Known as the "King of the Delta Blues," Robert Johnson was born May 8, 1911, in Hazelhurst, Mississippi. His legendary recordings of such blues standards as "Cross Road Blues" and "Sweet Home Chicago" have had an astounding influence on blues singers and rock musicians for generations. His amazing talent and mysterious death in 1938 sparked an old blues folk tale that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his ability to play the guitar.
Having students write their own blues lyrics is a great way to teach rhythm, rhyme, and word choice. The most common form of the blues is referred to as the "12-bar blues" because of the twelve measures that are typical of the style. Share a blues song with your students before they begin to write, and distribute copies of the lyrics to a song with this structure. You may want to play a clip from Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues."
After looking at the lyrics, ask students to identify the structure used. They should be able to see that the lyrics of a 12-bar blues song often follow an AAB pattern. "A" refers to the first and second four-bar verses, and "B" is the third four-bar verse. In a 12-bar blues song, the first and second lines are repeated, and the third line is a response to them-often with a twist.
Next, brainstorm a list of subjects with your students about things that might give them "the blues." Then, have students choose a topic and try to write a blues song that follows the pattern they identified. Invite adventurous students to perform their songs!
This thorough University of Virginia resource features a biography, song lyrics, and critical analyses of Johnson's work.
This site anchors a multi-media celebration that raises awareness of the blues and its contribution to American culture and music worldwide.
The Robert Johnson Blues Foundation is dedicated to preserving the music and memory of Robert Johnson through the provision of art education, competitions and scholarships.
This National Park Service site includes an overview of two styles of blues and extensive biographies of thirty bluesmen and blueswomen who created a rich legacy of American music that forms the foundation of today's popular music.
In a world full of junk mail and an endless array of catalogs, students may not think much about where it all started—in Chicago, Illinois in 1872, when entrepreneur Montgomery Ward mailed a one-page catalog to rural shoppers.
Explore how mail-order catalogs have changed over the years. Most libraries will have reproductions of a Ward or a Sears and Roebuck catalog. Alternately, access the linked images from the entry on Ward from the Engines of Our Ingenuity website or the online images from an 1875 Montgomery Ward catalog available on Flickr (with login). Ask students to consider how and why catalogs have changed over the years. After discussing the obvious differences, such as the use of color in modern catalogs and the differences in paper quality, focus students' attentions on the layout and style of the catalogs. As an extension, ask students to compare their findings about printed catalogs with online catalogs.
Read an article published in Fortune magazine in 1935 on Ward's mail-order catalog business during the Depression. The article includes photos of the office workers who processed the orders for the company.
This article from the American National Business Hall of Fame puts Montgomery Ward's accomplishments in historical context.
This page, part of the PBS site Chicago: City of the Century, offers a brief look at Montgomery Ward's efforts to preserve Chicago's lakefront area. The site also offers information about Ward's early mail-order business in the context of Chicago's history.
Connecting the United States from east to west, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in Strasburg (formerly Comanche), Colorado on August 15, 1870. In spite of this fact, the Golden Spike Ceremony celebrating the railroad's completion took place months earlier in a different location: May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah.
There are many misconceptions surrounding the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Golden Spike Ceremony that took place on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah was actually arranged at the last minute. Because there were so many people in the area, photographers were unable to get a picture of the event and journalists had difficulty seeing what was happening.
Access the National Park Service website and take a look at the webpage Golden Spike. With your students, explore all the differing accounts of what happened as the railroad neared completion. Discuss the reasons people need and want ceremonies, and why ceremonies, such as the driving of the Golden Spike, may not always match the events that they are intended to celebrate.
Companion to the PBS series The West, this website includes details on the Transcontinental Railroad in the context of other important events related to America's expansion to the west.
A Brief History of Building the Transcontinental Railroad
Part of the PBS American Experience site, this collection offers numerous resources related to the railroad, including interactive maps, a timeline, a teacher's guide, and much more.
One of the "Treasures of Congress," this collection of primary documents tracks the various stages of completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Many people celebrate the Fourth of July as the birthday of the United States, but the actual events on that day involved only a half dozen people. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved and signed by the officers of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Most of the other members signed during a ceremony on August 2.
Is the Fourth of July the day the U.S. declared its independence? Explore all the dates during the summer of 1776 that are associated with the Declaration of Independence:
- July 2: Declaration of Independence Resolution adopted by the Continental Congress
- July 4: Declaration of Independence signed by the officers of the Continental Congress
- July 8: First public reading of the Declaration of Independence
- August 2: Declaration of Independence signed by 50 of the 56 men who signed the document
Explore texts that include the stories surrounding the Declaration of Independence. Possibilities include reference books, encyclopedias, and specific texts, examples of which appear in the Independence Day Book List. With your students, consider why there are so many different dates and why we celebrate the nation's birthday on July 4.
This page features the Declaration of Independence along with information about its writing and preservation, a timeline of its creation, and information on the signers.
As on online companion to the television series Liberty! The American Revolution, originally broadcast on PBS, this webpage focuses on the events of July 4, 1776. Be sure to explore the site for lesser-known facts. For instance, did you know that Congress designated a woman as the first official printer of the Declaration?
On July 8, 1776, the Liberty Bell was rung in Philadelphia to announce the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. This National Park Service site includes facts about the Liberty Bell and its historic significance during the American Revolution.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter tells the tale of Hester Prynne, her daughter Pearl, and the city that condemns them because Hester will not name her child's father. The novel remains one of the classics of early American literature more than 150 years since its first publication in 1850.
Before beginning a reading of this novel, brainstorm with the class the possible meaning of the title. What does the word scarlet connote? What is the letter? Can letter have more than one meaning? Are there synonyms for scarlet that could convey the same significance and meaning? Be sure to record the responses of the class and return to them once the reading has begun, to explore how students' definitions have changed.
An alternative activity might be to show students the opening minutes of the movie adaptations of the novel first, and then ask them to read the opening chapter of the novel. Students could then write a short comparison of the book and the movie. An adaptation of the lesson Cover to Cover: Comparing Books to Movies (see Lesson Plans below) can also provide a foundation for this activity.
This comprehensive Washington State University site contains links to various resources on the author. Included are some online works, biographical information, activities, and reviews.
Biographical information on Hawthorne along with details about imagery and symbolism in the novel are found at this University of Wisconsin site.
This page, from The Life and Works of Herman Melville site, describes the friendship between these two authors, who were contemporaries though fifteen years apart in age.
This interactive exhibit features the family newspaper, The Spectator, conceived by Hawthorne as a youth. Included are historical images, portraits, and artifacts related to Hawthorne's life and writing career.
A library card is a passport. It permits its owner to travel to other places and times through the pages of a book. Membership in the community of the public library places thousands of resources at students' fingertips. Celebrate National Library Card Month with a trip to the library to explore all the many resources available!
Invite a librarian from your school or a nearby public library to visit your classroom to bring applications and talk to the students about the advantages of having a library card. In completing the applications, students will learn not only how to fill out forms but also how to go through the process of directions.
Once the applications are completed and students have their library cards, it's time to explore the library itself. Schedule a library tour to acquaint students with the general features and resources available; then, invite your students to reflect on what they've found and how they might use the resources in the future. Return to these notes later in the year, expanding on ongoing experiences in the library.
Explore the public library that is home to lion cubs Lionel and Leona and their parents, Cleo and Theo, at this PBS Kids companion site.
This website, from the Library of Congress, offers a wealth of information about life, history, government, and culture in the United States. The online resources are searchable, or visitors can use the site map and index tools to locate information.
From the National Archives, this site links to ten Presidential libraries and two Presidential materials projects. The site includes Presidents George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.
This site promotes quality reading through book reviews, related games, author biographies and interviews, and more. Students can also learn how to set up a successful book club and find discussion guides for select books.
The American Library Association site for Library Card Sign-up Month has free promotional tools, including links to download slideshows, posters, bookmarks, and more.
Lois Duncan is a popular author of young adult mysteries. Duncan received the prestigious Margaret A. Edwards Award, jointly sponsored by the School Library Journal and the Young Adult Library Services Association, for her lifetime contributions to the field of young adult literature.
Share with students some of the mysteries from Ken Weber's Five Minute Mysteries series and test their sleuthing abilities. After students have had a chance to solve a handful of mysteries (the solutions are in the back of the books), ask them to brainstorm the critical attributes of a good mystery. What elements do mysteries share? What do authors need to do to write a compelling mystery for readers?
Once the class has completed this part of the activity, place them in small groups and ask them to compose some short mysteries themselves. They can plan their stories using the interactive Mystery Cube. Groups can then exchange and attempt to solve one another's mysteries. The mysteries from each group can also be compiled and shared with other classes as well.
Duncan's homepage is periodically updated with information about her life, her family, and her books. Teacher Guides, designed by Duncan, are also included for each of her books.
In this interview, Duncan discusses her fiction and nonfiction and her influences.
MysteryNet's Kids Mysteries features mysteries to solve, scary stories, and magic tricks for kids.
This online workshop helps students learn to write original mysteries. Included are writing tips, challenges designed to help students develop skills, and detailed revision guidelines.
Children's book author and illustrator Virginia Lee Burton was born in Newton Centre, Massachusetts in 1909. Burton won the Caldecott Medal for The Little House in 1943, and her illustrations for Song of Robin Hood (1948) placed the book on the Caldecott Honor list.
During her life, Burton wrote and illustrated seven books, and she illustrated an additional five books, including The Emperor's New Clothes (Houghton, 1949). Burton's books lend themselves nicely to an author study because of their many connections. Share the books written and illustrated by Burton with students and, in addition to discussing similarities in her illustrations and writing style, focus on her use of personification, a highlight of her books. Burton's animated machines, like Mary Anne the steam shovel, can lead to conversations about how we think about machines and why we compare them to humans (and sometimes animals) when we talk about them.
This is the official site for Burton's story of the unstoppable Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne. The site offers information about the book and the author, as well as several activities to use with the book.
Houghton Mifflin offers this biography of Virginia Lee Burton. Written in part by Burton herself, the biography offers a glimpse at her childhood, the role her own children played in shaping her work, and more. Several images of Burton are also included.
University of Oregon Libraries presents a gallery of Burton's illustrations. Images from her books are included, as well as the original preliminary sketches for a number of her illustrations.
Faith Ringgold began her career as a painter, and is best known for her painted story quilts, which combine painting, quilted fabric, and storytelling. Her first book Tar Beach earned a Caldecott Honor Award, as well as the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration. Ringgold has written and illustrated 11 children's books, addressing issues of race, African American history, and civil rights.
Use Ringgold's books as a springboard for a discussion of race, gender, and civil rights-both current and historical. Then invite your students to write and illustrate original picture books based on these issues.
- First, have students brainstorm, select, and research a specific event or topic, such as Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic speech or the Underground Railroad.
- Then have students plan and write an illustrated story using the interactive Flip Book. The Flip Book allows students to create up to 10 pages and provides text, drawing, and background editing tools. See the Flip Book page for more information about this tool.
When their books are complete, students can be invited to take turns reading them to the class.
Faith Ringgold's homepage provides an author biography, a questionnaire about race, an author interview, and other related resources.
This resource from Scholastic provides a biography of Ringgold, as well as a link to a booklist.
This resource focuses on Ringgold's work as it relates to racism and gender inequality.
Random House provides this teacher's guide for Tar Beach, which includes book and author information as well as teaching ideas.
Rachel Carson, born on May 27, 1907, loved nature and had a lifelong desire to protect the environment. She was aware of the dangers of DDT and other chemicals and tried to educate the public through articles, pamphlets, and books. Her book Silent Spring warned about the poisons that were everywhere and heightened environmental awareness in people throughout the world.
Introduce your students to Rachel Carson by having a discussion about how chemicals can affect the environment. Show students a picture of a bald eagle and ask them if they have ever heard of DDT. DDT was a pesticide responsible for the decline of eagles in North America from more than half a million in 1872 to only 417 breeding pairs in 1973. At this point, either read a book about Rachel Carson to your class or have them find information about her on the websites listed below. After learning about Rachel Carson, invite students to choose one of these follow-up activities:
- Visit the Ecology Hall of Fame. Write an acrostic poem about one of the environmentalists or use the Bio-Cube interactive to summarize the person's biography.
- Explore the Environmental Movement Timeline. Research and add more recent events to this timeline with the ReadWriteThink Interactive Timeline.
- After researching environmental issues, write a Diamante Poem exploring a before-and-after vision of a particular habitat.
This website is "devoted to the life and legacy of Rachel Carson." It includes her biography, many primary documents, and excellent links.
After learning how DDT affected the eagle population, read about the U.S. laws that now protect eagles. Information about the recovery of bald eagles is also provided on this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service site.
Learn about the decline of eagles and their recovery on this PBS Nature website. Visitors can view beautiful photographs and meet various members of the eagle family.
This page provides context and excerpts from Silent Spring. Rachel Carson's classic text has been called one of the most important works of the 20th century.