Inquiry Based Activities for U.S. History

Specific Inquiry Based Lessons

Do History: Martha Ballard
DoHistory is an interactive site based upon the 200 year old diary of midwife/healer Martha Ballard. There are thousands of downloadable pages of original documents such as diaries, letters, maps, court records, town records, and more. There is also a searchable copy of the twenty-seven year diary of Martha Ballard. DoHistory engages users with the historical documents and presents them with questions and dilemmas encountered when "doing" history. DoHistory was developed and maintained by the Film Study Center at Harvard University and is hosted and maintained by the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University.

Valley of the Shadow
The Valley of the Shadow depicts two communities, one Northern and one Southern, through the experience of the American Civil War. The project focuses on Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and creates a social history of the coming, fighting, and aftermath of the Civil War. The project is a hypermedia archive of thousands of sources for the period before, during, and after the Civil War for Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Those sources include newspapers, letters, diaries, photographs, maps, church records, population census, agricultural census, and military records. Students can explore the conflict and write their own histories, or reconstruct the life stories of women, African Americans, farmers, politicians, soldiers, and families. The project is intended for secondary schools, community colleges, libraries, and universities.

Picturing a Nation: Native Americans and Visual Representation
In this activity visitors examine and explore images of Native American culture and history. Drawing from the resources found on two sites, visitors are directed to construct a visual essay that illustrates the Native American experience and helps one think about how Native American expressive culture is interpreted and what features of Native culture are uniquely "American." American Social History Project.

The Historian's Sources
Students learn about different types of primary sources used by historians and other scholars and practice analyzing primary sources by focusing on documents about slavery in the United States before the Civil War. The Social Science Education Consortium (SSEC) developed this sample lesson for the Library of Congress. This lesson is from Library of Congress American Memory site.

Port of Entry: Immigration
Students assume the role of historical detective and travel back in time to the turn of the century. As historical detectives, they search for clues to the past in images and primary source documents from five American Memory collections. Library of Congress American Memory site.

Will the Real Ben Franklin Please Stand Up?
In this middle school or high school lesson plan, students will research and debate Benjamin Franklin's most significant role and contribution to the history of the United States. Which was most important to American History - Benjamin Franklin's work as a printer, a writer, a statesman or an inventor? After completing their research, students will have to prepare 10-minute oral and visual presentations to support their position. After presenting their work, they will also be expected to answer questions and ask them of the other groups.

Lewis and Clark
What was the historical significance of the Lewis and Clark expedition? What impact did it have on the growth of the nation...and on its Native American inhabitants? Library of Congress American Memory site.

What in the World Is that? Ingenious Inventions Throughout History
Learn about amazing innovations and inventions from the past through primary sources. Play the challenging game, and learn more with additional resources.

Civil War Letters
Intended for both middle and high schoolers, this PBS lesson plan revolves around a letter writing activity in which students write letters as if they are in the Civil War Era. The webpage also includes authentic Civil War letters and encourages students to analyze these documents. PBS recommends that this lesson plan be used in conjunction with the film The Civil War, directed by Ken Burns.

Child Labor in America
Using historic photographs and primary sources, students will research and learn about child labor in America with this Library of Congress American Memory site. lesson plan. The plan provides its own printable handouts and discussion questions. Recommended for grades 7-12.

On the Homefront
Explore American Memory resources that illustrate homefront contributions during World War I and World War II. (Gr. 6- 12) Library of Congress American Memory site.

George Washington as a Military Leader
A high school level lesson plan presented by PBS, this classroom outline focuses on George Washington's strategies and victories. Students are asked to evaluate Washington as a military leader. Most of the necessary information is directly on the page.

Turn of the Century First Ladies: Who is That?
This activity was originally created for an online, video-conference produced by the National Digital Library Program in conjunction with the National First Ladies Library. The web pages were designed to provide the participating middle schools with resources and a structure to prepare for an online Bowl Event (an oral quiz/game in which teams compete by answering questions they have previously seen and answered). Library of Congress American Memory site.

The Constitution: Counter Revolution or National Salvation?
This lesson plan encourages students to make critical observations on the nature of the U.S. Constitution. It is presented by the Library of Congress American Memory site and includes multiple online resources for students. Intended for grade 11.

Zoom into Maps
Using historic maps from the Library of Congress, help students understand what maps can tell us. (Gr. 4- 12) Library of Congress American Memory site.

Powers of Persuasion-Poster Art of World War II
Visitors analyze powerful posters that were part of the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. These materials are from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) web site.

First Amendment Lesson Plans
Education for Freedom is offered by The Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan center dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of the values of the First Amendment. These lessons (beginning and advanced levels) address constitutional principles and contemporary issues involving the First Amendment.

Create a New Amendment
This Education World lesson plan is for grades 6-12. Students demonstrate critical thinking and creative thinking skills in developing a new amendment.

Interview with Today's Immigrants
What has been the experience of immigrants to the U.S. in recent years? "Make History" with the Library of Congress as students are invited to add stories of immigrants to their communities. Library of Congress American Memory site.

Should the Watergate Special Prosecutor seek an indictment of the former President? Constitutional Issues: Watergate and the Constitution
A 1974 memorandum from the Watergate Special Prosecution Force weighs the pros and cons of seeking an indictment against former President Richard Nixon. These materials are from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) web site.

All History Is Local: Students as Archivists
This project requires students to choose historical topics, collect primary source materials from their families or local communities, and analyze them within the context of the interplay of national, state, local, and personal history. Students build Web sites using the primary sources they have collected and their interpretations of them. Library of Congress American Memory site.

Art and the Shaping of Identity
This activity explores how art, its debates, production and presentation, help shape identities. Students work in pairs to choose images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site and act as curators of an art exhibit on American identity. Students are required to justify their choices as tackle questions of how art shapes ideas about American identity. Produced by The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

George Washington: Images of History
Students consider how artists' depictions of George Washington have shaped perceptions of "the father of our country" in different eras. Students prepare a written or oral presentation about how an immigrant in the turn-of-the-twentieth-century U.S. might have perceived the nation's first president based on the images chosen. The Graduate Center, CUNY .

Life on the Great Plains
The first two activities of this Edsitement lesson ask students to consider how the Great Plains region has been mapped and engages them in creating their own maps and informational brochures. The third activity involves an examination of different written descriptions of the region over time, and the fourth requires students to consider the contributions of two different cultural groups to the region.

"The Terrible Transformation": From Servants to Slaves in Virginia
Designed for college-level students, this detailed activity takes students through the basic steps of analyzing quantitative data and asks them to use the data to test a historical hypothesis about Virginia's "terrible transformation." American Social History Project.

Runaway From Freedom?
This activity asks students to explore eighteenth-century advertisements for runaway slaves and build a database of information about those who sought freedom. Using this information, students follow guiding questions to try to draw conclusions about the people on whose labor the American Revolution depended. George Mason University.

Voices of the American Revolution
This Edsitement lesson guides students in making informed analyses of primary documents that illustrate the diversity of religious, political, social, and economic motives behind competing perspectives on questions of independence and rebellion during the American Revolution. Students confront a variety of interesting primary documents, such as a sermon about the nature of rebellion, an allegory worked in needlepoint, and a petition by a group of slaves to the governor of Massachusetts Bay colony.

Music and Our Reform History
Students analyze issues related to industrialization and reform to answer the essential question, "How does society respond to change?" They do so by analyzing sheet music. Students will have the opportunity to create original lyrics and song covers that reflect the Progressive Era. Recommended for grades 7-12. Produced by The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Women in the Oneida Community
This activity asks students to read letters, diary entries, and other primary sources from a community publication to consider whether or not the Oneida community's redefinition of gender roles afforded women a degree of autonomy. Students write a short essay about Oneida and its critique of conventional society. From the Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775-2000 Web site.

Talk Show on the Lowell Strike of 1834 or 1836
In this activity, students work in small groups to read primary documents that reflect a variety of viewpoints on the 1834 and 1836 labor strikes by young female factory workers in Lowell, Massachusetts. They then plan and act out a five to seven minute "talk show" airing the issues raised by their reading of the historical sources. This activity can be supplemented by students viewing the thirty-minute American Social History Project documentary Daughters of Free Men. For high school students.

Poetry Analysis: "The White Man's Burden"
Students consider Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's Burden", which urged the U. S. to take up the "burden" of empire. They examine differing perspectives on imperialism at the turn of the century. Designed for high school students. Provided by the American Social History Project

Utilizing the Registers of Free Blacks For the City of Staunton and Augusta County, Virginia, 1803-1864
This activity is designed to teach the process of analyzing primary sources and enrich students' knowledge of the daily lives of free African Americans in the antebellum South.

Civil War Photographs
This activity introduces students to the collection of Civil War photographs at the Library of Congress in order to further visual literacy and critical thinking skills. Students use photographs as historical evidence and to understand photographic production during the Civil War.

What Do You See? - Using Selected Civil War Photographs, 1860-1865
Students analyze a single photograph from the American Memory collection Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865. Using the skills developed, students then find and analyze other images. Conclusions reached will allow students develop links between the Civil War and American industrialization. This lesson is from Library of Congress American Memory site.

The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War
Teaching activities, historical documents, and photographs explore the issues of emancipation and military service. These materials are from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) web site.

Ladies, Contraband and Spies: Women in the Civil War
This lesson uses diaries, letters, and photographs from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection to explore the experiences of slave women, plantation mistresses, female spies, and Union women in the Civil War. Students work in groups to analyze the primary documents then make individual oral presentations with visual supplements and write a 500 word textbook entry. Designed for high school sophomores and juniors. Library of Congress American Memory site.

Been Here So Long: Selections from the WPA American Slave Narratives
These three lessons use the American Slave Narratives gathered between 1936 and 1938 by journalists and other writers employed by the Federal Writers Project, part of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA). The lessons ask students to explore the slave narratives to gain an understanding of the experiences of African Americans in nineteenth-century America. They are also asked to consider the nature of oral history and personal narratives as historical evidence. From the New Deal Network Web site.

Comparing Plantation and Factory Rules
This activity asks students to consider the working conditions of African-American slaves and white northern factory workers. Students examine primary documents from the Smithsonian, including mill regulations, and a southern plantation owner's work rules.

Creating a Magazine for the Roaring Twenties
Students create a magazine that covers aspects of culture, politics, arts, music, and lifestyles from the 1920s. Working in small groups, students analyze a magazine to develop an understanding of how a magazine's contents provide clues to the socioeconomic class, education level, gender, age group, and political views of its audience.

Debate: Should the U.S. Annex the Philippines?
Students analyze primary documents to gain an understanding of contemporary arguments for and against U.S. annexation of the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century. Students choose a document, prepare arguments, and then debate U.S. annexation of the Philippines from the perspective of the author of their document.

Eyes of the City
In this activity, students analyze images of immigrant urban neighborhoods and take on the role of an art critic drafting an essay for a catalogue accompanying an exhibition, titled Eyes of The City, that includes paintings and photographs from the early 1900s.

Pacifism vs. Patriotism in the 1920s
This activity asks students to consider the different political positions on war and disarmament of two women's activist organization from this period, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Students read and discuss letters and and complete a short writing assignment analyzing political cartoons reprinted in DAR Magazine. From the Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775-2000 web site.

Images At War
This Edsitement activity helps students learn to examine images critically as historical evidence, using Civil War photographs and homefront propaganda posters from the World War I era. Students work in groups to research and analyze other online images of wartime America and curate an exhibit that illustrates a range of American attitudes toward war.

Child Labor in the United States
This activity asks students to look at Progressive-era photographs of child factory laborers, taken by Lewis Hine, and at an online exhibit about southern factory mill towns from the early twentieth century. After viewing this visual evidence, students write a letter of advice to the imagined parents of a child laborer and a one paragraph explanation of why they offered the advice they did in the letter.

Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry
This activity is designed to deepen the understanding of the experience of Japanese internment in the United States during World War Two and promote student-centered collaborative inquiry. It is centered around interrogating primary sources and evaluating historical evidence on the World Wide Web and creating hypertext trails to construct knowledge. From the American History Social Project.

The WPA "Life Histories" Website: Between the Wars
Students use the WPA Life Histories in the Library of Congress to examine and describe the difference between the 1930s and the 1990s. Students explore a specific subject as three people described it, and consider ways that their views and opinions differ from our own.

Learning About Immigration Through Oral History
Students compare and contrast the stories of these contemporary immigrants with those researched in the thirties reflected in American Life Histories, 1936-1940 and other American Memory collections. Students engage in visual and information literacy exercises to gain an understanding of how to identify and interpret primary historical sources. From Library of Congress American Memory site.

Rondal Partridge, NYA Photographer
Students examine and interpret photographs taken by Rondal Partridge, a documentary photographer who worked with Dorothea Lange during the Depression Era. Students also read and interpret Partridge's original captions for the images. From the New Deal Network site.

Voices of the American Revolution
In this MarcoPolo lesson plan, students focus on the issues and sentiments of the colonial population immediately prior to the revolution. The lesson plan is quite comprehensive; listing many activities and essay projects. Recommended for High school students.

Created Equal?
This Library of Congress American Memory lesson focuses on a few key concepts of the Declaration of Independence, beginning with the phrase "All men are created equal." Students gain an appreciation of Thomas Jefferson's efforts to deal with the complex issues of equality and slavery in the Declaration of Independence. Recommended for High school students.

John Brown's Holy War: A Teachers Guide
Presented by PBS, this lesson plan puts emphasis on class discussion and debate. There are several debate questions as well as an activities section of the guide. Activities include research projects and putting John Brown on trial.

The Crisis at Fort Sumter
Crisis at Fort Sumter is an interactive historical simulation and decision making program. Using text, images, and sound, it reconstructs the dilemmas of policy formation and decision making in the period between Abraham Lincoln's election n in November 1860 and the battle of Fort Sumter in April 1861. From Tulane University.

Social Darwinism: Reason or Rationalization?
Presented by Small Planet Communications, this lesson plan encourages debate over the theory of Social Darwinism. Students are also asked to write a short follow-up essay on their position. Includes necessary material. Intended for 11th grade.

Links to the Past
Students use documents to create a script depicting the motivations, expectations, fears, and realizations of immigrants who settled California between 1849 and 1900. The finished product will be a hyperscript, an online written dialogue, containing links to illustrative written materials, images, and sound files from American Memory collections. Presented by the Library of Congress for grades 6-12

On the Oregon Trail
In this Edsitement lesson, students work with primary documents and latter-day photographs to recapture the experience of traveling on the Oregon Trail. The lesson plan was created by MarcoPolo and boasts a vast collection of resources.

The Debate in the United States Over the League of Nations
In this MarcoPolo lesson plan, students revive the League of Nations debate and examine all sides of the argument. Lesson plan comes with Adobe Acrobat printout and links to relevant resources. For grades 9-12

Jazz Talk
In this DiscoverySchool.com lesson plan students will analyze work songs, spirituals, blues, and gospel songs in order to develop an appreciation for the origins of jazz music. They will also examine works of poetry from African American artists and create their own poems. After completing this activity, students should be able to describe the impact of African American songs and writings on American culture. Grades 6-12.

Martin Luther King Jr., and the Power of Nonviolence
This MarcoPolo lesson introduces students to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s philosophy of nonviolence and the teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi that influenced King's views. After considering the political impact of this philosophy, students explore its relevance to personal life. Intended for grades 6-8

The U.S. Response to the Cuban Missile Crisis
In this SCORE activity, students pretend to be members of EX-COMM and hold a "meeting" with President Kennedy about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The activity site comes with its own information and handouts. Recommended for grade 11.

 

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