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.
Since it became a national observance in 2004, Constitution Day has commemorated the date of the 1787 signing of the U.S. Constitution. Constitution Day offers students a chance to learn about this important document, from the Preamble to the seven articles to the twenty-seven amendments.
Help students deepen their understanding of one aspect of The U.S. Constitution by asking them to explore The Interactive Constitution. From the section on the articles, students can choose from among the Preamble, the branches of government, and more. Alternately, they can explore each of the twenty-seven Amendments (currently the first fifteen amendments are fully developed). Each section provides a common interpretation followed by Constitutional scholars’ discussion of a debatable issue.
Let pairs or small groups choose what they will learn about. After they read and discuss the entry, direct them to the Trading Card Creator, where they will select the Abstract Concept template. After they complete their Card, have groups present informally to share what they have learned.
The online presence of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, this site offers background about the Constitution as well as lesson plans, activities, and resources.
More appropriate for older students, this collection of official government documents and journal articles can enhance inquiry into the nature and function of the Constitution.
This site of the National Archives offers activities designed around artifacts from their collection, as well as a link to their document-based workshop on teaching the Constitution.
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.
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.
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol as a "potboiler," or an inferior work done purely for quick profit. Unfortunately, while the book was an instant success and remains one of his best-known works, Dickens made little profit because people purchased pirated editions. There were no copyright laws at that time in England.
Chances are, your students have either seen or will be seeing a production of A Christmas Carol in December. What a perfect time for a collaborative project for middle school and primary students!
Have a middle school English class or the drama club write a script for A Christmas Carol on a level that primary students can read and perform. Involve students in home and career classes to create the costumes and scenery for the production. Invite film students to record the performance and have computer students create a website showcasing photographs from the project.
This online resource from PBS provides information about the life and career of Dickens.
Since 2002, Stanford University has encouraged community reading and discussion of Dickens' novels through the serial release of his major works. Biographical and historical context information is included with each serial publication.
This webpage includes hundreds of links to primary and secondary documents on various aspects of Dickens' life and work.
This page from The Victorian Web provides extensive links to Dickens' biography, chronology, a list of works, an introduction, and other relevant essays.
Proposed on June 4, 1919, it took more than a year for the 48 states to ratify the 19th Amendment, which became law when the Secretary of State announced the completion of the ratification process on August 26, 1920, officially giving women in the U.S. the right to vote.
Six months before the 19th Amendment established women's right to vote in the United States, the League of Women Voters was founded to help women become responsible voters. Today, the League of Women Voters works toward helping American citizens be active, involved participants in the political system—from voting to campaigning to taking a position on current issues.
Invite a representative from the local chapter of the League to talk to your students about voting rights and what they can do to be active in politics, even if they are not old enough to vote yet. Use the ReadWriteThink lessons Vote For Me! Developing, Writing, and Evaluating Persuasive Speeches and Voting! What's It All About? to explore voting with younger students.
Compare voting rights in the United States to voting rights around the world. Students may be shocked to find that in some countries women are still not permitted to vote!
In addition to historical documents related to the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment, this Library of Congress site includes texts, photos, political cartoons, and lesson plans.
This website offers information about Women's Rights National Historical Park, which is located in Seneca Falls, the home of many important sites in the history of women's rights in the U.S.
Each year, the Hannibal Jaycees sponsor National Tom Sawyer Days during the Fourth of July weekend to celebrate the town's most well-known citizen, Mark Twain. The highlight of the event is the fence-painting contest, which begins on July 4 with local competition and advances to state and national contests over the next three days.
Mark Twain uses great detail to capture the locations of his tales. Readers feel as if they have actually traveled with Twain to the settings of his stories and novels. Choose a particular scene in one of Twain's works and do a close examination of the setting. First, have students map the story setting, using the interactive Story Map. Then discuss the setting using these prompts:
- How does Twain use extended description, background information, and specific detail to make the setting come alive for readers?
- How do the main characters fit into the setting-do they seem at home or out of place?
- How do their reactions and interactions with the setting affect the realism of the location?
Discuss the techniques that Twain uses to make the settings in his stories vivid and real to the readers and the extent to which these techniques are effective.
Visit this PBS site to learn about Twain through his writing and view his scrapbook.
Visit Hannibal, Missouri, where Sam Clemens and other children who influenced characters in Tom Sawyer grew up.
Visit this archive, produced by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia, to find pictures, transcriptions, and analysis of Twain's writing, and information about the marketing of his books.
President Woodrow Wilson signed the law that proclaimed June 14 each year to be celebrated as the national holiday of Flag Day. Every year since 1916, this day has been a day of patriotic celebration.
Share with your students the songs from Patriotic Melodies from the Performing Arts Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress. Ask your students to consider how America, Americans, and the flag are represented in the various songs and to hypothesize about the reasons for the differences that they notice. With 27 songs to choose from, each student can work on a separate song or small groups can tackle several songs. The songs range from well-known tunes such as "When Johnny Came Marching Home" and "You're a Grand Old Flag" to more obscure songs like the "Library of Congress March."
This Library of Congress site includes historical background, photos, and artwork that explain how the flag and Flag Day came into being. Have students write their own stories about their personal interaction with the flag, or have them interview members of their family or community and write their stories.
The American Flag Foundation encourages all Americans to "pause for the pledge" at 7:00 p.m. on Flag Day. This site includes information on the program and a collection of educational resources including flag Q&A, flag etiquette and retiring, and information on the Pledge.
This site provides historical information about the U.S. flag, as well as images of each of the official versions of the flag throughout America's history. The site also features a variety of patriotic writings, including poems, essays, letters, and songs.
From the Verizon Literacy Network, this interactive activity includes 25 hidden flags for users to find, along with an interesting fact about the flag at each location.
Annie Moore, a 15-year-old girl from Ireland, became the first person to enter Ellis Island on New Year's Day, 1892. In the 62 years that Ellis Island served as the entry point to the United States, over 12 million people were processed through the immigration station. Ellis Island was closed on November 12, 1954. Part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument since 1965, the buildings were restored after decades of disuse and reopened as a museum in 1990.
Take your students on an interactive tour of Ellis Island. Scholastic provides a tour, including audio, video, and photographic resources.
Allow students plenty of time to explore the tour and the resources provided there, supplementing the information with additional resources from the Web Links section below. Be sure to listen to the audio stories of immigrants included in most stages of the tour. Invite students to interview an immigrant in your town to collect his or her story. Students can publish the stories they collect online and read stories published by other students.
To show how children who did come through Ellis Island felt, you might share books such as The Memory Coat (Scholastic, 1999) and Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story (Troll Communications, 2001). Based on what they've learned through their exploration of Ellis Island online, their interview with a local immigrant, and in the available texts, have students assume the persona of someone who has just landed on Ellis Island and write a diary entry about his or her experiences. Collect the entries into a class anthology that shows students' understanding of the feelings of people coming to the U.S. for the first time.
This Library of Congress site from the America's Story collection explores the arrival of 15-year-old Annie Moore, the first person to enter the U.S. through the gates of Ellis Island.
This site includes historical information on the role that Ellis Island played in the lives of the more than 12 million people who immigrated to the United States over the course of the 62 years.
The 100th day of school is celebrated in schools around the country, usually in mid-February. Your class will enjoy a break from the normal routine as they practice math skills using games and activities based on the number 100. Some teachers may also include a visit from "My Hero, Zero" on day 100 (or on dates ending in zero, every tenth day, etc.).
Have your class work as a whole and in small groups to create a class "100th Day" book. First, have students break into small groups to brainstorm a list of possible topics for the book. Some possibilities include:
- 100 poems
- 100 ways to improve the Earth (our school, etc.)
- 100 people who changed history
Each group should nominate one idea to be considered by the whole class. Have the class vote on their favorite topic, brainstorm specific ideas, and then create a book based on this topic. Proudly display your book in your classroom or school library!
This page provides links to numerous Scholastic resources for a 100th-day-of-school celebration. Included are short activity ideas, a booklist, student poetry resources, links to other websites, and several lesson and unit plans.
This page includes suggestions for simple activities to celebrate the 100th day of school. Activities were submitted by teachers around the world and include a wide variety of ideas.
One Hundredth Day of School teaching ideas and activities inclusing booklists.
In 1990, NCTE established an annual award for promoting and recognizing excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children in grades K-8. The name Orbis Pictus commemorates the work of Johannes Amos Comenius, whose Orbis Pictus-The World in Pictures (1657) is considered to be the first children's picture book. One title is selected for the award each November at the Annual NCTE Convention, and as many as five Honor Books are also recognized.
Have your students conduct research and write original works of nonfiction on topics of their choice. Students may wish to work collaboratively on this project as coauthors or author-illustrator teams.
- First, have students brainstorm possible topics individually or in small groups.
- After each student or team has selected a topic, have them conduct research using appropriate Orbis Pictus Award-winners, Internet resources, and other reference sources.
- Have students plan and write informational picture books, biographies, or other works of nonfiction. You may wish to have students use the ReadWriteThink Flip Book to help them organize their information. More tips are available for use with the Flip Book.
Explore the Three Ways to Bind a Handmade Book printout, and consider laminating book pages for durability. Then add your students' finished works to your classroom library for all to learn from and enjoy.
The National Council of Teachers of English provides information on the annual Orbis Pictus Award, including its history, selection criteria, and nomination procedures.
This sample chapter from the NCTE text The Best in Children's Nonfiction explores the elements that come into play as the committee chooses the winner.
This page, from the State Library of South Australia, offers information about Johannes Amos Comenius and his illustrated Latin primer for which the Orbis Pictus award is named. Additional links and an image from the book are also included.