May 03
7 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

In 1971, National Public Radio (NPR) began the first commercial-free, live radio broadcasts. Financed by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and listener contributions, NPR offers news, music, and other programs free to the public through more than 860 public radio stations. More than 26 million listeners tune in to over 130 hours of original NPR programming each week, including programs produced by local stations and other radio networks.

National Public Radio's commercial-free programming is largely financed by listener contributions. By not relying on advertising revenues, NPR and other public radio stations are able to produce programs that differ from those of commercial radio stations.

List some of the programs offered by a local NPR station (e.g., Fresh Air, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, or Living on Earth). Ask students to make some predictions about the content of each program based upon the program's title. Divide students into groups and instruct each group to listen to one of these programs once or more during the course of a week and report on its contents to the class. Discussions that might follow such reporting could include questions such as:

  • What did you learn as a result of listening to this show?
  • Is this a program that might be of interest to someone your age? Why or why not?
  • How might this program be different if it aired on a commercial radio station?
National Public Radio began broadcasting in 1971.

On the NPR website, students can listen to archived broadcasts of NPR programs. There are links to NPR programming such as Car Talk and Latino USA, as well as an audio search feature that enables listeners to search for a story that they have heard on the radio.

This collaboration between NPR and the National Geographic Society produces and broadcasts stories on the natural world and threatened environments, diverse cultures, adventure, and exploration and discovery.

This companion website to NPR's Radio Diaries includes archived audio files and transcripts. The site features information on how students can create their own radio diaries.

This page from the NPR site offers stories about education topics from a variety of NPR shows.

May 19
5 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Named Malcolm Little by his parents in 1925, Malcolm X became one of the most prominent militant black nationalist leaders in the United States. He was a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam and founder of both the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965.

What do names tell us about people? Ask students to write about the origin of their own names in their journals. How did they come to be named? Who made the decision about their official names? What nicknames do they have? What names do they like or dislike and why? If they could pick out their own names, what would they select?

After students have had time to reflect and write on this topic, explore the names Malcolm X used during his lifetime: Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Malcolm X, el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, and Omowale. Students may have an easier time understanding Malcolm X's switches if they consider Esperanza's desire to change her name in Sandra Cisneros's House on Mango Street. Share this excerpt with students, and then hold a class discussion about the different names Malcolm X used during his life. Next to each name, ask the class to brainstorm adjectives that might be used to describe Malcolm X during that period in his life.

Malcolm X was born in Nebraska in 1925.

Links at this site provide resources about Malcolm X and his life. Included are an audio archive of his speeches, photographs, a timeline, links to related Internet resources, and more.

This site from Columbia University includes new research and multimedia materials about Malcolm X. Research for an upcoming biography about Malcolm X is included in the site, as well as numerous digital interviews with people who knew him.

This Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Malcolm X includes biographical information, as well as suggestions for further reading and links to other people and places related to black history.

This historical article, from the New York Times Learning Network, discusses an interview with Malcolm X, given the week before he was killed by assassins identified as Black Muslims.

January 08
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Elvis is known throughout the world as the "King of Rock 'n' Roll." Over one billion of his records have been sold. Elvis starred in 31 feature films as an actor, gave over 1,100 concert performances, and received numerous awards. Graceland, Elvis Presley's home, is the most famous home in America after the White House, attracting over 600,000 visitors every year. In 1970, Elvis went to the White House to offer his assistance to then-President Nixon in the nation's war on drugs.

Invite your students to tour the National Archives exhibit When Elvis Met Nixon, where they can read the five-page letter that Presley personally delivered to the White House, the story of the famous meeting (with accompanying photos), the agenda for the meeting, and the thank-you letter Elvis wrote to the President after the visit. 

After reading these primary documents, younger students can discuss the reasons Elvis wanted to meet the President; then, they can explore what would happen if a contemporary recording artist were to meet with the President today. Referring to the agenda for Elvis's meeting, have students work collaboratively to create an agenda for a contemporary artist. Have them use the interactive ReadWriteThink Letter Generator to write a letter to the artist suggesting a meeting with the President to discuss the problem of drugs, racism, violence, or another contemporary issue. More tips are available for use with the Letter Generator. 

Older students might explore the various ironies of the meeting in a discussion of Nixon's political motivations for agreeing to the meeting and Elvis's interest in being made a "Federal Agent at Large" who would fight drug abuse and the Communist threat.

On this day in 1935, Elvis Presley was born.

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, you and your students can browse over 600 pages of information that the federal government collected in relation to Elvis Presley. Pair this site with exploration of the Fensch book in the Texts section to introduce students to the process by which primary documents become fodder for research!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's online Elvis exhibit describes his career and the artifacts included in the original exhibit. Be sure to see the biographical page on this 1986 inductee.

This PBS Culture Shock resource offers information about the controversy over Elvis's early television appearances on the Milton Berle Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, and the Tonight Show.

November 15
7 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

In 1804, at the request of Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Louis with their 33-member team to explore the American West. By mid-November of 1805, guided and aided much of the way by a young Shoshone woman named Sacagawea, they arrived at the Pacific Ocean. Their accounts, describing the American Indians they met, the wildlife they saw, and the physical environment they withstood, paved the way for the great western expansion.

Think for a moment about how descriptive Lewis and Clark needed to be in their writings for an audience back East who had never seen, or imagined, what they were seeing. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice descriptive writing with your students.

Depending upon your school's technology, you can have students look at Kenneth Holder's paintings of various scenes from the Lewis and Clark trail, available here. If this is not possible, print out landscape scenes-or slides from your own vacation-that are vivid in their details. Then, ask students to write words and phrases that describe what they see, what they imagine they might hear, etc. Remind them that they are writing for an audience that has never seen these pictures before. Ask students to transform their notes into a descriptive paragraph as if they were a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Last, ask students to return to a piece that they have already written this year and revise it by adding more sensory words and phrases.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Pacific Ocean in 1805.

This portion of the PBS website dedicated to the Lewis and Clark expedition is an interactive story where portions of the journey are recounted and students are expected to make a choice about what Lewis and Clark should do next.

This is a short, easy-to-read article on York, William Clark's slave, who played a vital, but underappreciated, role on the expedition.

This National Geographic site tries to uncover some of the mystery surrounding this teenage Shoshone woman who acted as an interpreter and guide for the expedition.

This site, dedicated to Lewis and Clark, includes an interactive journey log, timeline, games, and information about supplies used and discoveries made by the Corps of Discovery.

December 28
3 - 8
Historical Figure & Event

In 1733, Benjamin Franklin, using the pseudonym Richard Saunders, began publishing Poor Richard's Almanack, which included agricultural predictions, charts of the moon's phases, and a series of proverbs, such as "haste makes waste." Franklin, acknowledged as one of America's Founding Fathers, especially for his role as a statesman, continued to publish his Almanack until 1758.

Share some of the following proverbs taken from Poor Richard's Almanack with your students:

  • There are no gains without pains.
  • At the working man's house, hunger looks in but dares not enter.
  • Industry pays debts while despair increases them.
  • Plough deep while sluggards sleep and you shall have corn to sell and to keep.
  • One today is worth two tomorrows.
  • Have you something to do tomorrow? Do it today.
  • Trouble springs from idleness and grievous toil from needless ease.
  • The noblest question in the world is: What good may I do in it?
  • Hear no ill of a friend, nor speak any of an enemy.
  • Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure when he is really selling himself a slave to it.

Ask students to give their impressions of the person who would write these statements. Then, have students choose one saying, paraphrase it, and explain why they agree or disagree with its message. As a final activity, ask students to write their own mottos for life. These mottos can be illustrated and displayed in the classroom or made into bumper stickers or t-shirts.

Poor Richard's Almanack was first published in 1733.

This site pairs Franklin's quotes with a "translation" into verse. The quotes are arranged by topic and can also be searched through an index.

 

Gettysburg College offers electronic access to pages from the original Almanack. Additional pages are also available.

 

This webpage developed by PBS is part of their Benjamin Franklin resource. It offers information about Franklin's satirical writing style and the humor found in Poor Richard's Almanack.

 

While devoted to science and technology rather than reading per se, this institution promotes discovery and ongoing inquiry-the cornerstones of an inquiry-based classroom. Included is a list of resources for studying Franklin.

 

March 15
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

In Julius Caesar, a soothsayer warns Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March." Caesar ignores the warning and is, in fact, murdered on March 15, called "the Ides" on the Roman calendar. Over time, the date has become associated with doom and momentous events-particularly ones with disastrous effects.

In addition to teaching your students a famous Shakespearean play, you could use the Ides of March to explore the role of superstitions in our lives and culture.

  • Begin by asking students to list the superstitions they know: the number 13, spilling salt, breaking a mirror, finding a penny, etc.
  • Next, have them try to categorize these superstitions. For example, which ones relate to good luck, bad luck, death, happiness, etc.?
  • After they have categorized them, ask students to define a superstition. What is their purpose or role? What do they tend to relate to?
  • Finally, have students think about superstitions and proverbs. Share a list of proverbs from around the world. Which ones on the list also sound like superstitions? What are the similarities and differences between proverbs and superstitions? You can use the ReadWriteThink Venn Diagram interactive for this activity.
Beware the Ides of March!

Turner Classic Movies creates sites for educators on several of their most popular films. This one on Julius Caesar includes activities and resources for the play and the 1953 version of the film.

This National Geographic article describes the events leading up to the assassination of Caesar, including a discussion of Plutarch's, Shakespeare's, and Dante's treatments of the leader.

This is a site where people have sent in visual depictions of a superstition or urban legend. Be sure to preview the images to ensure they are appropriate for your students. Students might try a similar activity using photography or other media.

The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal offers information about common superstitions. They also offer ideas for a Superstition Obstacle Course.

July 10
5 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

In 1925, from July 10 to July 21, John Scopes was on trial for teaching the idea of evolution in his public school classroom in Dayton, Tennessee. The court case, dubbed the "Trial of the Century," featured two of the most famous attorneys in the United States-Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.

The Scopes Trial focused on the evolution of mammals, but the word evolution can refer to other objects and processes, such as tools, computers, and automobiles. Have your students brainstorm a list of objects and processes that have changed over time. Then, individually or in small groups, invite students to choose and focus on one item from the list. Allow them to use the interactive Timeline tool to sketch out the changes, or evolution, of the items that they have chosen. View more tips to learn more about the tool. After considering the changes that have occurred for the items, have students examine the significance of the changes. In their opinions, have the changes affected the world for the better or for worse? Students can then share their information and opinions with the whole class.

Conclude the project by posting all of the timelines on your classroom wall, creating a giant timeline of the evolution of the items your students have investigated. Invite students to look for patterns as well as to connect the timelines to historical events that occurred during the same time period. For a more structured activity, try the resources in the ReadWriteThink lesson Timelines and Texts: Motivating Students to Read Nonfiction.

The Scopes Trial began today in 1925.

This website, developed by PBS, features detailed information about the Scopes, or “Monkey” Trial, including images from the famous courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee.

Part of the University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Law collection Famous Trials in American History, this site highlights documents related to the Scopes Trial.

This article, featured in the National Geographic Magazine, tells about life in Dayton, Tennessee 75 years after the Scopes Trial took place there.

This NPR resource offers a timeline of events surrounding the Scopes trial, as well as audio of an All Things Considered feature on the subject.

June 23
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

If someone placed an original 1868 typewriter in front of you, you might not be able to figure out what it was. With keys that look more like they belong on a piano keyboard, the original typewriters looked very little like even the manual typewriters you're likely to happen upon today.

The invention of the typewriter led to the keyboards on the computers of today. Show your class a computer and a typewriter or two if you can find significantly different typewriters, such as a manual one and an electric one. Begin an inquiry-based study that compares typewriters to computers. Students can talk about everything from the appearance of the two tools to the way that one gets the final, finished product (a piece of paper with alphanumeric figures on it) to the different ways that they might use the two machines if they were composing a paper. As a conclusion to the project, ask students to hypothesize about how the shift from typewriters to computers changes the way that work is done.

Note: If you do not have access to typewriters and computers for the class to explore first-hand, pictures of the objects could be a reasonable substitute.

The first typewriter patent was awarded in 1868.

This site includes games, puzzles, links, contest information, and a calendar of trivia related to patents and trademarks. Divided into materials for grades K–6 and 7–12, the site also features information for parents and coaches.

 

Many inventions come about as a result of people playing with the things in the environment around them. Explore the pages of this Smithsonian National Museum of American History site to see play turn into invention-and then perhaps you can invent something as you play in the classroom.

 

This Smithsonian Institution resource explores the similarities between the office of today and the past. Related lesson plans, a timeline, and information about office equipment-including the typewriter-are included.

 

This site focuses on the history and evolution of typewriters.

May 24
5 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

When the Brooklyn Bridge was opened, its span across the East River in New York was the longest in the world, and its two stone landings were the tallest structures in North America. Designed by John Roebling and completed by his son and daughter-in-law Washington and Emily Roebling, the bridge stirred controversy over its cost, size, safety, and even its very necessity.

Celebrate the Roebling family's achievement and explore the literary concept of point of view by sharing with students a pair picture books that highlight the controversies over the construction and opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. The two books, Twenty-One Elephants by Phil Bildner and Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing by April Jones Prince use the same historical event as their centerpiece: the crossing of the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn by the elephants from P. T. Barnum's circus.

  • Begin by showing students the first pictures of the two books and asking them to predict how the stories might be similar and different. Students will note that both stories will likely discuss the construction of the bridge, but will have different points of view.
  • Ask students to confirm or clarify their predictions as you read the two stories.
  • After reading, have students discuss the similarities and differences between the books based on the two points of view. Which book had a more personal perspective? Which was more informative? How were similar events portrayed differently? Which book did they prefer?
  • Have pairs of students apply their observations by writing two complementary pieces about a recent classroom event (e.g., a school performance, a field trip, or a classroom party). Have one student write an account from a general observer's perspective, while the other writes from the perspective of a student in the classroom.
  • Ask students to share their writing and discuss how they chose different details, used different forms of expression, and conveyed different stories about the same event.
The Brooklyn Bridge opened on this day in 1883.

This resource focuses on construction of the Brooklyn Bridge within the historical and political context of the late 19th century. It also treats the bridge as a geographic symbol and work of art which inspires writers, artists, and ordinary Americans who cross the bridge or view it from afar.

This site provides history, video, pictures, and speeches associated with the bridge.

This page features the American Memory entry for John A. Roebling's birthday. Included is a collection of primary documents on the Brooklyn Bridge and bridges throughout the United States.

The bridges section of PBS's Building Big website offers information about the science behind bridges, bridge architects, and some famous bridges.

February 21
9 - 12
Author & Text

Erma Bombeck was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1927. Soon after the birth of her first daughter, she began writing a newspaper column called "At Wit's End," which was quickly picked up by newspapers across the country. Bombeck's largely autobiographical accounts of the "battles" between men and women and between children and parents, told with gentle yet sarcastic humor, became part of America's reading throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Bombeck died in 1996.

Many students have difficulty identifying or appreciating allusive or satirical humor. Using the following lines from Bombeck's newspaper column, ask students to identify not what they think is funny, but what someone else might find funny.

  • Shopping is a woman thing. It's a contact sport like football. Women enjoy the scrimmage, the noisy crowds, the danger of being trampled to death, and the ecstasy of the purchase.

  • There are two kinds of women who will spring big bucks for a make-up mirror that magnifies their faces. The first are young models who need to cover every eyelash, shadow their cheekbones, define their lips, and sculpt their faces. The second group are women who, without their glasses, cannot find their faces.

  • I just clipped two articles from a current magazine. One is a diet guaranteed to drop five pounds off my body in a weekend. The other is a recipe for a 6-minute pecan pie.

  • Most children's first words are "Mama" or "Daddy." My kid's first words were, "Do I have to use my own money?"

High school students can rewrite the passages to make them funny for a different audience.

Humorist Erma Bombeck was born in 1927.

This University of Dayton website is dedicated to Bombeck's life and work. The site includes several of her columns, as well as video clips from the short-lived sitcom called Maggie, which Bombeck developed.

 

This page features a biography and an interview with Bombeck from 1991. In the interview, she discusses her writing process, as well as influences on her life.

 

Just as Bombeck did in her syndicated newspaper column, Mark Twain used irony and sarcasm to tell his humorous stories. This PBS resource explores Twain's use of humor.