Standard Lesson

Myth and Truth: Independence Day

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 50-minute sessions
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Most Americans think of the Fourth of July as Independence Day—but is it really the day the United States declared its independence? This lesson explores all the dates and stories associated with the Declaration of Independence, focusing on the reason there are so many different dates and signings of the document and why we celebrate the nation's birthday on July 4th rather than one of the other dates. Students first freewrite and discuss questions about how to tell truth from fiction. They then listen to the Schoolhouse Rock song “Fireworks” and discuss how information in the lyrics compares with what they know about the Independence Day holiday. Finally, students research to find the truth behind common myths about Independence Day and the signing of the Declaration of Independence and present their findings to the class.

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From Theory to Practice

In his reflection on teaching reading in the social studies classroom, Richard H. Chant asserts: "As much as content-area teachers need to enhance their students' reading proficiency, reading teachers can (and should) enhance subject matter content through their selection of strategies and texts." This lesson promotes just that by encouraging critical thinking and research to understand the historical context of a holiday.

Historical events and holidays frequently seem like absolute truth to students; yet behind such events are many possible truths, myths, and stories, allowing us to discover who we were as people and who we are today. Although few young people realize it, understanding these truths and myths illuminates the ways that their values and beliefs have been shaped by the stories they have grown up knowing, by the education they have received, and by the landscape within which they have lived. All these contexts have contributed to their world views as individuals, as members of families, and as members of communities.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

Materials and Technology

  • Copies of the lyrics and/or the video for the Schoolhouse Rocks' cartoon "Fireworks!" Several options are available:

    • Book-Yohe, Tom. 1996. Schoolhouse Rock!: The Official Guide. Hyperion.

    • VHS-"Fireworks!" 1997. Schoolhouse Rock! - America Rock. Disney Studios.

  • Texts that explore 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. (optional)

  • General classroom supplies (paper, pens or pencils, chart paper or board, and so forth)

  • Copy of the Declaration of Independence for each group (available in most American literature anthologies, history books and encyclopedias, or online from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.)




  • Gather books and bookmark Websites from the Websites list. If computer access is not available, create printouts from the Websites for each group. Provide a copy of books for each group if resources allow. Groups may have slightly different reference resources (for instance, encyclopedias from different publishers), but all groups should have relatively the same collection of materials on hand. Naturally, you can encourage sharing among groups in the case of scarcer resources.

  • Make copies of the Common Myths about the Fourth of July handout and the Myth and Truth: The Declaration of Independence Presentation Rubric for all students or prepare overheads or chart paper with the information.

  • If students will use the tools to prepare their presentations, test the Printing Press and technical support page.
  • Student Objectives

    Students will

    • develop strategies for critically examining the origin and characteristics of myth.

    • develop an awareness of the diversities, similarities, and values in various cultural and story traditions related to the American Revolution.

    • develop strategies for examining messages for bias and missing information.

    Session One

    1. Students can complete these prereading questions as homework, as an in-class freewrite before the reading, or in oral class discussion.

      1. What difference does it make who writes a story as long as they tell the "truth"?
      2. How can you tell when a story is true? What would indicate a story was fictional?
      3. Have you ever read something that was presented as nonfiction but that you knew was fiction?

    2. Spend ten to fifteen minutes going over students' responses to the prereading prompt. Write their answers on chart paper or an overhead. (You'll return to these answers later in this lesson, so save their responses.)

    3. Read the lyrics to the Schoolhouse Rocks' cartoon "Fireworks!" As students read, ask them to pay particular attention to the historical details that the lyrics include.

    4. After reading, ask students to write two questions of their own for the class to consider: one question that is answered in the text and an "I wonder why" question. Use a writer's notebook or response journal for this writing.

    5. In small groups, have students share their questions and discuss answers. Monitor student discussion by circulating among the groups.

    6. As a postreading activity, ask students to think about the description of the writing and signing of the Declaration. Give them these guiding questions: What do you notice about the lyrics that fits with your ideas about July 4, 1776, and what seems unusual or seems to have been left out?

    Session Two

    1. In full-class discussion, have students share their thoughts on the events of July 4, 1776, in light of the "Fireworks!" lyrics. Write their ideas on the board or on chart paper. The idea is simply to brainstorm a list for now.

    2. Pass out the Common Myths about the Fourth of July Handout, or show the list on an overhead projector. As you read through the list, encourage students to connect items from their brainstorming list with the myths on the sheet.

    3. Demonstrate the "myth-breaking" process (outlined on the Common Myths handout and below) by answering the three myth/truth questions about the first myth on the handout: "The Fourth of July has been a legal holiday since the American Revolution." See this article from American University for background information.

    4. Divide students into four to five groups, assigning each group a myth from the sheet. Give groups a variety of resources in which they might uncover truths about Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence. Pass out the Presentation Rubric for the activity, or show the list on an overhead projector.

    5. Each group completes the following assignment, preparing to share their findings with the entire class:

      1. Explain your myth answering these two questions:

        • What is a truth in this myth?

        • What are other truths behind this myth that might contradict it?

      2. As a group, you may use any of the materials available to help you understand and explain the myth.

      3. Prepare a five-minute presentation to the class that explains your understanding of the myth, using creative drama, visual aids such as posters, music, illustrations, or an oral presentation. If desired, you can use the Printing Press to create posters and other displays for your presentations.
    6. As students work in their groups, circulate and monitor student progress. Let them know a few minutes before the work period will conclude so that they have time to wrap up their thoughts.

    Session Three

    1. Give students five to ten minutes to make last-minute preparations and to practice their presentations.

    2. Have groups present their myth to the entire class, sticking closely to the five-minutes-per-group guideline that you've established.

    3. Once all of the groups have presented, return to the original prereading questions:

      1. What difference does it make who writes a story as long as they tell the "truth"?

      2. How can you tell when a story is true? What would indicate a story wasn't true?

    4. Read through the student responses, and conclude the lesson with a discussion of their original perceptions of "truth." Which observations do they still agree with? Which would they change? What would they add?


    Focus discussion on the difference between the image portrayed in John Trumbull's painting of the events of July 4, 1776, and the reality of what occurred on that day.

    Student Assessment / Reflections

    • Monitor student interaction and progress during group work to assess social skills and assist any students having problems with the project.

    • Use the Rubric to assess group presentations.

    • Assign an independent analysis and critique writing task to students which allows them to apply their skills individually. The following general Independence Day Critique assignment would work well:
      Critique the pictures in a Fourth of July children's book, a poster, or an advertisement. Critically analyze the images and information in the book, noting the myths and underlying truths that are evident in the depiction.
      Be sure to focus students on a particular detail to ensure that they do not become overwhelmed by the idea of critiquing all the information in a book.

    • As a class, develop a list of questions or strategies for examining future readings and texts for missing information or bias (thus summarizing and applying the information from the lesson).

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