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The American Experience
Teacher's Guide
Using the Web Site
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In this section you'll find lessons which use the special features of the America 1900 Web site.

Teacher's Guide feedback The following lessons were created to use both the themes and topics of the film and the unique features of the America 1900 Web site, including the America 1900 Family Tree Builder software, the People and Events Searchable Database, the entries from the Enhanced Transcript, the detailed Timeline, Interviews with historians, and the exciting new magazine for young people, Wayback - US History for Kids.

Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3

Using the Enhanced Transcript and People and Events Database

Both the Enhanced Transcript and People and Events Database sections of the Web site contain a wealth of information about people, places, and events of the era. Ask students to choose one or more of these entries to research further. In addition to this and other Web sites, students should also use the library for their research.
  • Have students create an oral or written report on their subject. Students may also wish to present their information in the form of a collage, diorama, poster, or skit.

  • Have students locate a speech delivered by Carrie Chapman Catt, William Jennings Bryan, W.E.B. Du Bois, Theodore Roosevelt, or other influential people, and present it to the class.

  • Older students may enjoy reading a novel set in this time period such as Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow (ask your school or public librarian to recommend other titles, or consult references such as Recreating the Past: A Guide to America and World Historical Fiction for Children and Young Adults by Lynda G. Adamson, Greenwood Press, 1996). You may want to ask students to contribute their own historical fiction in the form of a short story or mini-play.

  • Was the Spanish-American War really the "splendid little war" that John Hay declared it was? Have students research the causes and effects of the war and its outcome. You may want students to do a role play or debate to present different perspectives on the war.

  • The young adult novel Dragonwings by Laurence Yep is the story about a Chinese immigrant father and son in San Francisco around the turn of the century. Have students read the book and then research what life was like for Chinese immigrants during that time. Ask them to report on how the book uses historical context to tell its story.

  • Two novels about the Jewish experience during the era are The Night Journey by Kathryn Lesky, about a family's escape from Russia and the pogroms of 1900, and Goodbye to the Trees by Vicki Shiefman, the story of a young Russian immigrant's new life in America. After reading one or both of these novels, have students write a journal entry or letter as one of the characters in either book.

  • Have students learn or perform a song from the era, such as the ragtime of Scott Joplin. Students can locate sheet music or borrow recordings from the public library.

  • Have students find a book or Web site of photographs by Jacob Riis and discuss them in class. How did his brand of photojournalism change society? Ask them to offer their own reactions to the photographs.

  • After they have read Kids and Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade against Child Labor by Russell Freedman, ask students to bring in newspaper and magazine articles about the issue of child labor today. Discuss the topic in class. How have conditions changes or stayed the same since 1900? Students may want to write letters to the editor or local political leaders expressing their opinions.

  • Have a team of students imagine they are on the planning board for a World Exposition of 2000, similar to the Paris Exposition of 1900. What exhibits would they have? Where would it be held? What message would you want to convey? How might these messages be different from those of 1900?

  • Have students compare the crusade of Carrie Nation to other efforts in the twentieth century to affect alcohol consumption, such as Prohibition and M.A.D.D.

  • Have students research the life and writings of John Muir. You may want to contact the Sierra Club as a class for information about the organization he founded. Have students choose an environmental issue they care about. Working in teams, have students develop a campaign to support their cause.

  • Have students choose one or more poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, or Jose Marti's (poet from Cuba) book Versos sencillos/Simple Verses and write an interpretation or appreciation of his work.

  • Have students research George White's career and re-create his speech to Congress when he retired.

  • In 1900 George Eastman Kodak introduced the Brownie camera. Have students choose a technological innovation and trace its history and impact. They may wish to use reference books such as How Things Work by David McCauley or The Visual Dictionary of Everyday Things.

  • Ask students to trace the history of the N.A.A.C.P. from its earliest inception as the Niagara Movement and report on its impact today.

  • When he addressed the delegates to the Pan-African Congress in 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois warned that the "problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line." Do students agree or disagree? Do they feel that his statement is relevant today? Ask students to write a persuasive essay explaining their viewpoints.

  • As a class, read excerpts from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown and explore the significance of the Wounded Knee massacre in American history. Why and how were the Plains Indians and their way of life nearly destroyed by 1900?

  • Have students research the 1900 Platt Amendment, which gave the US the right to intervene in Cuba (among other provisions). Ask students to debate the passage of this amendment from U.S. and Cuban points of view.

  • Have students research the life of Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii. How did the annexation of Hawaii in 1900 affect the lives of people living there?

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Using the America 1900 Family Tree Builder

The America 1900 Family Tree Builder software will help students find out about what life was like in a particular region, worldwide, at the turn of the century. Have students first research and record their family tree for two or three generations. Be aware that researching family history may be a difficult topic for some students or families. You may prefer to have students work in teams or groups and choose one family ancestor from the group, or have student groups create a fictional ancestor to research.
  • Once students have entered in their data (month, region), have them take notes on the way people lived as well as the issues and problems they were concerned about. Then have students choose one or more of the following activities:

  • After hearing from students on the variety of people and places they have researched, create a compare-and-contrast chart in class outlining the ways in which life across different regions or even countries were similar or different in 1900. After reviewing the results, add a column to note how life has or hasn't changed nearly one hundred years later.

  • If students are able to, have them relate an anecdote or other family story in the form of a diary or journal entry as if the ancestor were writing it.

  • Have student pairs create a correspondence between two ancestors from different regions. Have students ask questions of one another's ancestors about their work, families, traditions, and dreams of the future.

  • Have students create two Time Capsule lists. One list will represent the contents they imagine an ancestor might have left them. The other will label the contents of a Time Capsule they would like to leave for their descendants 100 years hence.

  • Have students re-create a meeting between an ancestor and a famous person of the turn of the century. What might they have discussed?

  • Using the America 1900 Family Tree Builder software and the Timeline, choose a topic or issue that was important to your community or region. Have students imagine a town meeting about that topic and perform a brief skit about it. They may enlist the help of classmates to perform various roles.

  • Assemble a team of students to create a mock newspaper or column that might have been published in that time and place. For a newspaper project, have students write a variety of items, including news articles, editorials, advertisements, headlines, advice column, and reviews.

  • Invite family members or other guest speakers to class to talk about what they know or remember about life in those times. Encourage speakers to bring in letters, clothing, or other artifacts from the era. Have students prepare questions for the speakers.

Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3

Using the Interviews

The Reference section of this site features interviews with historians. You can listen to some of the interviews in real audio. After browsing the section, have students select one or more of the following activities.
  • Read to some of the interviews. Working in teams, have students select a particular area of interest for their team (for example, cars, music, politics, natural disasters, etc.). Ask students to find someone in the community who remembers the era (or recalls family stories about the era) to interview. Prepare questions about the selected topic or event and then have students conduct the interview. If possible, audiotape the responses and share the tapes with your classmates.

  • Have students select a topic, person, issue, or event of the year 1900. By using the resources on the Web site as well as the local library, they will become the class "historian" about this person, place, or thing. Once everyone's research is completed, assign partner pairs and have students interview one another to find out about the topic. Audiotape the interviews and present an "Ask the Historian" day for the whole class.

  • Read sections of Joseph Bruchac's Lasting Echoes: An Oral History of the Native American People. Have small groups of students each choose a different Native American tribe to research. What was life like for the tribe before 1900? How did it change around the turn of the century? Where is the tribe today? Have each group report their findings back in class. Discuss the similarities and differences among these tribes, then and now.

  • "Ellis Island Interviews In Their Own Words" by Peter Morton Coan is just one of many accounts by immigrants of their arrival in America. After reading selections of these accounts, ask students to interview family or community members who can share their stories (or family stories) of coming to America around the turn of the century. Publish a class book of these interviews. You may want to accompany the interviews with photographs or invite some of the interviewees to speak to the class.

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