compile a list of the features your class notes that the Library of Congress uses in profiling Amazing Americans for use in later activities. If time permits, encourage your students to try the America's Library Scavenger Hunt. To prepare students for their next activity — choosing a person to nominate — consider a homework assignment in which students begin to gather names of famous Americans. For example, they could survey their parents or other adults about individuals they consider Amazing Americans.

Activity 4. Brainstorming Amazing Americans

Managing the Quest: Students will hold a brainstorming session to name individuals who might be considered for Amazing Americans. Remember, this is brainstorming. At this point, every answer is acceptable. Post the brainstormed list for student consideration or prepare a handout with suggestions. Students are not limited to these suggestions, but the list should help avoid groups' claiming there is no one for them to pick. Think in advance about what you will do if more than one group makes the same selection. There is no inherent problem with two nominations being made for the same person; only you can determine if this might be disruptive in your class.

As a class, hold a brainstorming session. How many famous individuals can you list who might be considered Amazing Americans?

Spend some time as a class analyzing your list. How many people did you brainstorm? How many men? women? African Americans? And so on... Can you think of others who are not included on the list?

Activity 5. Your Own Amazing American

Managing the Quest: Each group will choose an Amazing Americans nominee to study further. Set a deadline for groups to choose their nominee. Consider allowing one period of surfing the EDSITEment resources as students make their decisions.

The time has come to make your nomination. Work with your group to select the famous person you want to nominate as an Amazing American. Who do you think deserves to be included? Your teacher will tell you how much time you have to decide.

Activity 6. The Profile of an Amazing American

Managing the Quest: Each student group will now compile an article on its nominee. Meet Amazing Americans features tend to include about 10 brief text sections. That might be too many, depending on your class and the size of the student groups. Set due dates for the required elements and for each of the other elements the groups must complete.

For locating information, students can use the Selected Edsitement Web Sites listed in the lesson as well as materials available in their classroom and school library. You might want to set aside a class period to familiarize students with these resources. You can bookmark selected sites or print out the complete list (or an edited version) for student use. Each group could be made responsible for checking out a particular resource and then reporting back to the class on its usefulness. A good place to have students begin their research is at a general reference site, such as Encarta Online Encyclopedia, a link from the EDSITEment resource The Internet Public Library.

Emphasize the completion of the text portions of the biography first, since the text will tend to control the choice of graphics (however, a terrific graphic might inspire text as well). Continue to help your class with the division of labor. Group members can work in areas of their strengths (e.g., writers might work on anecdotes while artists prepare special presentation materials and "techies" conduct research and download materials), or you can require that every student complete certain tasks, such as writing up an anecdote. This is an excellent time to remind students of the need to avoid plagiarism. They can use the information they find on any site available through EDSITEment, but they may not use the exact words without acknowledgment. They also should remember to cite their sources, and collect source information as they do their research.

Using resources from the Selected Edsitement Web Sites section, you will now put together an article on your Amazing American nominee. The following elements are required (your teacher will tell you when each is due):

  • Date and place of birth and death
  • A "hook" (something unique about the individual that is used to get the reader's attention)
  • The story of the individual's greatest achievement.

Your teacher will tell you how many of the following you must complete and what the due dates are:

  • A story about the individual's childhood
  • A question at the end of one page that is answered at the beginning of the next page
  • A quiz question
  • Information on how the individual's career started
  • Information on how the individual's talents or good deeds became recognized
  • A story about a setback or failure in the individual's life
  • Your idea: one more text feature not listed here.

Keep your piece interesting by thinking of it as a summary of a person's greatest achievements and then including a few stories (known as anecdotes) about him or her. Most of the Meet Amazing Americans profiles contain about three stories from the life of the subject. Coming up with a "hook" will help you organize your article. What really surprised you about the life of this individual?

If you come across an interesting graphic while searching for information, make sure you can easily locate it again. You can bookmark the page on which it appears, download the graphic onto a disk, or write down the URL (website address) of the page on which the graphic appears.

Select graphics that help make your article more interesting. Review the kinds of graphics you found in Activity 3. Select graphics that go along well with your anecdotes. Note: All graphics must be original or come from government sites (.gov) among the EDSITEment resources.

Activity 7. Downloading Text and Graphics

Downloading Text and Graphics

You can save a file you find on the Web to your hard drive or to a disk. The exact steps may depend on which application you use and the kind of computer you have. The following instructions apply to both Netscape and Internet Explorer Web browsers.

Windows PC

  1. Highlight a block of text using your mouse.
  2. From the EDIT menu on the tool bar, select "Copy" (or hit CTRL-C on your keyboard).
  3. Open a blank document in a word processing program.
  4. From the EDIT menu on the tool bar, select "Paste" (or hit CTRL-V on your keyboard).
  5. Save the file in an appropriate location, and give it a name that will help you find it easily.


  1. With the cursor arrow on the image, click the right-hand button on the mouse.
  2. From the menu, select "Save this Image As ..."
  3. Save the file in an appropriate location (you can give the file a new name, if you like).


  1. Highlight a block of text using your mouse.
  2. From the EDIT menu on the tool bar, select "Copy" (or hit the Command/Apple key + C on your keyboard).
  3. Open a blank document in a word processing program.
  4. From the EDIT menu on the tool bar, select "Paste" (or hit the Command/Apple key + V on your keyboard).
  5. Save the file in an appropriate location, and give it a name that will help you find it easily.


  1. Click and drag an image to your desktop, or click the mouse on the desired image and hold it until a pop-up menu appears.
  2. Save the file in an appropriate location (you can give the file a new name, if you like).
Activity 8. Using the Search Function on Websites

Some EDSITEment resources have search functions that you might not be familiar with. Here are instructions for using the search functions on two such websites:

American Memory Project (Library of Congress)

  1. From the home page, select "Search."
  2. Note the choices on the Search Page. For example, on the right-hand side of the page, you can limit the search to photos and prints by clicking on "Photos and Prints."
  3. Try searching for Sheet Music. Use the term "Abraham Lincoln."
  4. Now try searching for your Amazing American.

The Digital Classroom (National Archives)

  1. From the Digital Classroom main page, find the “Resources” section and select "Search in Digital Classroom" at the bottom of the list.
  2. Next, choose "Archival Research Catalog (ARC)" on the right side of the screen.
  3. Then, click on the yellow “Search” button.
  4. Try entering a search term in different ways. To narrow your search to images only, go to the “Type of Archival Materials” box and select “Photographs and other Graphic Materials.” Click "Go" to see the results.
  5. Try searching for your Amazing American.
Activity 9. An Amazing Cover Letter

Managing the Quest: This lesson offers a good opportunity to incorporate any letter-writing goals in your curricula. Students should probably use a business format for this letter. Emphasize the importance of mechanics and clarity, which will establish the first impression the reader will have of the work to follow. Check each letter before it is sent (in Activity 9). You may also wish to review the EDSITEment lesson "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Someone a Letter" for additional letter-writing activities.

As a group, compose a cover letter to introduce yourselves, make your nomination and describe how you selected your nominee. Attach your profile.

Activity 10. The Amazing Americans Nominations Ceremony

Managing the Quest: Making a ceremony out of the presentations will culminate the lesson in high style and provide a further motivation for the students. You can invite parents, the principal, other classes, etc. Either you or an appropriate guest should serve as the Master of Ceremonies. Your students have probably seen awards shows, which often feature tributes; model your ceremony after them.

If your class has a suitable presentation system and sufficient technical savvy, groups could share their work in the form of a computer slide show, using programs such as HyperCard, KidPix or PowerPoint. If groups are going to do a more standard oral presentation, spend some time helping them think of ways to make the presentation lively. Consider a dramatic presentation such as a newscast or a "This Is Your Life" format. Help students understand they must do more than simply stand in front of the group and read. Can they provide handouts? How can they use graphics the audience will really be able to see as part of the presentation?

The time is nearing for announcing the class's nominations and sharing the information and graphics you chose. Your teacher will tell you when the Amazing Americans Nominations Ceremony will be held and who will be invited to attend.

You are required to

  • Briefly introduce your nominee and highlight the portions of his or her life about which you have written
  • Distribute some copies of the e-mail letter you are going to send to the Librarian of Congress
  • Argue for the inclusion of your nominee in a "Hall of Amazing Americans"
  • Be prepared to answer questions about your nominee and the materials you have developed
  • Clearly demonstrate the contributions of all your group members
Activity 11. Amazing Americans in Hyperspace

Managing the Quest: If you follow the Nominations Ceremony with a party or gathering, that might be a good time to send the cover letters and attachments to the Librarian of Congress.

E-mail your letter and profile to the Librarian of Congress at americaslibrary@loc.gov!

Activity 12. A Class of Amazing Americans

It took a lot of work to put together the proposals and presentations you completed. Your whole class must consist of Amazing Americans! As a class, discuss the Amazing Americans you selected. Whom did you learn about that was new to you? Did you learn something new about any familiar people? What personal qualities does it appear to take to become an Amazing American? Did you find some individuals to be more amazing than others?

Brainstorm a list of the tasks you completed and the skills required to complete them. Help your teacher understand what could have made this assignment easier for you, so the activity can be even better for the next class.

Extending The Lesson

  • The Library of Congress profiles only deceased Americans. Who would students nominate among living Americans?
  • Tech-savvy classes can mount an online "Hall of Amazing Americans" as a way of sharing the pieces they sent to the Librarian of Congress.
  • Now that students have become familiar with so many famous Americans, consider staging a "living" Hall of Fame, in which students impersonate subjects of their choosing and to which guests are invited. By providing a list to audience members and having participants provide appropriate clues, a guessing game can be set up.
  • Almost every website has a "Contact Us" feature. What feedback would students like to share with the webmasters of any sites they frequently use? What's the best way to communicate that input?
Selected EDSITEment Websites

General Reference Sites

Sites with Biographies and/or Graphics Organized by Group

Sites Dedicated to Specific Individuals

The Basics

Time Required

4-6 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre
  • History and Social Studies
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Biography
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • Literature and Language Arts
  • Critical thinking
  • Expository writing
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Letter writing
  • Online research
  • Synthesis
  • Technology
  • Using primary sources
  • Writing


Activity Worksheets