Dear America Teaching Guide
American history lessons covering the Colonial Period, the Revolutionary War, Westward Expansion, the Civil War, the Turn of the Century, the Great Depression, and World War II.
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
Make American history come alive for your students! Scholastic's Dear America project covers American history in seven parts:
- The Colonial Period
- The Revolutionary War
- Westward Expansion
- The Civil War
- The Turn of the Century
- The Great Depression
- World War II
Students are transported through America's history through an interactive timeline. By deciding to explore a time period, students are presented with an itinerary that gives them insight into this historical era. The itinerary provides links to historical background information, journal entries written by kids taken from Scholastic's Dear America, My Name Is America, and My America book series. Students will also watch selected video clips from the Dear America television show.
There is also the opportunity for students to complete an arts and crafts project and design a room from the historical era. The hands-on activities provide students with a feeling of what life was like during this time in American history.
After students have submerged themselves in America's past, they write a journal entry from the point of view of someone living during that era. Students can then publish their journal entry online.
This project is suitable for students in grades 3-8. See Lesson Planning Suggestions for a prescribed plan on using this project with your students.
Several assessment components are embedded in this lesson plan. Skill labels highlight activities that address specific target skills. Targeted skills are listed in the Learning Objectives. Assessment Rubric assesses student proficiency with the Journal Entry.
Scholastic's Online Activities are designed to support the teaching of standards-based skills. While participating in the Dear America project, students will:
- Use Web technology to access time periods in American history
- Conduct research by gathering information about the culture of a time period by reading background material, journal entries, historical fiction, and by viewing online video dramatizations of people's lives
- Evaluate journals as historical artifacts, especially the concept of firsthand account vs. history text
- Study the people of the past by completing an arts and craft activity that connects students, hands-on, to the culture of a past era
- Communicate their discoveries about the time period by presenting their completed arts and craft activity
- Use Flash technology to enhance learning and promote creativity by appropriately furnishing a period room
- Synthesize information about American history and past culture to write a journal entry from the point of view of someone from that era
- Use Web technology to publish American history journal entries online
Interactive American History Timeline
Students scroll through the timeline and choose a time period to visit. The time periods mark important historical points in American history: the Colonial Period, the Revolutionary War, Westward Expansion, the Civil War, the Turn of the Century, the Great Depression, and World War II.
When students enter a time period they are presented with an itinerary of activities that offer background information as well as firsthand journal entries, video clips of historical dramatizations, and arts and craft activities related to the time period. Students also have the opportunity to write a journal entry as if they were alive during that time in history.
Time Period Home Page
Each time period has a landing page that gives students an overview - an itinerary - of what they will be learning in this section.
Historical Background Information
Each period will have an introduction to the time period with a background piece. Created with Grolier Online material, this overview will give students a background to understanding the journals.
Historical Journal Entries
The itineraries also offer links to historical journal entries. These journals are taken from Scholastic's Dear America, My Name Is America, and My America book series and give students a glimpse of what life was like for the people living during these moments in history. They also present students with insight into the thoughts and feelings of people living during another time in America.
Each journal has a brief background introduction to give students a better understanding of the context in which the journal is written.
Video Clips from Dear America
Selected Dear America books have video clips from the Dear America television show. These video clips include dramatization of events in American history and offer students insight into what the era was like. Details such as clothing and mannerisms give students a perspective of the way people lived in the past.
Arts and Craft Activities
Students can also link to arts and craft activities that are typical of the time period. For instance, while visiting the Colonial period, students will make fresh ginger cakes. These activities connect students to what life was like during these past eras.
Design a Period Home Interior
This feature is coming soon. Using a Flash game, students will have to build a period room. Using furniture that they think works for that period, students will be evaluated by a period character who will decide whether she likes the finished result.
Write a Journal Entry
Students have the opportunity to turn their trip into America's past into journal entries of their own. Using their experiences and impressions of the era they visited, students write an imaginary journal entry from that time period. Students can then post their entries and read those of other students.
As you plan your lessons, you may wish to print out any reading assignment pages and staple them into a book for individual students. If you have several computers in your classroom, assign computer time to small groups of same-reading-level students.
American History Timeline
(45-60 minute blocks over 3 days)
Introduced students to the Dear America timeline. You may wish to assign a time period that coincides with your social studies curriculum. You may also have students browse through the timeline and read the historical overviews to select a period that interests them. You can also continue to visit as you progress through the school year.
Have students visit the time period homepage and read through the itinerary. Explain that they will immerse themselves in the time period by reading historical background information and journal entries. Students can also view video clips of dramatizations of people's lives during the time they are studying.
Explain that they will complete an arts and craft activity from their time period that will give them a sense of what it was like to live during that point in history. Tell them that the Dear America project will culminate with them transferring their thoughts and impressions of the time period into a "you are there" historical journal entry.
Have students read through the background information and the journal entries and view any video clips that are available for the time period they are visiting. Remind them that they will be writing a journal entry from this time in history so they should take note of important or interesting information they might want to write about.
Suggest that a good strategy to keep track of all the new information they learn is to organize it in a chart. Have them create a graphic organizer to fill in as the project progresses. Encourage them to arrange their thoughts and information in a three-column chart:
What I want to learn, What I did learn, What new questions do I have?
After students have completed their reading, ask them to compare and contrast the information they learned from each source. Spark a discussion by asking questions, such as:
- What did they learn from the background material? From the journal? What information was similar? What was different?
- What information did they learn from the video clips?
- What did they learn from the video clips that they didn't learn from the background information and journals?
- Do you think journals are an important historical artifact? Explain why or why not.
Explain to student that they will work on their arts and crafts activity during their next class time. Have them choose an activity and print out a list of the materials they'll need. Take time to briefly review students' activity choices. Make note of any preparations that need to be taken care of beforehand.
Have students work on their arts and craft activity during this class time. Encourage them to imagine what it was like to have been alive during the time that their project originated. For instance, if they are making sweater mittens, have them imagine what it was like to live during the hardships of the Great Depression. Have them keep notes of any thoughts and perceptions they have now that they have a new hands-on perspective to the past culture.
Have students present their arts and crafts projects to the class. Encourage them to talk about the discoveries they made about the way of life during that period of time. To spark a class discussion, ask questions such as:
- What do you think was the hardest thing about the way of life during this period in American history?
- What in particular about that time in history do you wish you could have experienced firsthand?
Suggest that students review the chart they began on Day 1. Is their anything else they want to find out? How will they go about finding more information? After they are satisfied that they have enough information, have students imagine they were alive during the historical period they studied. Remind them that journals are usually written in an informal language and report about an individual's day-to-day life. Journals may also contain a person's thoughts and comments about current events. Encourage students to write in the manner of speech that was common for that period in history. Suggest that they return to the journal entries to refresh their memory of their style and content.
After students have completed their historic journal entries, encourage them to share them with the class. Launch a wrap-up discussion, by asking questions such as:
- What was the most interesting thing you discovered about the time period?
- Which source of information - background, journal entry, activities - did you learn the most from?
- What questions do you still have about the time period?
- What other time periods do you want to learn about?
Afterwards, students can go to "Write a Journal Entry" in order to submit their journal entries for online publication. Encourage students to read other students' journal entries that are posted there.
This project aids students in meeting national standards in several curriculum areas.
Reading Language Arts
International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
- Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- Students use spoken, written, and visual language for learning, persuasion, and exchange of information.
- Students conduct research by gathering, evaluating, and synthesizing data from a variety of sources, and then communicate their discoveries to different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- Students use a variety of technological and informational resources (i.e. libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and communicate knowledge.
- Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
- Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems.
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
- Culture (Students study culture and cultural diversity.)
- Time, Continuity, and Change (Students study the ways human beings view themselves in and over time.)
- Individuals, Groups, and Institutions (Students study interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.)
- Time, Continuity, and Change (Students study how the world has changed in order to gain perspective on the present and the future.)
- Production, Distribution, and Consumption (Students study how people organize for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.)
Technology Foundation Standards for Students:
- use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity
- use technology tools to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences
- use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences
- use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources
- use technology tools to process data and report results
Invite students to start a Dear America Book Club. Have the students organize a group meeting time, choose which books to read, and reading assignments. When the book club meets, members should take turns keeping notes of the discussion and raise topics to discuss at the next meeting. Challenge the Book Club to write a chapter of a Dear America book that they'd like to read.
Encourage students to dramatize a moment from American history. Refer them to the video clips they watched from Dear America, and have them note how the costumes and setting contribute to the authenticity of the time period. Encourage students to notice how the people talk and their mannerisms. Tell them to keep in mind how the actors' performance makes it seem like they are stepping back into history. Allow time for students to rehearse and present their dramas.
What would it have been like to see the first plane in the sky? The first TV broadcast? Or, the first moon landing? Have students conduct research and find out what were the top new inventions of the time period they studied. Students should also find out what impact the invention had on the culture and society. After students have conducted research have them write a newspaper article reporting on the new invention of the day.
Dear America at the Teacher Store
If You Lived in Colonial Times by Ann McGovern , June Otani (Illustrator)
What kind of food would you eat in colonial times? What did colonial people wear? Readers learn about the fascinating lifestyle of the colonists.
Scholastic Encyclopedia of the United States at War by June A. English , Thomas D. Jones
Children of the Wild West by Russell Freedman
Historic photographs show what life was like for pioneer and Native American children growing up in the American West during the 19th century. An index is included.
Immigrant Kids by Russell Freedman
In the late 1800's and early 1900's, millions of immigrants sailed by the Statue of Liberty and took to heart her words: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ..."
Immigrant kids sold newspapers, hauled firewood, worked in sweatshops, and did many other kinds of work. They played, fought in gangs, and became integrated into the life of America.
Illustrated with 50 authentic and fascinating photographs.
For more American History resources, shop the Teacher Store.