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.

July 05
3 - 8
Author & Text

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.

Annual fence-painting contests take place in Hannibal, Missouri.

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.

February 29
3 - 7
Holiday & School Celebration

Our solar year is 365.24219 days. Since our calendar does not deal in partial days, every four years, we add an additional day to February. Therefore, our calendar year is either 365 days in nonleap years or 366 days in leap years. A leap year every four years gives us 365.25 days, sending our seasons off course and eventually in the wrong months. To change .25 days to .24219, we skip a few Leap Days every one hundred years or so.

Many years ago, people did not have the scientific information that we have available today to explain the change of seasons, the need for a Leap Day every four years, and the cycle of moon phases. Early civilizations relied on other means of explanation such as myths and folk tales.

Divide the class into groups and provide each group with an explanatory myth (e.g., the children's book Max and Ruby's First Greek Myth by Rosemary Wells or the works of Gerald McDermott or Tomie dePaola). Have students write summaries of the stories to share with the class. Then have the students in each group compose an original myth that explains either the same phenomenon from the book they summarized or another one of their choosing. Stories can be illustrated and collected into a book to share with other classes in the school.

Today is Leap Day!

This site explains things about Leap Year that are not common knowledge to most, has resources for party planning, and also includes a list of Leap Day books.

Wonder of the Day based on the student question “Why is there leap year?”

Intended for grade-school-level students, this NASA website recommended by SchoolZone has information about astronomy as well as projects, lesson ideas, and resources for the classroom.

This site from NASA, focusing on an image of a coin minted with Julius Caesar's likeness, provides a brief explanation of the origins of Leap Day. The site also references Sosigenes, the astronomer who consulted with Caesar on the calendar and invention of Leap Day.

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.

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.

July 04
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

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.

It's Independence Day! Or is it?

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.

January 01
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

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.

Annie Moore becomes the first immigrant to enter Ellis Island in 1892.

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.

Ellis Island comes to life in this interactive tour featuring audio, photographic, and video files. This site is part of a Scholastic collection titled Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today.

October 23
9 - 12
Author & Text

Laurie Halse Anderson, the New York Times-bestselling author who is known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, was born on this day in 1961.  Her work has earned numerous national and state awards, as well as international recognition. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Laurie was honored with the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”.

In the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, the main character lists "the first ten lies they tell you in high school":

1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress code will be enforced.
4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
5. Our football team will win the championship this year.
6. We expect more of you here.
7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.
8. Your schedule was created with you in mind.
9. Your locker combination is private.
10. These will be the years you look back on fondly.

Discuss with the students if some of these "lies" were similar to the ones they have heard, as well as how they are different.  Then, ask students to brainstorm their own personal list of "ten lies they tell you in high school," complete with the truth, or their views on the truth.

Have students share, as a class, the "lies" they have been told in high school and how they've learned differently.  Consider publishing a handmade classroom book with the lists of ten lies created by each student, and using it as a "guide to high school" for future students.

Author Laurie Halse Anderson was born today.

Laurie Halse Anderson's  site has information on her life, books, and censorship, among other resources.

 

This site contains biographical information and an interview with the author.

 

Anderson's playful side emerges when she looks at real history and women who played a role in it.

December 03
K - 6
Historical Figure & Event

On this day in 1967, Dr. Christian N. Bernard performed the first human heart transplant. He also developed a new design for artificial heart valves.

Chances are, every student in your class will know someone who has had heart problems. After discussing the causes of heart disease, talk about the role that diet and exercise can play in maintaining a healthy heart. Ask your students to go online and find healthy dessert recipes that do not involve cooking or to bring in magazines from home that include recipes for healthy desserts. You can also provide access to kid-friendly cookbooks, such as the Kids' Cookbook: All Recipes Made by Real Kids in Real Kitchens! (American Heart Association, 1993). After sharing their recipes, have students vote on which dessert will be made in class. Before eating the dessert, take your students on a brisk walk outdoors. If it's a rainy day, do some indoor aerobics to their favorite music.

Dr. Christian Barnard performed the first human heart transplant.

The Franklin Institute Online provides an interactive, multimedia learning experience about the heart. Visitors can hear the sound of a heart murmur, see photographs of the human heart, watch an echocardiography and open-heart surgery video, and learn how to monitor their hearts' health!

 

On this website developed by NOVA Online, visitors have the opportunity to perform a virtual heart transplant. After the operation, students will have a pretty good idea of how surgeons perform heart transplants.

 

Research has shown that heart disease begins in childhood. Parents, teachers, and students will benefit from the information on this website.

 

The American Heart Association offers dozens of lesson plans, activities, and other resources for teaching about heart health.

 

This lesson plan from ScienceNetlinks has students examine changes in diet and lifestyle from prehistoric to modern times and how these differences have spurred the development (and better treatment) of heart disease.

 

November 29
7 - 12
Author & Text

Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and other novels, was born on this date in 1832. Alcott wrote several novels under her real name and also penned works under a pseudonym. Her very first novel, The Inheritance-written when she was 17-wasn't published until 150 years after she wrote it, when two researchers discovered it in a library in 1997.

Little Women is partly autobiographical. Alcott used many of the events of her own life as fodder for her writing of this and her other novels. In fact, most scholars believe that the character of Jo March closely resembles Louisa May Alcott. It is not unusual for authors to take incidents from their own lives and use them in their fiction.

Ask students to brainstorm and write in their journals important events and names of people from their lives that might serve as the beginning point for an interesting story, poem, or longer work. Students can then use the interactive Bio-Cube to plan their story. There are more tips available to learn more about the Bio-Cube. An alternative might be to ask students to write about a memorable person in a nonfiction essay format. (This could be submitted to Readers' Digest, which has a feature of this type in each issue). Another alternative would be to have students research the life of Alcott and then read some of her novels to develop a list of those people and incidents from her own life that appear in her fiction.

Louisa May Alcott was born in 1832.

Information about Alcott's life and work is found at this site. Links provide information about various aspects of her life. The site also includes a virtual tour of the house where Louisa May Alcott grew up.

From the textbook site for the Heath Anthology of American Literature, this site provides complete biographical information, critical material, and links to related resources.

This site for the American Masters film biography of Louisa May Alcott offers extensive information about Alcott's life and work, including historical photos and a multimedia timeline.

The Library of Congress offers this resource with information about Alcott's life, images, and excerpts from the writings of Alcott's father regarding her birth and early childhood.