Author Richard Wright was born into poverty on Rucker's Plantation, just east of Natchez, Mississippi, in 1908. Wright was a novelist, short-story author, and poet as well as an author of protest literature. His best-known works, Native Son and Black Boy, established him as an important spokesperson for the conditions of African Americans, and through his writings, Wright challenged readers to question and change the treatment of African Americans in the United States.
Wright's Black Boy is an autobiography filled with incidents that are harrowing, funny, tender, and true-to-life. Have students read an excerpt from the novel that you think is appropriate for their grade level. One that might work best for grades 8-12 is available at the publisher's site.
After reading that excerpt, which recounts an incident when four-year-old Richard gets mad and does something for which he gets into trouble, ask students to:
- describe how they feel about Richard's actions
- identify words and phrases that are particularly descriptive
- write a similar narrative about a time when they got mad and/or got in trouble for something they had done wrong.
Alternately, ask students to write found poems after reading the passage, using the lesson plan below.
Contributing Editor John M. Reilly provides useful classroom strategies as well as background information on Wright's "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" in this companion to the Heath Anthology of American Literature.
This collection of resources from the Modern American Poetry website includes biographical information, photos, background information, and samples of Wright's writing.
The Mississippi Writers Page includes biographical information, a bibliography, and links to additional resources.
A part of WNYC’s work on the NEH Annotation Project, this page includes an audio recording of Richard Wright describing his arrival in France and his reflections on Paris as well as biographical information that contextualizes the recording.
Jack Kerouac published his most famous novel, On the Road, in 1957, but his depiction of the iconic road trip was actually inspired by two real-life trips Kerouac took ten years before, in 1947 and 1949. This influential novel, with its spontaneous and unconventional writing style and its focus on drugs and disillusionment, helped to define the Beat Generation, a social and literary movement of the 1950s that also included William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.
For high school students, begin a discussion by asking:
- If you could travel anywhere in the United States by car, where would you want to go and why?
- Who would be the one person that you would most want to take with you on the trip and why?
- What difficulties would you expect to have on your trip?
Afterward, read a section from On the Road that deals with the aspects of cross-country travel and that reflects Kerouac's unique writing style. An appropriate excerpt from the novel can be found at this Literary Kicks site.
Lead students in a discussion with the aim of characterizing Kerouac's style. Then ask students to attempt to emulate his stream-of-consciousness style with their own written narrative in which they blend their road trip from the opening discussion with details from vacations and trips they have taken in the past.
Stories, anecdotes, interviews and audio about Jack Kerouac and his writing.
This American Museum of Beat Art site dedicated to Kerouac incoludes a biography, bibliography, and links, including one to Dharma Beat, a Kerouac newszine. This site is part of a larger archive and collection of works pertaining to the Beat Generation.
Time Magazine's original review of On the Road will give students a sense of how the book was received when it was first published in 1957. Time chose Kerouac's book as one of the 100 most important modern novels written in English.
When students try to model their own narratives using Kerouac's style, this University of Pennsylvania site will help identify the components of his style, form, and process.
To mark the anniversary of the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, President Bush proclaimed that September 11 be named Patriot Day. On this day, the proclamation asks that flags be flown at half-mast and that the day be marked by ceremonies, candlelight vigils, and other remembrance services.
Even though this day marks the anniversary of a huge disaster, it is called Patriot Day. How does this label change our perceptions about the events of September 11, 2001? Ask students to write their explanation of why this date is now called Patriot Day. An alternative assignment could be to ask students to record their reflections about 9/11. What do they recall about that fateful day? How are their perceptions colored by how the media reported the event? Another alternative might be to explore the various meanings of the word "patriot." Is it possible to be a patriot and still disagree with certain aspects of the government? What is the best way to voice criticism of the government? Perhaps social studies teachers could join in a cross-disciplinary writing assignment about civil disobedience.
From the American Memory project, this extensive resource provides an explanation of the events with links to photographs, exhibits, and documents preserved in the Library of Congress collection.
This site has collected over 150,000 digital items related to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Included are emails, images, and first-hand accounts. Because of the nature of the collection, you may want to preview the material before sharing with your students to ensure that the images and text are appropriate for your classroom.
This online exhibit from the National Museum of American History focuses on artifacts related to the attacks and stories that explain the significance of the items. The site includes educational resources and archived professional development sessions.
A time for celebrating the culture, art, and achievements of Latinx people, September 15-October 15 has been designated as Latinx Heritage Month. September 15 also marks the independence days of five Latin countries-Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico achieved independence on September 16, and Chile on September 18.
Begin by brainstorming with students all the various aspects of culture, in this case, Latinx culture. Remind students that culture is not just race and ethnicity but extends to dance, music, art, architecture, education, family dynamics, film, religion, politics, literature, food, holidays, and much more.
Once students have compiled a list of potential topics to research, organize the list into some general categories and have students identify resources they could use to learn more about Latinx culture in their category. Encourage students to think about people in their communities or families who might have personal knowledge of the topics they're researching.
Have students work in groups to research their topics and present the information they find to the class through PowerPoint, a webpage, a display, or an interactive tool such as the Flip Book or Stapleless Book. More tips are available for the Flip Book and to learn more about making a Stapleless Book, watch the video on how to fold a Stapleless Book.
This is the webpage for current winners of the American Library Association's Pura Belpré Award. Established in 1996, it is presented to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latinx cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. Links to past winners and additional information are available as well.
Choose among links to information on Hispanic history, famous Latinos, and Latinos in history on this Scholastic website. The site features a Flash interactive, the Piñata Concentration game, which is entirely in Spanish.
This collection of resources from the National Register of Historic Places includes links to publications, featured properties, and history in the parks, including a series of lesson plans that use places listed in the Register.
This Library of Congress page is the go-to source for art, literature, political and historical documents and more. The collections includes resources from the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
On November 18, 1928, Mickey Mouse made his movie debut in Steamboat Willie, one of the earliest animated cartoons. This seven-minute film, directed by Walt Disney, was the first to combine animation technology with synchronized sound. From this short film, based on a cartoon drawing, Disney created one of the largest media empires in the world.
Steamboat Willie was one of the earliest animated cartoons, a medium that grew from comic strips and Sunday funnies into a multimillion-dollar business. Invite your students to experiment with cartoon and comic strip drawings by collaborating to create a short, humorous story, with at least one main character that performs an action. When students have completed the short sequence, have them use the Comic Creator or this online tool to make a flipbook.
Students choose one background and repeat it multiple times as they draw their characters' actions from one frame to the next. When they've completed each sequence of drawings, they print out the pages, cut the frames, and staple them together to create a flipbook. By stapling all the pages together in one corner or along one side, students are able to flip the pages of the book quickly, simulating animation. Students can also use the Flipbook Tool to create their product. Allow students to share their flipbooks with their classmates. Teams can also experiment with adding vocals in the background to synchronize with the images.
This page features a short clip of the 1928 cartoon that launched Mickey's career.
This website offers something for students of all ages. Students will enjoy film clips, interviews with Walt Disney, a comprehensive biography of his life, photographs with audio for kids, and special exhibits.
This site offers extensive information for teachers about animation history, animation techniques, and teaching animation in the classroom.
This Library of Congress site includes 21 animated films and 2 fragments, which were produced from 1900 to 1921. Compare the animation in these early films to that in Steamboat Willie as well as that in current cartoons. Be sure to preview the films for their appropriateness for your students.
The United Nations has declared September 21 as the International Day of Peace. In a message commemorating the Day in 1995, Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali stated that "the world, once more, cries out for peace. And for the economic and social development that peace alone can assure... Let us keep our goal clear and simple... Let us work for peace."
For middle and high school students:
- Have students brainstorm a list of conflicts that are happening around the world: Israel-Palestine, Iraq, etc.
- Ask students to generate a list of reasons why people fight: religion, economics, etc.
- Have students form groups and assign each group one reason from the list they generated above. In groups, students should discuss and be ready to present possible solutions that could address the causes. It is important to emphasize that students are not trying to solve a particular world crisis, but rather are trying to identify solutions that can work in general (education, tolerance, debt relief, etc.).
- The groups could then create posters that promote their particular solution. See the lesson plan Designing Effective Poster Presentations for tips and ideas on making posters. For elementary-age students, follow the same process as above, but instead of looking at the world, ask students to focus on conflicts, reasons, and solutions in their school.
This site contains a number of links to other websites dealing with ways to become active in promoting peace around the world and in the local communities.
This site, part of the United Nations Cyberschool Bus, contains five curricular units that focus on ecology, tolerance, critical thinking, social justice, and global citizenship.
Read about the outstanding people who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the official site for the award. The site includes biographies, lectures, and additional information for all the award winners as well as educational material.
On September 23, 1957, police officers had to be stationed around the Central High School campus to ensure the safety of the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African American students who were to attend the school and, thus, break the color barrier. The right to an equal education was granted to all African American students by the United States Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Begin by viewing some of the footage from the actual event (you can access some of the footage at the PBS website). Ask students to jot down the thoughts and feelings they think might have been going on in the minds and hearts of the Little Rock Nine. Have students use these notes as the basis for a bio-poem that might have been written by one of the African American students on that historic day.
An alternative activity might be to show students portions of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" that reunited the Little Rock Nine with some of the classmates who threatened and taunted them upon their arrival at Central High School. After viewing each segment, ask students to summarize their reactions to what they have seen and heard on the program. Were they surprised by anything they observed? If so, what surprised them and why?
This site celebrates the 50th anniversary of the integration of Central High School. Links to the historic event are provided, including links to information about the nine African American students who attended the school.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that paved the way for the integration of Central High School, NPR compiled an extensive collection of resources, including interviews with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
This Teaching Tolerance page includes resources that focus on primary documents from Brown v. the Board of Education, poetry, arts, and critical thinking. Additional links at the end connect to photographs and more classroom resources.
PBS offers a section on Southern School Desegregation as part of its Eyes on the Prize: American Civil Rights Movement feature.
Children's favorite Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was published on this day in 1974. While Silverstein's rhymes may have been simple and catchy, his complex and thoughtful themes stick with his readers long after childhood. Silverstein was also a songwriter of such hits as "A Boy Named Sue" and "The Cover of The Rolling Stone."
Everyone remembers Shel Silverstein. Ask seniors in high school who their favorite poet is and half will give his name. This activity can begin for middle and high school students by asking them what they remember about Silverstein. For lower grade levels, introduce them to a short verse of his poetry like the one below, and ask them for their general impressions: If you had a giraffe . . . and he stretched another half . . . you would have a giraffe and a half . . . One quality of Silverstein's work is that even though it is often fantastical, it tends to be quite visual. Ask students to draw what they imagine when they read such lines as "If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire" or "Some whatifs crawled inside my ear."
After students have presented their drawings, ask them to write a line or two of their own that continues the passage and matches the flow and style of Silverstein's work. Then have students paraphrase the author's purpose in writing the poem. This is where they will find that though the words of a Silverstein poem are easy enough, the ideas are often difficult to communicate.
This entry from the Academy of American Poets includes a biography, bibliography, and samples of Silverstein's poetry.
This site includes resources related to Silverstein's poetry for parents and teachers, as well as an area "For Kids Only!"
This site includes an easy-to-read biography of the author and analysis of his work.
HarperCollins, publisher of Silverstein's books, offers a guide to using Silverstein's poetry in the classroom. The guide includes printable sheets for students.
Did you know that Johnny Appleseed was a nickname given to John Chapman? There are many nice folktales written about him, but we have no proof that these things really happened. One thing that is true about John Chapman is that he planted apple trees!
As you share the details of John Chapman's life and his travels, use the Timeline Tool to organize the details that you find in the books and websites that you check. As you work through the details, ask students to look for details that are fact and those that are exaggeration. If desired, use the Venn Diagram tool or Mobile App to organize the information (especially if you are using the stories of Johnny Appleseed as part of a tall tales unit). As extensions, you might track Chapman's journeys on your classroom map or have students use the Theme Poems Interactive to create poems about apples or about Johnny Appleseed. For additional help, see the more tips about Theme Poems and the more tips on the Timeline Tool.
From the Library of Congress America's Story from America's Library, this site provides a short biography of John Chapman in the context of other historical events.
This University of Illinois Extension site includes links to apple facts, recipes, history and legend, and educational material.
Second graders from Austin, Texas contributed the writings and drawings about Johnny Appleseed found on this webpage.
Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. Marshall was the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Marshall was instrumental in numerous civil rights cases. In 1954, he argued and won the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court declared segregation of public schools illegal.
Discuss the following statement by Thurgood Marshall with your students: "If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his house, what books he may read or what films he may watch." Invite students to think about Marshall's statement by considering each piece of the comment. For instance, begin by reading the First Amendment and talking about the civil rights that the amendment guarantees. After exploring the quotation fully, use K-W-L Creator to complete a K-W-L chart with your students and have them use the resources listed below to begin an investigation.
This site includes biographical and background information on Marshall, as well as details on court decisions he was involved in.
From the US Postal Service, this printable resource includes information about Marshall, a few lessons plans, and a word puzzle.
From the Library of Congress, this page includes a biography of Marshall with links to information on important cases he played a role in, such as Brown v. Board of Education.
Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids provides grade-appropriate information about the Supreme Court and how it works.