Posts Tagged ‘Media Literacy’

Cold War Assessments

March 29, 2010

Not everyone is good at expressing what they know through a timed test.  Everybody knows that, but most classes still rely on tests.  I designed these assessments for my 11th grade US History II classes, both honors and standard level.  The results were mostly quite good, especially the oral history assignments.  I did have students complete an open-notes pop quiz (they were warned in advance, but did not know the exact date) to hold them accountable for their notes and classwork.

Positives: Students had a choice, and some students absolutely threw themselves into their work.  One student in my honors class brought in a diary twice as long as the minimum requirement with detailed descriptions of her character’s family and personal life, in addition to the required historical elements.  Another very shy boy in the standard-level class brought in an excellent oral history paper based on an interview with a Korean War veteran he worked with.  A few students interviewed their grandparents, several watched “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” although by far the diary was the most popular option.

Negatives: As I began teaching halfway through the year with these students, this was the first non-traditional assessment I did with them.  A handful of students did not complete the assignment and had various excuses, many of which did not hold water.  I had cautioned students that the film paper was not actually the “easiest” assignment but many students chose that, thinking it would be easy.  Two students said they could not find any of the films or any other suitable ones, and another said that the film was too boring to watch all the way through.  One student copied a synopsis of the film from Wikipedia.  These were exceptions, but I wish I had done more to support them so they could have completed the assignment as planned.

The Assignment: I am including the text of the assignment sheet I gave to students.  Feel free to modify this and use it for your own classes.  I am also including the text of a “tips” sheet that gives extra guidance and suggestions, as well as a template of the film paper.



1992: Presidential Campaign Songs

March 26, 2010

The first election I really paid attention to was the 1992 presidential election.  To this day when I hear “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac, I can see Bill Clinton and Al Gore triumphantly waving amidst star spangled balloons.  Today presidential campaigns don’t use one monolithic song the way they did for generations, which saddens me a little.  I wrote this brief, lighthearted lesson to introduce the Clinton administration as well as to get students thinking about the way media is used to shape political image.

Positives: It’s short, sweet and to-the-point.  With a group of juniors, this took less than half a class period and produced some good discussion.  It also got kids asking good questions about current political campaigns.

Negatives: It doesn’t cover any particular state standards, but at the end of the year when students are in a frenzy to study for finals, a little relaxation isn’t a bad thing.


-CD or MP3s of “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac, “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie (or any other folk singer), “Crazy” by Patsy Cline.  This can all be easily obtained on iTunes or inexpensively.

-Printout of lyrics for students (could be done with a partner)


Creative Warm-Up: the Industrial Revolution

February 12, 2010

After a few days of studying the Industrial Revolution, I gave students a warm-up activity to get them using primary sources creatively and putting themselves into that time period.

In this activity, students were given a sheet containing two primary sources.  There were several different sheets, and students could trade with their neighbors if they didn’t like the one they received.  They contained photographs, quotes or maps from the period.  They were then asked to write between a half a page and a page in the first person about what life would be like for the people the photo, quote or map describe.  They were encouraged to combine the information from the two sources they received.  After they were given time to write, students shared their answers.

Positives: It was a short activity which gave students an opportunity to get into character for the rest of the lesson.  Some students enjoyed a chance to express their outrage and have it supported by their peers.  Others wrote very poignant, sad descriptions of child laborers and their families.

Negatives: It can be difficult for students who aren’t used to that kind of assignment.  Some sources are also more difficult than others, particularly the map.  Choosing different sources specifically for struggling students or providing an exemplar might help focus students.

Here are the sources I used:

Source A:


Presidential Facebooks – Ford and Carter

February 9, 2010

Toward the end of US History II, things get a little rushed. It seems like Ford and Carter get crammed into a week or less to make enough room for Reagan. So how does one assess students on two brief presidents? Surely there’s not enough time for an essay or a class presentation. How about Facebook?

Here is an assignment I used for two 11th grade US II classes. Students completed the assignment with a partner or alone during one class period (about 30 minutes) and then shared their work with the class. The atmosphere was light and many students produced interesting Facebook profiles for their president. It was a good way to show their depth of understanding: students who knew more had more to say, and students who had only read enough to know that Jimmy Carter had something to do with peanuts had much less to say, which was reflected in their grade.

I used the following template for a “blank” Facebook profile. Unfortunately, Facebook changes its appearance every few months, so Facebook doesn’t look quite like that anymore. Taking a screenshot of a more current Facebook and editing out the photos/text in paint or Photoshop would be a good solution.


The Cold War through Music

February 3, 2010

I love using popular music to explore history.  I have found quite a few gems in my grandparents’ record collections and in a trip to the Smithsonian Archives.  Here are three songs I have used during a unit on the Cold War.  I used them each on a separate day to show the changes in attitudes about the war.  I am including the lyrics, but you would probably want to get a recording (iTunes and Amazon are great for that) to play for your class as well.

The songs I use:

“Atom and Evil”  by the Golden Gate Quartet

“Talking Atom Blues” by Pete Seeger

“99 Luftballons” by Nena (I use the German version and have translated the lyrics to English because they’re deeper than the English lyrics)

Positives: It feels like a break, although the students are still doing work.  It’s also fun to look at popular culture and ordinary people’s lives instead of just “important” people in history.

Negatives: The musical styles can be off-putting to some students.

The lyrics and question worksheets can be found below.


Library Scavenger Hunt: Revolutionary War

November 16, 2009

As a new teacher in an unfamiliar school, I thought having lunch in the staff room would give me an opportunity to get to know my colleagues. Through these lunches I met one of the librarians who was also new to the school. Inspired by her and with her assistance, I created an assignment to help my freshmen get to know the library and become experts on one aspect of the unit we were studying: the Revolutionary War.