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Valentine’s Day Teaching Resources

Flowers, candy, and cards decorated with hearts are used by many to express love to that special someone.  The day offers many fun and creative ways to teach about friendships, poetry and prose, marriage, and relationships.

History of Valentine’s Day

Despite flowers being the number one gift given on Valentine’s Day, the holiday’s origin is not so rosy. 

The real Valentine

The most noted theory about how Valentine’s Day began, is rooted in Ancient Rome.  In the third century CE, the Roman emperor Claudius II wanted to develop a fierce team of young men to be soldiers in his legions.  It was his belief that when young men are in love, this makes them weak.  Naturally, a man with a wife and children tended to be more cautious in how he fought on the battlefield.  So, Claudius outlawed marriage for young men serving in the Roman armies.

Well, not everyone or everything can be commanded by an emperor.  As Claudius found out, he could outlaw love, but he could not stop it.  Young men and women still fell in love and wanted to marry.  A brave Christian priest named Valentine, who thought the law was horribly unjust, risked his life to perform the banned wedding ceremonies in secret.

News of Valentine’s clandestine ceremonies made its way back to the emperor.  The cleric was arrested, and while in prison, Valentine sent a love letter to a young woman — possibly his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his imprisonment.  He allegedly signed it “From your Valentine”, hence the expression.  He was executed soon afterward.  Centuries later, when the Roman Catholic Church made the kindly priest a saint, St. Valentine’s feast day — February 14 — was chosen because it was the day he was put to death.

Literature of love

It wasn’t until almost 1,000 years later that the first known Valentine’s Day poem was written.  It also was penned by a prisoner, and was sent from the Tower of London to the prisoner’s wife in 1415.

My very gentle Valentine,

Since for me you were born too soon,

And I for you was born too late.

God forgives him who has estranged

Me from you for the whole year.

I am already sick of love,

My very gentle Valentine.

Well, not the most remarkable of poems, but it’s good for a first effort.

Everyone is familiar with Shakespeare’s love sonnets, most notably number 18 which starts out famously: 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

And there’s Scotland’s remarkable bard Robert Burns: 

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

   That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

   That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

   So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

   Till a’ the seas gang dry.

And then there are the first love poems written by school kids:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Faces like yours

Belong in the zoo

The economics of true love

In the 21st century, greeting card companies each year produce over a billion cards of love and affection just for St. Valentine’s Day.  The impact that Valentine’s Day has on the U.S. economy is stunning.  In 2019, more than $20.7 billion was spent on the holiday.  It’s thought the most expensive Valentine’s Day gift ever purchased is a heart shaped 1001 Nights Diamond Purse.  Decorated with over 4500 yellow, pink and transparent diamonds totalling 38,192 carats, the retail value of the gift is a gobsmacking $3.8 million.

Valentine’s Day symbols

  • Red Roses: the most popular flower of Valentine’s Day, this enduring symbol of passion, beauty, and love has the power to impress anyone when a dozen of the long-stemmed variety are wrapped in a large bouquet.  An ancient Roman legend has it that a beautiful maiden, Rodanthe, locked herself indoors while being pursued by overzealous suitors. When they eventually broke down her door, an enraged goddess Diana changed Rodanthe into a beautiful red rose and turned the suitors into thorns.
  • Cupid: He was the son of Venus (goddess of love) and Mercury (the winged messenger of the gods).  This mischievous little god carried around a quiver of arrows tipped with love potion.  Anyone struck by one of Cupid’s arrows would fall in love with the first person they saw.
  • Chocolates: Since ancient times, chocolates have been associated with sensuality and fertility.  This is perhaps because when eaten, chocolate stimulates the production of a hormone that is similar to the chemical produced when a person is in love.

Valentine’s Day Around the World

Although Valentine’s Day started as a Catholic feast day, the saint’s death and the tradition of love that he exemplified is celebrated worldwide by people of many faiths.  People send cards, flowers, and candy in many countries.

  • In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is the time when many young couples marry in an event sponsored by the government as a form of public service
  • In Ghana, February 14 is celebrated as “National Chocolate Day”.  The Ghana government established this day in 2007 to increase tourism in the country, as Ghana is among the largest cocoa-producing countries in the world.
  • In Bulgaria on February 14, the “day of winemakers” (San Trifon Zartan) is celebrated.  Young and old couples celebrate their love with a glass of local wine.
  • In Denmark, Valentine’s Day is not limited to roses and chocolates. Friends and lovers exchange handmade cards with pressed white flowers that are called snowdrops
  • In Estonia, February 14 is celebrated as a friendship day known as Sobrapaev. This festival includes everyone, from couples to singles
  • In Japan on February 14, women buy gifts and chocolates for their male companions.  Men can’t return gifts until March 14, which is called the “white day”.
  • In England on Valentine’s Day, women used to place five bay leaves on their pillows.  It was believed this would bring them dreams of their future husbands.

In Slovenia, St. Valentine is a patron saint of spring.  It’s thought that on February 14, plants start to regenerate.  This day marks the first day of working in the fields for the New Year.  Slovenians also believe that birds ‘propose’ to each other on this day, and to witness this occasion, one must walk barefoot through the frozen fields.

Resources for Teaching about and around Valentine’s Day

Help Teaching has many fun educational resources which use the holiday to teach math and English.

Worksheets

 KidsKonnect.com has Valentine’s Day Facts and Worksheets, and check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org:

Lesson plans

Videos

Image source

Resources for Teaching Chinese New Year

Each year, Chinese New Year takes place. It’s a tradition that spans over 4,000 years! Read more to learn about its history, practice, and why it doesn’t fall on the day you’d think!

An annual tradition celebrated for more than 4,000 years

There will be hands filled with red packets of money and streets filled with dancing dragons as people worldwide, predominately of Chinese descent, welcome the Year of the Ox.  Known to the Chinese as Lunar New Year, what we in the West call Chinese New Year falls on Friday, February 12, 2021, and celebrations will climax with the Lantern Festival on February 26.

What is Chinese New Year?

Also called Spring Festival, the holiday marks the beginning of the lunar Chinese calendar.  The Chinese New Year is packed with tradition, family gatherings, superstition, and great food.  Each day has a special name and tradition.  The standard public holiday for mainland China is seven days from Chinese New Year’s Eve to the sixth day of the lunar calendar new year.

Since all stores in China are closed during the first five days of the Spring Festival, and some remain closed until the very end, people have to stock up on New Year supplies ahead of time.  Spring Festival really gets underway on Lunar New Year’s Eve (this year on February 11) with a reunion dinner which is considered the most important meal of the year.  After dinner, the children receive red envelopes, and the family stays up late to await the New Year.

Each day of Spring Festival is unique

New Year (February 12 this year) starts off with a bang as firecrackers punctuate a day of greetings and blessings among neighbors.  The original name for Spring Festival was Yuán Dàn (Yuán means “the beginning”).  In ancient times, the Chinese recorded and analyzed the weather, stars and moon to predict the fortunes of the year, a practice known as zhàn suì.  On Lunar New Year people may celebrate with Tu Su wine.  Tradition holds that it is forbidden to sweep or clean on this day, so that good fortune will not be swept away.

The next day of Spring Festival is called “to the in-law’s”.  On this day, a married daughter must bring her husband and children to her parents’ home along with a gift bag of crackers and candies, which her mother will divide between neighbors.  This simple gesture by the daughter expresses her longing for her hometown.

Day of the Rat

Following “in-laws” day is the “Day of the Rat”.  In 2021 it so happens to fall on February 14, Valentine’s Day, appropriately because, according to folktales, this is the day that rats marry.  On this day people will leave out some grains and crackers to share their harvest with the rats.  They will then retire early so as not to disturb the “wedding”.  The hope is if they do this, the rats will not disturb them during the coming year either.

Day of the Sheep

The fourth day of Lunar New Year is the “Day of the Sheep”.  In the Chinese creation story, sheep were created on the fourth day.  On this day the Chinese would traditionally pray to the god of wealth on this day.  At midnight, people will welcome the god into their home by opening the windows and feasting until daybreak.  Special foods for this feast are kumquats and sugarcanes — meant to represent a sweet life and successful road ahead — plus cakes, a whole pig, chicken, fish, and soup.  Superstition says it’s forbidden to slaughter a sheep on this day. 

Take a break

“Day of the Sheep” is followed by “Break Five”, when after praying to the god of wealth, markets and stores open again.  A traditional dish of dumplings are eaten on “Break Five”.  Some say that the taboos of other days can be done on the fifth.  Others claim it’s wrong to work on this day.

Day of the Horse

Day six of Spring Festival is known as the “Day of the Horse” because this noble beast was created on the sixth day.  On this day people will send the spirit of poverty away.  This frail-looking man who likes to drink thin porridge and turned his clothing into rags on purpose is chased away by burning scraps and offering banana boat candles.  It’s also believed that the god of bathrooms will visit to check on a home’s cleanliness, so everyone in the house is expected to clean on this day.

Day of the Human

Day seven of Lunar New Year is called “Day of the Human” because — you guessed it — humans were created on the seventh day.  Originating in the Han dynasty, “Day of the Human” traditions include wearing a hair accessory called rén sheng and eating seven gem porridge.  This delicious dish includes seven types of vegetables: kale, leek, mustard leaves, celery, garlic, spring vegetable and thick leaf vegetables.

Day of the Millet

After the “Day of the Human”, it’s “Day of the Millet”.  Legend has it that this is the millet grain’s birthday.  Ancient Chinese society was agrarian and, therefore, people highly valued the grain.  On this day, pets such as fish and birds are released back into the wild as a gesture of respect for nature.  Today, some families visit rural areas to learn about agriculture.  Fair weather on this day is a sign of a fruitful harvest, but a gray sky warns of losses ahead.

Providence Health

The ninth day of Lunar New Year is called Providence Health.  It’s the birthday of the sovereign god of the universe, the Jade Emperor.  The main activities on this day are ceremonies for the Jade Emperor.  In some places, women will bring perfumed flower candles to natural wells and harbors and offer prayers to the gods.  Everyone must fast and bathe before praying.

Stone Festival

The Stone Festival is the tenth day of Lunar New Year.  In some places the night before, people freeze a clay jar onto a smooth stone.  On the morning of the tenth day, ten youths will carry the jar around, and if the stone doesn’t fall, it’s an omen of a good harvest.  A traditional lunch on Stone Festival is a meal of baked bread.  It is believed that after the luncheon, the road to wealth will be open and smooth for that year, unless one uses stone tools, such as rollers and millstones, on the day.

Son-in Law Day

The eleventh day is Son-in-law Day when fathers will invite their daughters and sons-in-law to dinner.

Lantern Festival preparations

On days twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, people make preparations for the Lantern Festival by purchasing lanterns and constructing light sheds.  The old adage goes: “make noise on the 11th, build light sheds on the 12th, light the lantern on the 13th, light is bright on the 14th, a full moon on the 15th, end the light on the 16th”.  When spoken in Chinese, the saying has a nice rhythm.

The Lantern Festival

Lunar New Year culminates in the five-day Lantern Festival.  The most important activity during the festival is creating lanterns.  Lantern Riddles is a game played by writing riddles on lanterns.  As it is a full moon that day, moon-gazing amidst lanterns is the best way to celebrate.  Traditional food includes glutinous rice balls called yuan xiao.  Either boiled, steamed or fried, they represent reunions.  Lanterns are lit by those hoping to add children to their families.

New Year Oddities

Beyond the usual Spring Festival traditions, the holiday is full of interesting quirks and customs.

  • Traffic is chaotic

The world’s largest annual movement of humans happens before and after Lunar New Year.  It’s so big, it has its own name — Chunyun.  It’s when all of China travels at once.  The Chinese push their way into packed buses or stand for hours on a crowded train to visit loved ones.

  • Odd language customs

There are some things you can and can’t do over the Lunar New Year in China — simply because of how they sound.  Footwear purchases are a no-no for the entire lunar month, as the word for shoes sounds like “losing” in Cantonese.  One can, though, invert the Chinese character for luck to make “dao” (which sounds like “arrival”) and put it on your door to bring in good fortune.

Ever wonder why firecrackers are associated with Lunar New Year?  Legend has it that the half-dragon, half-lion monster “Nian” comes out of hiding and attacks people (especially children) during the Lunar New Year.  So the firecrackers are used to scare him away (apparently he has sensitive ears).

  • Wearing red

In Chinese culture red is associated with luck and prosperity, but it’s also used for protective purposes.  In addition to being spooked by loud noises, “Nian” is frightened by the color red.

  • Lunar New Year has its own movie genre

The “hesuipian” film genre in China and Hong Kong is devoted to Lunar New Year.  The films are usually uplifting comedies focusing on families and happy endings to make viewers feel warm and fuzzy.  Kind of like Christmas movies in the West.

Resources for Teaching about and around Chinese New Year

Help Teaching has many fun educational resources which use the holiday to teach math and English.

KidsKonnect.com has Chinese New Year Facts & 30+ Worksheets, and check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org.

Here are some fun Chinese New Year learning activities from ReadWriteThink, and this Chinese New Year Fan Dance hands-on lesson from Teacher.org integrates social studies concepts with performing arts.  Students will delve into customs of Chinese New Year by exploring traditional artifacts and dance.

The Asia Society is planning virtual celebrations for 2021, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum is ringing in the Year of the Ox with online celebrations.  The Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association presents the Year of the Ox virtual celebrations, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is streaming a 12-hour broadcast event completely free (and no registration is required).  From art making classes to online dance and music, puppet shows and talks, there are many ways to celebrate.  Usher in the Year of the Ox with online events provided by The Museum of Chinese in America Lunar New Year Family Festival.

However you choose to celebrate or learn about Chinese New Year, we at Help Teaching offer you this traditional greeting: 恭 禧 發 財 or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (pronounced goong ssee fah tsign), which is Mandarin for “wishing you great happiness and prosperity”.

Image source: Freepik.com

Black History Month in the Classroom

When commemorating and celebrating Black History Month, it is critical to involve your students in activities that get them thinking critically about all the facets of the African American experience.  Lessons should incorporate history, politics, human experience, art, and  literature.

The history of people of African descent in the U.S. is American history, and Black History Month offers the opportunity to dig deeper.  Each February gives us a chance to support students as they discover the impact African Americans have had on culture, society, politics, and science.  The key for social studies teachers is to avoid pigeonholing the achievements of Black Americans to just one month.  Although the emphasis during February is on African American history, this subject should be included in social studies education year round.

Origins of Black History Month

Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history

Carter G. Woodson

The distinguished Black author, editor, publisher, and historian Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (1875 – 1950), penned these words as he worked to establish Negro History Week (the precursor to Black History Month) back in the opening decades of the 20th century.  Woodson believed that African Americans should be aware of their past so they can participate intelligently in the country’s affairs.  He strongly held that Black history, which others have tried so hard to obliterate, provides a strong foundation for young African Americans to build on to become productive citizens.

Woodson’s numerous scholarly books and many magazine articles on the contributions of Blacks to the development of America supported his message that Blacks should be proud of their heritage and that all Americans should also understand it.  This championing of African American history earned him the nickname the “Father of Black History”.

Expand Your Horizons

While teachers typically tend to stay with the same few topics during Black History Month (think civil rights, historical Black leaders, and significant achievements), there are also plenty of other important concepts to consider introducing your students to, such as: 

The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity (grades 9-12) (National Archives Museum Online panel discussion, Thursday, February 25, 2021, 7-8 p.m. EST)

African American History Month Teaching DO’s and DON’Ts*

DO…

  • Incorporate Black history year-round, not just in February.  Use February to dig deeper into history and make connections with the past.
  • Continue Learning.  Explore how to provide an in-depth and thorough understanding of Black history.  What textbooks include is limited, so use the textbook as one of many resources, but be sure to explore multiple resources and allow for opportunities to learn along with your students.
  • Reinforce that “Black” history is American history.  Make Black history relevant to all students.
  • Connect issues in the past to current issues to make history relevant to students’ lives.  Making the subject matter relevant to student’s lives drives the point of a lesson home.
  • Include the political and social context of the community’s struggle for social justice.  For example, talk about Daisy Bates’ political affiliations and her political ideologies.  You see her bravery not as just a personal act but as coming out of community determination.

DON’T…

  • Stop your “regular” curriculum, to do a separate lesson on Rosa Parks, on the Civil Rights Act or on Martin Luther King Jr.  This trivializes and marginalizes anything you are teaching, making these leaders a token of their culture and ethnicity.  Students will get the message that the diversion is not as important as the “regular” curriculum.
  • Focus on superficial cultural traits based on stereotypes.  It’s okay to celebrate Black music, but teachers should also explore the political and social contexts that give rise to musical forms like hip hop.
  • Talk about Black history in solely “feel-good” language, or as a thing of the past.  This fails to help students examine how racism manifests itself today.  Be sure to draw connections between how events or people’s actions in the past affect society today.
  • Limit the presentation to lectures or reading.  Be sure to allow students an opportunity for discussion and reflection.
  • Shy away from controversial, ambiguous, or unresolved issues.  Share the real-life experiences about racial realities in developmentally appropriate ways.
  • Think that you can’t talk about black history because you’re a white educator.  You do not need to be a person of color to talk about race.  But you do need to be comfortable in your own skin, build your knowledge about the topic and be in alliance with educators of color for support and feedback.
  • Don’t simply focus on the famous people.  Use Black History Month as an opportunity to highlight the often-unacknowledged contributions that people of color make every day.

*source: www.Tolerance.org

Resources for Teaching Black History Month

Help Teaching has the following resources

Free and Slave States (HS)

Civil Rights Test (HS)

Triangular Trade (MS)

Three-Fifths Compromise (MS)

Benjamin Banneker (older ES)

Pre-Civil War – African-American History (older ES)

Nat Turner (older ES)

Sojourner Truth (older ES)

Underground Railroad (older ES)

Harriet Tubman (older ES)

Discrimination and Slavery in the 1800s (MS)

Frederick Douglass (older ES)

Frederick Douglass Quotes (HS)

Abolitionists (MS)

Emancipation Proclamation (older ES)

Civil War Amendments (13, 14, 15) (MS)

Jim Crow Laws (MS)

Booker T. Washington (older ES)

George Washington Carver (MS)

Granville T. Woods (older ES)

Buffalo Soldiers (MS)

W.E.B. Du Bois (MS)

W.E.B Du Bois Quotes (HS)

The Great Migration (HS)

Harlem Renaissance (HS)

Tulsa Race Riots (MS)

Tuskegee Airmen (MS)

The Civil Rights Movement (older ES)

Montgomery Bus Boycott (HS)

Martin Luther King, Jr. (MS)

King Quotes (grades 11-12) 

Letter from Birmingham Jail (grades 11-12)

Medgar Evers (MS)

Madam C.J. Walker (MS)

School Desegregation (older ES)

Greensboro Sit-Ins (older ES)

The Freedom Rides (MS)

Emmett Till (older ES)

Malcolm X (MS)

John Lewis: Civil Rights Icon (HS)

Selma March (older ES)

Civil Rights Test (HS)

Shirley Chisholm (MS)

Maya Angelou (MS)

Maya Angelou’s poem “On The Pulse Of Morning” (MS)

George Floyd Demonstrations (HS)

Read-Aloud: Martin Luther King, Jr. (older ES)

People of Peace: Martin Luther King, Jr. (HS)

Martin Luther King Jr. Spelling (younger ES)

A Dream Like Martin Luther King Writing Prompts (younger ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Prompt (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Timeline (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Words (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Passage (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Passage (older ES)

Juneteenth (self-contained lesson) (MS)

The Civil War Amendments (13-15) (self-contained lesson) (MS)

You may also find this list of Black History Month Readings – 30 Titles for Grades K-12 helpful.

KidsKonnect.com has the following resources

BusyTeacher.org has the following free ESL resources

These groups and institutions can also help you teach about African American history

Brimming with comprehensive, cross-curricular content, including videos, primary source images and documents, compelling photo galleries, interactive maps, artwork, music, and more, this virtual collection invites students into an engaging exploration of some of the most significant events of the Civil Rights Movement.

Students discover the purpose of Black History Month as well as other historical facts, firsts, and figures about the month-long celebration with a downloadable backgrounder.

Help students understand the significance of the 1963 March on Washington and the role it played in the Civil Rights Movement with this collection of multimedia educational resources.

Use this collection of interviews from National Public Radio (NPR) with high school students to chronicle seminal people and events in the hip-hop movement.

Maya Angelou’s talent was not defined by just one medium. Throughout her life, she was a poet, novelist, dancer, playwright, actor, and educator. In this lesson from PBS NewsHour Extra, students learn more about her extraordinary life.

Students in all grades can make decisions as they follow Harriet Tubman and escape from a slave owner in this online interactive.

To help those who may not know why, where, when or how to begin this conversation, USC Rossier has created Speak Up: Opening a Dialogue With Youth About Racism — a collection of interviews, resource guides, and op-eds aimed at answering some of the questions that can make these topics difficult, and prompt needed discussions about identity, inequality and education for children of color.

Examine social media’s influence in America’s Civil Rights movement and its role in democratizing the media.  The video answers the question, “How does social media support the work of social change protesters?”

These are just a few of the many free resources available online for teaching about African American history.

Image source: Vectoreezy.com

Teaching Inclusivity Through Australia Day

In the American mind, little is known about the “land down under” when compared to their knowledge of other parts of the world. So here’s where you learn about Australia, Australia Day, and why it’s controversial for some.

Australian History

Most Americans’ knowledge of Australia is limited to the unusual animals like the kangaroo and duck-billed platypus, Hollywood’s Crocodile Dundee, and “put another shrimp on the barbie”.

But any understanding of Australia Day must begin with knowledge of the colonial history of the country and an overview of how that narrative is intertwined with the culture and history of the first people to settle the continent thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

The First People of Australia

Although it is considered among the world’s oldest cultures, Aboriginal Australians have a rich, vibrant, and living culture today.  Aboriginal peoples form two groups: those descended from people who already inhabited the continent when Great Britain began colonizing the island in 1788, and the Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are descended from residents of the Torres Strait Islands, part of modern-day Queensland, Australia.

Academics believe there is evidence of complex social behaviors among the native people including cremation, personal ornamentation in the form of shell beads, and long-distance trade.  Watercraft were used for some travel by aboriginals to Bali and Timor, and this is thought to be the earliest confirmed seafaring in the world.

Traditional scholarship holds that Australia’s indigenous peoples were hunter-gatherers who did not practice agriculture.  Recently, though, some historians and archaeologists have argued that native peoples did use agricultural practices.  Despite being nomadic, aboriginals were very much attached to their home territory.

Aboriginal peoples understood the world through interpretation of “the Dreaming” (or “dream-time”), a concept embodying the past, present, and future.  This comprehensive belief system includes creation at the dawn of time when supernatural beings made the land with flora, fauna, and humans.  These beings also gave rules for social life. 

Aborigines make up nearly 800,000 out of a total Australian population of 25 million.  Per capita, they suffer higher rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and incarceration when compared to the general populace.  This is the legacy of British colonial rule which decimated the aboriginal population through the introduction of new diseases such as  smallpox, measles, and influenza, the acquisition of native lands by British settlers, and direct and violent conflict.  It’s estimated that in the ten years following the arrival of the British, the indigenous population was reduced by 90%.  Since aboriginal culture connects with the land, the annexation of native lands was particularly disastrous for indigenous peoples. 

European Knowledge of Australia

As far back as the 2nd century CE, the Roman mathematician, astronomer, and geographer Ptolemy, despite no observational evidence, hypothesized the existence of terra australis incognita (“the unknown land of the south”).  This southern land intrigued medieval European scholars for centuries.  From the 16th century, European cartographers and navigators began including this “Australia” on maps, and as sailing technology advanced, it was inevitable that Europeans would eventually reach the continent.

British Arrival in Australia

By the 1700’s, Great Britain was ascending to the place of unrivaled dominance of the high seas.  By 1770, Captain James Cook planted the Union Jack on what is now called Possession Island, claiming the eastern half of the continent for the British.  On January 26, 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of convict ships from England arrived at Sydney Cove to establish the colony of New South Wales.  January 26 has become known as Australia Day by the general population, but also as “Invasion Day” by Aboriginal Australians (more about this below).

Through the 1800’s, the British control and colonization of the continent continued rapidly, and this meant persecution of native peoples, including dozens of massacres throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.  By 1901, the various British Australian colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia which was given “dominion” status in the British Empire in 1907.  By the 1940’s, most of the constitutional ties with the United Kingdom were severed, and the Australia Act of 1986 dissolved the rest.  Today, Australia has a federal democratic parliamentary system of government but remains a constitutional monarchy with the British sovereign as a figurehead.

Famous Australians and Their Accomplishments

Daisy May Bates (born Margaret Dwyer in Ireland in 1859) was an Australian journalist, welfare worker, and lifelong student of Australian Aboriginal culture and society.  Revered among some aboriginal people, Bates was referred to by the name Kabbarli, or “grandmother.”

Vincent Lingiari (born in 1908) was an Australian Aboriginal rights activist.  Early in life he was a stockman at Wave Hill Station, a pastoral lease in the Northern Territory.  A pastoral lease, or run, is when Australian government-owned Crown land is leased out for the purpose of livestock grazing.  Aboriginal workers were paid only in rations, tobacco and clothing.  In 1966, after workers demanded higher pay and improved working conditions, Lingiari led the workers in the Wave Hill walk-off, also known as the Gurindji strike.  In 1976, Lingiari was named a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to native aboriginal peoples.

Rupert Murdoch (born in Melbourne in 1931) is an American media mogul and billionaire.  He owns hundreds of local, national, and international publishing outlets worldwide, including in the United Kingdom (The Sun and The Times), in Australia (The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Australian), and in the United States (The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post).  He also owns book publisher HarperCollins and television network Fox News.

Germaine Greer (born in Melbourne in 1939) is among Australia’s most controversial authors seen by many as one of the major voices of the radical feminist movement in the second half of the 20th century.  Her first book, The Female Eunuch, published in 1970, made her a household name.  Greer has also championed the environment.  Her book, White Beech: The Rainforest Years, is the story of her efforts to restore part of a rainforest in the Numinbah Valley in Australia.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye (born in Alhalkere country in 1910) one of the country’s most significant contemporary artists.  She grew up in a remote desert area known as Utopia.  Kngwarreye began painting late in life (age 80), however she was a prolific artist producing over 3,000 paintings in her eight-year painting career.  That’s an average of one painting per day.  Her work was inspired by her cultural life as an aboriginal elder, and her custodianship of the women’s Dreaming sites in her clan country.  She died in 1996.

Australia Day

January 26 is an important date in Australia’s history, but its meaning has changed over time.  Australia Day started in 1808 as a celebration for pardoned convicts and gradually developed into a celebration of Australia that reflects the nation’s diverse people.  However, for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the date has long symbolized sorrow and mourning.

Opposition to Australia Day

Aboriginal leaders formally met for the first time in Sydney in 1938 to mark a Day of Mourning to protest the mistreatment of native peoples by the British and white Australians.  They also were seeking full citizen rights for aboriginal people.  50 years later, many native leaders renamed Australia Day as ‘Invasion Day’.  Protests have been held almost every year on Australia Day with some calling it “Survival Day” to emphasize that despite British colonization, aboriginal culture has survived.

Protesters have pushed for treaties between native and non-native Australians and recognition in the county’s constitution.  They also want the date of Australia Day to be altered or abolished.  Victoria state is working toward a first-of-its-kind treaty with its aboriginal population that would recognize the sovereignty of Aboriginal Australians and include compensation.  However, federal Australia itself has never made such a treaty.  It’s the only country in the British Commonwealth not to have ratified a treaty with its indigenous peoples.

Changing the Date

For many Australians, January 26 is a symbol of inequity and institutionalized racism.  However, a survey by the Institute of Public Affairs says 69% of Australians want the date to remain unchanged.

Several dates have been proposed, including January 1, when the Commonwealth of Australia was born in 1901 and Australia, as one united nation, was created.  Some feel, though, that this date change would do nothing to address the unfair treatment of native peoples in the past and present.

Some have argued that Australia’s “National Sorry Day” (observed each year on May 26) should be a new date for Australia Day.  National Sorry Day memorializes the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Another, more tongue-in-cheek, suggestion for a new Australia Day date is May 8.  Say the date quickly and you’ve got the word “mate”.  Proposers say being a mate can surmount cultural and racial barriers.

Resources for Teaching about Australia

Help Teaching has created many educational resources including

KidsKonnect.com has worksheets on

Check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org.

There are free curriculum resources from Australians Together.  Cool Australia has produced 52 lessons that investigate racism, privilege, truth-telling, cultural pride, and resilience.  Mr. Donn has produced many worksheets and activities about Australia.  In Clarendon Learning’sAll About Australia” lesson plan, students learn Australian history and culture.

The National Museum of Australia has loads of free resources for teaching about Australia.  You will find plenty of resources for teaching specifically about Australia’s indigenous population at the Aussie Educator website.  ABC Education offers free educational content including videos, digibooks, games and audio lessons about many aspects of Australian history and culture.

Australia is a wonderfully diverse place worthy of study.  G’day, Mate!

Image source: Freepik.com

How to Teach Religions on World Religion Day

Did you know the third January of each year is World Religion Day? It’s a perfect time to foster tolerance and diversity. We offer tips and advice on navigating religious studies in the classroom.

Religion is important to many

It’s estimated that seven billion of the world’s nearly eight billion people adhere to some kind of religious faith or spiritual belief system.  Religion is an important part of many people’s lives, and to ignore its study is to cut out a major part of our understanding of societies and cultures.  Even for the non-religious person, knowing about the many religious beliefs around us is important to help explain history and the motivations for people’s behavior.

What is religion?

Religion is a set of ideas about our world and our place in it.  It addresses questions such as: Where have I come from?  Who am I?  What is my purpose?  These are all questions raised by children and young people in their formative years.  The non-religious among us also hold a set of beliefs about the world and each individual’s place in it, therefore traditional non-religious worldviews can successfully be studied within the context of religion.  Atheism, for example, is a belief that a supreme being does not exist.  It is an existential belief similar in scope to the way a Christian, Jew or Muslim believes God does exist.

The big three monotheistic religions

Almost everyone is familiar with “the Big Three” faiths — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.  But did you know these religions, though they appear quite dissimilar to the casual observer, spring from a common source?  All three trace their foundations back to a BCE figure called Abraham.  He is revered in all three faiths as the originator of a new kind of understanding about God, namely monotheism.  4.3 billion Christians, Muslims and Jews claim Abraham as the beginning of their spiritual lineage.

Eastern religions

Faiths which have their origins in east, south and southeast Asia include Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Confucianism.  Hinduism, which has no specific founder and is believed to have originated in the Indus River valley, is considered among the oldest of the world’s religions with roots and customs dating back more than four millennia.  With about 900 million followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam.  Like some other oriental religions, Hindus are polytheists — they believe there are multiple gods who perform various functions.  However, Hindus also believe there is one supreme god whose three main forms are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer) and Shiva (the destroyer).

Another popular eastern religion is Buddhism which dates from the 6th or 5th centuries BCE. Buddhism is a non-theistic religion; in other words, adherents have no belief in a creator god.  Buddhism, founded by the sage Siddhartha Gautama, is considered a philosophy and a moral discipline.  It’s thought there are about half a billion Buddhists worldwide.

There are many religions, or perhaps we should more rightly call them philosophical systems, which have their roots in ancient China.  Confucianism is maybe the most well-known.  Confucius (551 to 479 BCE) was a philosopher whose teachings focus on ethics, good behavior, and moral character.  Like some other religions from the Far East, such as Taoism and Shinto, one aspect of Confucianism is ancestor worship.

Other religions

Here are some religions you may not be aware of:

  • Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions of the world.  It is a pre-Islamic religion of ancient Persia (modern Iran)
  • Taoism is also very old.  It is a Chinese philosophy based on the writings of Lao-tzu, advocating humility and religious piety.  Here’s a unique lesson plan related to Taoism from The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Sufism, a mystical branch within Islam, is explored in this KidsKonnect worksheet set about the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi

Folk religions

Some less familiar belief systems which are based upon tradition and culture still exist today in many lands.  Although the practice of folk religions can be influenced by organized religious doctrines, it does not adhere to authorized accepted truths.  Folk religion does not have the organizational structure of established religions, and its practice is often restricted to a certain geographic area.  Many people within the Han ethnic background practice the Chinese folk religion Shenism which includes elements of Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese mythology, and Buddhist beliefs about karma.  This blending of elements from various sources is typical of folk religions.

Folk religions are sometimes called tribal religions when they are practised by a particular people group.

  • The warriors of the Shuar people of South America practice a ritual where the head of a slain enemy is cut off and then shrunk.  It’s believed this traps the soul of the dead enemy inside the shrunken head preventing it from taking revenge against the killer.
  • In remote areas of the world, some ritual ceremonies involve the consumption of mushrooms. This practice is common among the descendants of the Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, and other indigenous peoples who live in rural areas of Mexico and Central America.  The mushrooms contain psycho-active elements which can produce wild experiences, including vivid hallucinations, which are mistaken for visions of the supernatural.
  • In Kenya, the Luo people have traditionally worshiped a sacred python named Omieri, which they believe lives in the waters of Lake Victoria but appears during droughts to summon rain to save the crops. 

Teaching about religion vs. religious instruction

Worldwide, the teaching of religion in state schools varies widely.  Many countries have compulsory religious education, some offer parents the option of withdrawing their children from religious education classes, and some state schools have no teaching about religion.  In our Western pluralistic society, there are many shades of religious education in state schools with most (as in the U.S.) avoiding the subject except in the context of social studies curriculum, and others making religious studies compulsory.

The teaching of religion also varies greatly in sectarian and parochial schools.  These schools are free to teach a chosen faith as the “right” one.  Often, sectarian schools seek to instill its brand of religious practice into students, but will also teach students about other faiths in a comparative way.  Some sectarian schools have a greater emphasis on making disciples of a particular faith, while other sectarian schools are satisfied with tolerating all religions.

Ask the experts

You might want to consider inviting faith leaders into your classroom to tell students about their religious beliefs.  If you do this, it is wise to include clergy from at least the “big three” — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — but you may also consider inviting an atheist, agnostic or humanist to speak.  If you live in an urban area, it’s probably not hard to find leaders of Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh communities who would be willing to visit your classroom.  This might be harder in rural areas, so consider connecting online with leaders of faith communities.

Keep parents/guardians informed

Let the parents and guardians of your students know ahead of time what and how religions will be studied.  In this way, parents can nuance what you are teaching in the classroom with their own beliefs.  Some parents may want their child to opt out of those lessons dealing with religion, so be prepared with an appropriate response.  Let your school administrator know what you will be doing with regard to teaching about religions, and follow the school’s guidance on the issue.

Teachers and administrators may find this article from ADL helpful when assessing options for instruction about religions in U.S. public schools.  The National Education Association also offers some advice here.

So, whether you are teaching students that all religions (or no religion) are equally valuable, or that your private/parochial school’s religion is the true one, Help Teaching has many resources you can use, as do many other reliable institutions.

Online Resources

Help Teaching

Here are some of our recommended resources:

Other educational content providers

KidsKonnect.com has countless worksheets and activities on various religions

And more…

The National Geographic Society’s resource library has many interesting resources for teaching about religions including

The BBC has produced six short videos based on Bible stories for elementary-age students.  Each is told with a humorous twist.

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding offers a set of resources for community educators called American Muslims 101.

Teach about religions can be an exciting and rewarding experience for the teacher and the student. 

Everything Your Students Always Wanted to Know About Electing the President (But Were Too Afraid to Ask)

Everything Your Students Always Wanted to Know About Electing the President
A lot goes into electing a president. The 24 hour news cycle has certainly improved the public consciousness about campaigning and each political party’s convention, but there is still much undiscovered territory for students, especially the role of the Electoral College in electing the 45th chief executive. As the 2020 presidential election nears, here are some terrific resources for teaching students of all ages how the next president will be chosen.

How did we get here?

Scholastic provides the “Road to the White House” that chronicles the journey from campaign to convention and through the election in an entertaining and illustrative interactive tour. Students of all ages will appreciate this journey as a refresher of how the United States narrowed a long list of candidates down to just two major party contenders in the last 12 months.

What are “blue and red states”?

When discussing an historical topic, teachers often rely on textbooks or handouts to explain common vocabulary terms in advance to avoid student confusion. But when discussing current events or “general knowledge” topics, we sometimes forgo a primer on the jargon  necessary for understanding. Scholastic has provided a concise list of need to know terms as you discuss the electoral process to ensure no one is left behind when you reference “GOP” or a party’s “platform”.

What is the  Electoral College?

Here is where your electoral adventure takes a turn toward surprise, and maybe even befuddlement.  Many students may not know what the Electoral College is and why it determines the next president.

One way to explain this system is to use music. Musical Media for Education has a song about the Electoral College, which includes a lyrics list so your students can follow along with the song.

Or, if you’re old school like I am, Schoolhouse Rock has an excellent Electoral College song for use in your class ($) that covers the electoral system in their typical entertaining manner.

Does my vote even count?

Once your students understand the role of the Electoral College, they may wonder if their votes even count. Show them this Ted-Ed video about the electoral college and importance of voting, particularly in certain states.

Is this the best way to determine the leader of the free world?

This all may be a bit jarring for your students. They may have valid questions about whether this is the best, most democratic way to choose a leader. Go over the history of the Electoral College from the House of Representatives website. This History Channel video also gives more background on why the founding fathers implemented this system.

There are some detractors of this system. The major arguments are chronicled by Scholastic. This is a great opportunity to hold a debate or to ask students to write a claim about the validity of this system using a selection of documents from this post.

What do the electors do when they meet?

The meeting of the Electoral College is not a clandestine event. C-SPAN has video of the 2008 meeting of the electors from Illinois and Arizona. This is a terrific primary source that gives the students a glimpse into our democratic process.

How can a candidate win the election?

The best way to understand how an election is won is top ask the students to win an election themselves. iCivics has a fun election game to help students win the White House, as well as ideas for mock elections in the classroom.

Students can also track the race to 270 electoral votes with an interactive electoral map. This would also be handy for a research project that asks the students to predict the results of the election by tracking each state’s past voting habits.

The Washington Post has an Electoral College curriculum that encompasses all of the above questions in one handy document with numerous resources. In addition, Help Teaching offers numerous free election worksheets, including a presidential election quiz and electoral vote activities for both the 2008 and 2012 elections.

With so much attention paid to the popular vote and so much polling data on all of the major networks, it can be easy for students to be unfamiliar with the electoral process. Don’t let this election pass without giving them a primer on one of the most important components of our democratic system!

10 YouTube Channels for the Social Studies Classroom

10 YouTube Channels for the Social Studies Classroom21stcentury students are constantly plugged into technology, making it the teachers’ responsibility to use their interests to engage them in the classroom. YouTube gives educators the ability to use a familiar website and an interesting medium to teach about themes and concepts that relate to their subject areas.

While there are thousands of great videos scattered about YouTube, these are ten channels that house a collection that will improve your lessons and your students’ understanding of social studies.

1. The Century: America’s Time

This series, produced by ABC at the turn of the century, breaks down major moments in American history with archived film footage and interviews with participants and regular people who lived through those moments. The small chunks of information make this series an invaluable tool for reinforcing concepts with visual primary sources.

These videos also work well for a world history class, as events like World War II and the Cold War are an important part of that curriculum, too.

2. Crash Course History

These videos give a fast-paced, thorough and entertaining overview of many different topics in history, literature, economics, and other key subjects. You can also find related resources and more easily search some of the videos on the Crash Course website.  It’s important to note that most of these videos are not appropriate for elementary and middle school students, but there is a Crash Course Kids series that might be okay.

3. Simple History

This channel helps viewers gain a quick overview of key events in history through short, illustrated videos. Each video is narrated and told in a story format to make it more engaging for students.

4. Khan Academy

What makes Twitter and Facebook so popular? Why do kids prefer to text message in code than write in full length English? It’s because they prefer bite sized chunks of information and the movement towards these small doses of content is exemplified by the Khan Academy. Here you will find a huge library of lectures ranging from five to 20 minutes that use relevant and interesting visuals to teach about a specific topic. Wondering what that FICA Tax is that’s taken out of your paycheck? Watch this. Need a quick primer on how communism is different than capitalism? Here ya go.

5. The Associated Press

It is hard to spend time on current events due to time and curriculum constraints, but whenever there is a historical topic that connects to a modern one, we should make it a priority to discuss that connection. For example, the AP has dozens of very short videos on the current situation in North Korea that can be used in conjunction with a Cold War unit.

6. Miller Center: American President

This channel provides a breathtaking database of presidential speeches and occasions that can accent any lesson in modern American History. From clips of the famous Kennedy – Nixon presidential debates to President Clinton’s take on gun control after the Columbine school shooting, these videos make it simple to enhance an already stellar lesson plan with relevant primary source video.

7. US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Search through the playlists available on this channel and marvel at the resources they have compiled. Heartbreaking stories of loss, uplifting stories of love, and everything in between.

8. History for Music Lovers

I don’t know exactly what to make of this, but it may be the most creative mixture of pop culture and history that I have ever seen. The team at History for Music Lovers rewrites songs from the last forty years of pop music to teach about a historical figure or period. They also film music videos, complete with costumes and plots, to accompany their song parodies.

Watch The French Revolution, as sung to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, William the Conquerer set to Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back, or  relive the Eighties with Billy Idol’s Eyes without a Face transformed to The Crusades.

Some of the songs will be before your students’ time, but the effort and creativity on display is sure to break any generational walls.

9. Biography Channel

The Biography Channel on You Tube has endless “mini – bios”, all around five minutes in length; a perfect amount of time to spend on a video clip within a lesson plan.

10. Help Teaching

Help Teaching’s YouTube channel features videos on a range of subjects including social studies.  You can also find ad-free versions of the videos on our online lessons page. Best of all, each lesson is accompanied by worksheets to help assess what students have learned.

You Tube may provide students with music videos and clips of teens getting pranked by their friends, but it also can be a tool for learning. Use the channels above to augment your materials and find your own to show students that the web is also a place for education.

How to Use Dr. Seuss in the Social Studies Classroom

How to Use Dr. Seuss in Your Classroom
One of the best ways to ensure students retain and comprehend historical information is to draw on what they already know. This includes using references from their prior experiences and pop culture. Students may be surprised to see the historical connections in things that are a part of their everyday lives. One great resource to draw from is the stories of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss has penned numerous books, cartoons, and animated stories that have deep historical meaning and applications and they can be tied directly to the social studies curriculum. Below is a sampling of how Dr. Seuss can be included in the social studies classroom. While these activities are designed with social studies in mind, many of them can be adapted for use in the language arts classroom as well.

Dr. Seuss Goes to War

Political Cartoons: Dr. Seuss Goes to War

Throughout World War II Dr. Seuss inked hundreds of editorial cartoons about the war and American involvement, including scathing depictions of Hitler, Mussolini and other Axis enemies. (Warning: there are numerous stereotypical and racist depictions of non-American combatants that may require a separate lesson or explanation). One method that that would engage students would be to pick out a real life character depicted in the political cartoon and list and describe the character traits Dr. Seuss assigns to him. This asks the students to identify the person in the cartoon and to combine their knowledge of history and understanding of symbolism.

The Butter Battle Book

Mutual Assured Destruction: The Butter Battle Book

This story is a satirical look at the Cold War arms race that nearly led to nuclear annihilation, using the Yooks and Zooks as stand ins for the United States and the Soviet Union. The songs, rhyming, and Dr. Seuss style will keep the kids interested, even as they are watching a children’s cartoon from the 1980s. The students will simultaneously follow the story and find parallels to the Cold War, so a Story Map will help them keep track of the action as they watch. This particular organizer also asks the students come up with a solution or ending to the cliffhanger, adding to the interpretive nature of the activity. Another engaging activity uses the Boxes and Bullets graphic organizer which asks the students to write an overriding connection between the Butter Battle and the Cold War, then give three examples to back up their connections, and lastly, to add specific events from history or the story to give depth to their examples.

The Cat in the Hat

Psychology: The Cat in the Hat

Every student and teacher knows of The Cat in the Hat, but its uses in Psychology classes may not be as well known. The main characters of the children, the Cat, and the fish each display different characteristics of Freud’s personality components of id, ego, and superego. Teachers can use the Narrative Procedure organizer to chart the examples of each appearance of id, ego, and superego throughout the story. Another method would be to use the Plot Diagram to chart the action of the story as it relates to Freud’s theory.

These cartoons and stories are not just for Social Studies class. The skills that Seuss instills and reinforces travel across curricula, and can be used to meet Common Core Standards. Check out Top Ten Ways to Teach the Common Core ELA Standards for more ways to integrate a great resource like Seuss. However you utilize Dr. Seuss in your Social Studies classroom, it’s clear he will be having an impact on children’s education long after their days of bedtime stories are over.

How to Use Hollywood Movies in the Social Studies Classroom

How to Use Hollywood Movies in the Social Studies ClassroomHollywood movies pose a unique set of problems for social studies teachers: How often should I show films, how much of the film should I be showing, and which films are appropriate to show? The short answer is film is an essential part of the social studies classroom that, if used in the proper manner, can be a pedagogical tool that enhances your students’ understanding of historical events and themes.

How often should I show films?

You should show films as often as your curriculum calls for it. Movies give the students the unique ability to see history happen in a modern medium with special effects and a cultural significance that you cannot recreate in your classroom. The key to using movies well is to use them wisely. They should serve as a complement to your more traditional methods of conveying information.

For example, a primary source about the modernization by the Meiji government of Japan in the late 1800s gives the students the ability to visualize history while improving their skill of interpreting text. But if that source is followed by a clip of the Tom Cruise film “The Last Samurai”, the students see their vision come to life. The students can make a T chart of the traditional and modern aspects of Japan they see in the clip. Think of all of the skills used in this ten minute activity: drawing upon prior knowledge that was gained through reading a first hand account, comparing and contrasting two vastly different eras in Japan, and interpreting the film not as a Hollywood production but as a secondary source.

Don’t let the stigma of showing films alter your best judgment as a professional. Cops still eat doughnuts despite the public’s negative connotation. Teachers should still show movies despite the public’s misconception as to why we show them.

How much of the film should I be showing?

I have worked with teachers who earned nicknames such as “Lights Out” and “Matinee” for their use of movies in the classroom. It wasn’t their frequent use of film that earned them these monikers; it was their reliance on showing FULL LENGTH Hollywood movies on a regular basis. This is not a pedagogically sound practice on any level. Movies are more useful in the social studies class through a series of short clips, not when they are shown in their entirety. The few exceptions to this rule include Glory, Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda because these are stories that more completely tell of the emotions and individuals that make history happen and make it special. These stories cannot be properly told in ten minute clips.

When I was in high school, my tenth grade teacher showed the class the film “Gandhi”. The entire 191 minute movie. Today, I use three specially selected clips from the movie (less than thirty minutes in total) to illustrate the themes of human rights violations, collapse of imperialism, and the importance of the individual.

Which films are appropriate to show?

There is no one right answer to this question so I recommend you ask your school’s administration before showing any movie – even just a clip! – that is rated above the age of your class. Some districts have an approved movie list that is constantly reviewed and updated.

Below is an abbreviated list of films that would be ideal to show in the social studies classroom. Again, I advise that you view the film and find clips that apply to your lesson and reinforce the themes and concepts that you are trying to deliver to your students.

American History

1492: Conquest of Paradise (Exploration)
The Crucible (Salem Witch Trials) – worksheet
The Last of the Mohicans (French and Indian War)
1776 (Revolutionary War)
Amistad (Slavery) – worksheet
Glory (Civil War)
Gettysburg (Civil War)
Lincoln (Civil War)
The Godfather Part II (Immigration)
The Grapes of Wrath (Depression) – worksheet
Saving Private Ryan (Invasion of Normandy/World War II)
We Were Soldiers (Vietnam War)

World History

Gladiator (Bread and Circus/Roman Empire) – worksheet
Luther (Reformation/Diet of Worms)
Elizabeth (Reformation/Absolutism)
The Last Samurai (Japanese Imperialism) – worksheet
The Last Emperor (Qing Dynasty)
Flyboys (World War I)
All Quiet on the Western Front (World War I) – worksheet
The Lost Battalion (World War I)
Gandhi (Indian Independence)
Schindler’s List (Holocaust) – worksheet
Thirteen Days (Cuban Missile Crisis)
Hotel Rwanda (Collapse of Imperialism/Genocide) – worksheet

Not only can watching films enhance students’ understanding and interest in a topic, having your class make a movie is an excellent method for assessment that asks the kids to interpret and analyze material to make an organized and accurate representation of history. With smartphones and almost every pocket and programs such as Windows Moviemaker becoming available to more districts, the ability to use film as a tool for assessment is more relevant than ever. Students can create a documentary or newscast that discusses history as it happens. This makes set design and wardrobe very easy. A more detailed project can be to have them act out history as it happens. Posting these projects on YouTube is another way to view films and share them with other classes. There are numerous examples of similar projects online, enabling you to show students both good and poor examples of what you would like them to do.

Don’t let parents, administrators, or colleagues shame you into ignoring such a popular and effective medium. Hollywood films can be used as an effective tool for learning if they are used in the proper manner. Follow the tips above for maximum impact on your students and check out our post Teaching with Movies in the ELA classroom post for more ideas.

Using Historical Thinking Skills to Analyze the “I Have a Dream” Speech

Using Historical Thinking Skills to Analyze the I Have a Dream Speech
The impact of Martin Luther King, Jr. on American society and politics is immeasurable. His efforts to bring equality to all races living in America led to lasting change and still hold an important place in all American history curricula. As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. King on the third Monday of January every year, it is important to find fresh ways to teach our students about his life, while still incorporating some of the essential reading, writing, and thinking skills students need.

Let’s look at Dr. King’s most memorable speech with a focus on historical thinking skills.

Close Reading:

Close reading asks students to determine a source’s point of view and purpose.  For example, Dr. King’s famous I Have a Dream speech includes the sections:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Students can break down each line to determine the vision that Dr. King had for his country. They can then summarize the entire section by analyzing the interpretation for each line.

To help students see the speech from an ELA perspective, Presentation Magazine offers a compositional analysis of the speech.

Contextualization:

Contextualizing is the skill that asks students to look at the facts and events surrounding a particular document that may have influenced its creator. To fully understand the context of Dr. King’s message we must look at race relations and segregation in America in 1963. Teaching Tolerance offers a five lesson teacher’s guide to their film A Time for Justice: America’s Civil Rights Movement which chronicles the civil rights movement from the 1954 ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education to the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act. The guide includes primary sources, interactive activities, and the background information that give Dr. King’s words context.

For upper elementary students, Scholastic provides a brief overview of the same era. It provides context for Dr. King’s speech, but does not require a lot of class time to convey much of the same information.

Corroboration:

Corroborating a source’s content is when students locate other sources that back up or contradict the source being analyzed. In trying to corroborate Dr. King’s words, students can be presented with various speeches.

Here are two examples:
The first is by Alabama governor George Wallace, that says, in part,

and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.

The second example is from President John Kennedy, which says:

This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.

Students should use excerpts of these speeches to corroborate Dr. King’s characterization of a country that is divided and unequal. Students can also use these speeches to make a claim about American society in the 1960s.

Sourcing:

To properly source a document, students must determine if the who, when, and where of a document makes it more or less reliable. All three of our speeches were given in 1963. We know from our contextualizing, that America was in a state of racial turmoil at the time. In our corroborating, we learn that the speeches by President Kennedy and Governor Wallace highlight the issues stated by Dr. King. All sources seem to be a reliable source of history of the time they were created.

Dr. Martin Luther King is a monumental figure in American history. His contributions cannot be overlooked. With some of the sources and activities above, you can honor his work and memory, while still integrating the skills our students need. To learn more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have students listen to the Read-Aloud: Martin Luther King, Jr. which offers a short overview of his life. Also, you may enjoy our free Martin Luther King, Jr. printables. For more on historical thinking skills, check out Help Teaching’s Online Self Paced Lessons on Sourcing and Corroboration, and well as two different lessons on Contextualizing.

 

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