October 07
3 - 12
Author & Text

Novelist, poet, and screenwriter Sherman Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Often focusing on the connections between physical places and the stories that occur in them, Alexie wrote a semi-autobiographical young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian with a protagonist who chooses to leave the school on his reservation to attend a nearby high school where he is the only Native American student.


In 2003, Sherman Alexie was asked to contribute to the "Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves" exhibition, a project of The Museum of Tolerance. The collection consists of recreations of parts of participants' childhood homes or other significant family locations and showcases the diversity of Americans' personal histories. The scenes explore the meaning and inspiration behind the places and objects where memories and family history were made.

  • Ask your class to imagine that they have been asked to participate in such an exhibit. Have students draw or take photos/video of their home or another significant location and then write or record reflections that explain why this location is important to their family history and their personal identity.

  • Alternately, have students create an exhibit for a character from a short story, book, or play the class has read. They can use information in the text (and their imaginations), to help them create a representation of the rooms of a character's family home and explain how these rooms reflect the personal history and identity of the character.


Sherman Alexie was born in 1966.

Featuring information about Alexie's publications, this site also includes his blog, contests for readers, and a calendar of his appearances.


The official site for the Musuem of Tolerance exhibit includes images of some of the displays and resources for researching family history including tips for getting started and links to genealogy sites.


This collection of resources, a supplement to the NCTE book Sherman Alexie in the Classroom, offers ideas for teaching social justice and an introduction to Native American literatures, as well as critical excerpts about Alexie's work.


Alexie's entry on the Academy of American Poets site contains a biography and a link to his poem "Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World."


March 16
9 - 12
Author & Text

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.

The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850.

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.

May 08
5 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

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!

Celebrate blues legend Robert Johnson's birthday.

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.

August 18
5 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

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.


Montgomery Ward published the first mail-order catalog in 1872.

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.


June 01
7 - 12
Literacy-Related Event

Nine contestants participated in the first National Spelling Bee, sponsored by the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal in 1925. Now, over 250 student champions, ranging from 9- to 15-years-old, travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in the National Spelling Bee. The competition takes place during May each year. The National Champion receives $28,000 in cash and savings bonds as well as reference resources for his or her home library.

The National Spelling Bee competition has been broadcast nationally on ESPN and during primetime on ABC. In his article "All I Need to Know about Teaching I Learned from TV and Movies," Kenneth Lindbloom compares the competition to shows like Jeopardy. Lindbloom explains, "One might speculate that these events garner interest because they are contests with one winner and many losers. But more difficult contests-Westinghouse science winners, for example, or creative-writing contest winners-don't get the kind of publicity memorizers of trivia get." Ask your students to consider this with the following questions:

  • Why do some contests get more publicity than others? What makes the National Spelling Bee interesting to the general public?

  • Is the National Spelling Bee a sports event? Why has it been broadcast on ESPN?

  • What counts as knowledge on television? What knowledge is seen, and what kinds of knowledge are not seen?

National Spelling Bee Finals are held this week.

The official homepage for the competition includes details on the student spellers, their sponsors, the rules for the competition, and statistics. During the competition, photos of the events will be added to the site.


By Margaret Y. Phinney, this page from the Natural Child website explains invented spelling and emergent writing and includes suggestions designed to encourage children's writing and use of invented spellings.


This Scholastic website features essays that contain strategies aimed at integrating spelling into the reading and writing curriculum and helping students to improve their spelling skills.


ReadWriteThink's Word Wizard interactive allows students to spell words based on four favorite children's books. Students can read and listen to clues and click the hint button if they're stuck.


September 04
5 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Prior to Google, Web search engines ranked search results according to the number of times a key word appeared on a page. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin revolutionized the Internet search process by ranking pages based on the number of other pages to which they are linked. Since incorporating in 1998, Google has grown in popularity as a preferred Internet search engine and information application provider. In 2006, the verb "google" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Working with your librarian/school media specialist, engage students in an overview of developments in information/reference search technology. Guide students in an exploration of the following search tools (or others that provide a similar sense of contrast and development):

  • card catalog
  • Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature
  • library Web site
  • Google or other search engines

After students have had a chance to become familiar with the different search technologies, lead a discussion about the purposes, benefits, and disadvantages of each.

Encourage students to think beyond the notion that the newest technology is always the best. Remind them, for example, that information they find through an online search may not have the same credibility as something they might have found through the library card catalog. Or point out that while an online search engine may offer faster, more refined results, it may be keeping track of what you searched for without your full knowledge or permission.

Google was formally incorporated this week in 1998.

Part of Google's official site, this timeline covers the company's lifespan from 1995 to the present, including thorough links to more recent developments in Google services. The timeline also lists the April Fool's Day jokes for which Google has become famous.

This frequently-updated blog includes information about new developments at Google, as well as innovative ways to use Google tools for work or leisure activities. Here you can also find links to other blogs about web technologies and blogs written by Google staff.

Offering an extensive history of search engines, this site puts Google in perspective as one of the industry leaders in the market. The site also includes an extensive list of links for further reading and exploration on the topic.

March 12
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Andrew Carnegie, at one time the richest man in America, was born in Scotland in 1835 and emigrated when he was 13. After making his fortune in railroads, telegraphs, oil, and steel, Carnegie retired in 1901, dedicating his last years to philanthropy. In addition to the donation to NYC libraries, Carnegie helped establish over 2,500 public libraries, as well as teacher pensions, research foundations, and peace endowments. By the time he died in 1919, Carnegie had given away nearly $325,000,000.

With Carnegie's gift in mind, today would be a perfect day for students to practice their expository writing and/or persuasive writing skills.

For expository writing: Carnegie was often referred to as the "Patron Saint of Libraries." Why were libraries so important to him? Although Carnegie was interested in giving, he didn't like "charity."  Instead, he was interested in programs that would help people help themselves. Ask students to explain how funding libraries would be a good way to further the cause of "helping people help themselves." For younger students, ask them to write about at least two ways the library could help them learn important information or skills.

For persuasive writing: Ask students to imagine that they are writing to the Carnegie Foundation in order to fund a project at their school. They should identify a specific need at their school and then convince the donors that their school deserves this money. Writing should include specific information about how the money would be used to benefit their school.

If students write both the expository and persuasive pieces, ask them to compare the essential features of the two modes of writing. Students may find ReadWriteThink's Persuasion Map and Essay Map interactives useful for this activity.

On this date in 1901, Andrew Carnegie gave $5.2 million to New York City libraries.

This resource is the companion website to the PBS' The American Experience show on Carnegie.

Background information and present activities of the Carnegie Foundation can be found here, written in student-friendly language.

The Elements of Grant Writing guide is a compilation of tips, timelines, and templates from a variety of grant-writing experts and funders designed to aid investigators in successfully applying for grants from federal, foundation, and corporate sources.

There are over 30 different lesson plans and classroom resources about teaching persuasive writing in this collection provided by the Kent School District.

August 15
7 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

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.


In 1870, the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad was completed.

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.


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.

August 10
1 - 8
Historical Figure & Event

Founded in the United States in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution is considered the "nation's museum." Today, the Smithsonian is comprised of 19 museums and 129 affiliate museums—including the National Zoo and the National Air and Space Museum.


In addition to the exhibits at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the Institution has an extensive website, with information on exhibits and special events. Many online resources are available right in your classroom. Visit the Students Page and explore a variety of interactives. You and your students can build a sod house, play a Viking board game, and learn about the American presidents.

After exploring an exhibit online, have students use the information that they learned, along with some imagination, to write "A Day in the Life" narratives that tell about a person, animal, or object that they saw in the exhibit. Urge students to make connections to the specific details and facts they learned.


The Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1846.

This website has standards-based online resources for teaching and learning American history, designed and developed by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Find lesson plans or sign up for the artifact RSS feed.


Online resources are available for educators, families, and students. In the Educators section, you will find lesson plans, information about planning a field trip to the Smithsonian, and professional development resources.


This collection of interactive learning labs for teachers and students includes online tutorials that bring the Smithsonian to life. Exhibits include Walking on the Moon and Kids Collecting.


This page has an interactive image of a coin featuring James Smithson's portrait, as well as information about Smithson, whose bequest of money founded the Smithsonian. Also of interest is a coin from 1838 created from Smithson's original bequest.