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The Film and More
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The American Experience
Teacher's Guide
Using the Film
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Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5

Teacher's Guide feedback Because the film is organized in four chronological sections (Winter, Part I; Spring, Part II; Summer, Part III; Fall, Part IV), it's particularly easy to use. You can also use the Film Index, which describes the three-hour film in 20-minute segments, to access specific segments. You can build lesson plans around various topics (e.g., the role of women, immigration, the rise of technology) or events (e.g., the Boxer Rebellion, the Pennsylvania coal strike, the Galveston hurricane), or supplement the curriculum that you are currently teaching.

Within a 10-20 minute video segment, you may want to pause frequently to ask key questions, point out what students should look for, ask for predictions, or give students the opportunity to share their thoughts and reactions. We have provided some suggestions for discussion questions and activities for different parts of the America 1900 site. In this Using the Film you'll find lessons based on people, events, and issues explored in the film, which correlate with key curriculum themes and topics. Each section contains key questions, film segment(s) to watch, before and after discussion questions, and an activity. For the activities, students may want to use the Web site in addition to viewing the film.


Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5

At the turn of the century, technological advances challenge the way Americans work and live.

Key Questions: Of the following technological advances--railroads, mechanized farm tools, factory machines, cars, or telephones--which do you feel changed the lives of Americans the most? Specifically, what did the inventions change in people's lives and how did these changes alter America as a country?

Winter, Part I; Segment Three
  • Before Watching: Ask students to keep a 24-hour record of all the mechanical devices they use in an ordinary day.

  • After Watching: Ask students to find out how many of the devices on their lists were invented around 1900.

  • Activity: Assign students a variety of roles, such as housewife, farmer, teacher, politician, doctor or nurse, or cattle rancher. Using information from the film as well as the Enhanced Transcript and Timeline, ask students to write a letter from their character's point of view, describing the changes that technological advances have brought to his or her life.


Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5

America emerges as a superpower and fights an unpopular war in the Philippines.

Key Question: Why does the U.S. annex the Philippines? What arguments does President McKinley use to justify the military action? Do you feel these justifications set a precedent for other foreign wars later in American history? Why or why not?

Winter, Part I; Segment Five
  • Before Watching: Why do you think foreign trade might be important to the economic health of a country?

  • After Watching: Do you feel that the economic health of America is justification for annexing another country? How did the film affect your opinion?

  • Activity: Using newspaper articles, speeches, Rudyard Kipling's poem, "The White Man's Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands," and other primary sources from this era as resources, have the class debate the merits of expansionism.


Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5

Women's roles in society begin to diversify, yet women lack basic rights, including the right to own property or vote.

Key Question: Typically, what types of jobs did women hold in 1900? What roles did women have at home, at work, and in society in 1900? What groups in society benefited from denying women the right to own property, belong to a union, or vote?

Winter, Part I, Segment Six
  • Before Watching: What rights do you think women may have achieved by 1900? What rights will women still have to fight for? Make a class list.

  • After Watching: What new information can you add to the list? What surprised you the most about the status of women in 1900?

  • Activity #1: Create a photo essay on women today. Have teams of students take photographs of women at work and at home. Be sure to have a diverse group of women represented. Students may want to designate various members of the team to take photographs, write accompanying captions or brief essays, and create an appropriate scrapbook or other display.

  • Activity #2: Write a monologue or dialogue contrasting the life of a nurse, teacher, factory worker, or secretary around 1900 with the life of a woman in that job today. Have students do an oral presentation of their work to the class.


Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5

The arrival of immigrants changes ideas about American identity and national unity.

Key Question: In what specific ways did the influx of immigrants affect and challenge ideas of national unity and American identity? Among other factors, consider the United Mine Workers strike and the presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryan when answering the question.

Spring, Part II; Segments 8 and 9
Fall, Part IV; Segment 1
  • Before Watching: Ask students what factors might motivate someone to leave his/her country of origin and emigrate to a foreign land.

  • After Watching: Ask students to research some of the reasons people came to America around the turn of the century from Europe and Asia. What kind of life did they find when in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or other cities?

  • Activity: Have students create a brochure that describes life in the country of origin on one panel and describes the expectations of immigrants as they travel to America on two other panels. The interior of the brochure should describe the reality of life in America in 1900 for these immigrants.
Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5

Racism grips the country.

Key Question: After the Civil War, hostility toward people of color, religious minorities, and immigrants grew through organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. This group gained strength around 1900, especially throughout the South. What factors present in American society in 1900 added to the racism that already existed? Consider issues of immigration, employment, and political leadership when answering these questions.

Summer, Part III; Segment 3
Fall, Part IV; Segment 4
  • Before Watching: How are African Americans, Arab Americans, Jews, Latinos and Asians currently portrayed in the media? What messages do these modern images send? Have students collect examples from newspapers, magazines and, if possible, videotape commercials or sitcoms featuring actors from different ethnic or racial groups. Share these in class and discuss.

  • After Watching: How do modern images of African Americans in popular culture compare to the images from America 1900? Has there been a improvement in the way they are depicted? Why or why not?

  • Activity: Have students select an image of an ethnic or racial minority from contemporary culture (newspapers, magazines, television, etc.) and write a personal essay about what the image conveys. Does it convey a positive or negative message? What images or roles were hard to find in current popular culture? What would students like to see depicted? Have students share their essays in class.

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