American Masters
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These lesson plans are provided for teachers and other educators. Click on the lesson titles below.

Lesson 39 - Edward R. Murrow
Grade Level: 9 - 12
During World War II, Edward R. Murrow became the CBS news correspondent for CBS radio, delivering riveting reports on the bombing of London and the experiences of soldiers. He handpicked a group of reporters, "Murrow's Boys," who became known for their reliable news stories. After a brief stint in administration at CBS, he returned to broadcasting, this time in the relatively new technology of television. There, too, he gathered the best researchers and reporters with a commitment to accurate, no-holds-barred reporting. On the inaugural program of WNET (then WNDT) on September 16, 1962, Murrow said he hoped that public television would remedy any reticence on the part of network programming, asserting, "If newness be its vice, let boldness be its virtue."

This lesson plan will give students an in-depth experience of media literacy by providing an opportunity to analyze Murrow's thoughts on the responsibility of the media, examine modern issues in depth, and simulate Murrow's style in the SEE IT NOW format.

Lesson 38 - Walter Cronkite
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Walter Cronkite was an eyewitness to the most important events of the latter part of the 20th century. With his desire to be first with a story and his commitment to solid background research, he came to be known as The Most Trusted Man in America. His reporting of news stories was considered to be fair and balanced, and when he did editorialize, as he did after the Tet Offensive, his views had the power to change governmental policy. With the onslaught of information available today, much has changed since Walter Cronkite signed off in 1981. In order to examine how news reporting has changed in the 21st century, students will explore the state and purpose of media today, research the history of the media and learn how to write using the journalistic style.

Lesson 37 - Woody Guthrie
Grade Level: 9 - 12
When Alan Lomax heard Woody Guthrie at the Forrest Theater on March 31, 1940, he felt that he had found The Missing Link of American culture, a man of the people who knew all the old songs but rewrote the words to illuminate the struggles of the common people. This lessonwill provide students with an understanding of the political and economic climate in which Woody Guthrie lived and examine how his music reflected his times.

Lesson 35 - Bob Dylan
Grade Level: 9 - 12
The Allied victory in World War II and subsequent prosperity in the United States set the background for what was going to be a perfect world. The thousands children born to the returning GIs, however, were soon shaken into reality by the Cold War and unresolved racial issues dating from the Civil War. Bob Dylan's music was shaped by the historical era in which he lived, and he was able to capture the spirit of the times and translate it into music that no one had ever heard before. In this lesson students will explore the era in which Bob Dylan grew up as well as the musical influences that shaped his unique style. They will also have an opportunity to do an analysis of his lyrics for content and meaning.

Lesson 35 - Cole Porter
Grade Level: 9 - 12
After watching AMERICAN MASTERS' "Cole Porter: You're the Top," students will explore the elements that made Cole Porter truly unique. They will develop a sense of the stimulating company the Porters kept through a brief study of the personalities of that era. Students will also dissect lyrics in order to examine the breadth of allusion and wit that characterize a Cole Porter song, and will explore the influences on Porter's music through an examination of American musical theater from 1910 to 1939.

Lesson 34 - Still Singing After All These Years
Grade Level: 9 - 12
In this lesson students will learn about the legendary country and western singer Hank Williams. Students will think critically about a set of country and western music facts and predict whether the statements are true or false, write a bio poem based on the life and work of Hank Williams, and create a class "Hank, We Can't Help it if We're Still in Love With You" poster.

Lesson 33 - Turn Me Luce
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Henry Luce, co-founder of Time, Inc., invented the modern magazine when he created a magazine that contained brief, accessible, image-laden news stories to fit into the hectic lives of post-war Americans. After viewing the film that covers the major periods of Luce's life, students will create a version of a "Time" magazine, a "March of Time" video, or a photo-essay that reflects Luce's journalist style. Students will also role play people throughout history who appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

Lesson 32 - Judy Garland
Grade Level: 6 - 8
Judy Garland was one of America's most famous child stars. In this lesson students will explore Garland's life as they investigate a variety of musical, historical, and artistic resources. They will explore an interactive timeline, create an "Over the Rainbow" fact collection, synthesize what they learn by writing a brief entertainment news skit, and develop a media campaign focusing on the role drugs and alcohol played in Garland's life.

Lesson 31 - James Brown: Life and Times
Grade Level: 9 - 12
James Brown, influential American singer, songwriter, arranger, and dancer, was born in a segregated South during the Great Depression. From extremely humble beginnings, he went on to become one of the most well-known and influential musicians of his generation. In this lesson, students will trace James Brown's rise from "Little Junior" in Depression-era Augusta, Georgia, to the "Minister of the New Super Heavy Funk" and create a collage that captures his impact on American music.

Lesson 30 - Kazan, Miller and the McCarthy Era
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Although director Elia Kazan won an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement at the 1999 Academy Awards, his career and reputation have remained clouded by his 1952 decision to "name names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Kazan's testimony not only diminished his reputation; it also led to a personal and artistic rupture with good friend and playwright Arthur Miller. In this set of learning activities, students will use the Miller-Kazan story as an introduction to the McCarthy era, one of the darkest times in America's cultural history By studying the Miller-Kazan relationship, students will also explore the political ramifications of censorship. After conducting research, students will present their information in an "exhibition" that showcases what they have learned about the Hollywood Blacklist and discrimination in America. Students will also perform several acts of The Crucible, an allegorical re-telling of the McCarthy era, using a reading strategy called Reader's Theater. They will then write a brief allegorical script that explores their own experience of discrimination.

Lesson 29 - Vidal's History - And Yours?
Grade Level: 9 - 12
For 50 years, Gore Vidal has been a controversial figure in American politics: He is a wise man, a contrarian and a realist. He challenges us to look at politics and history critically and always to question "the party line." By watching AMERICAN MASTERS: THE EDUCATION OF GORE VIDAL and applying Guided Reading principles to Vidal's writing, students will learn to think and question in this way. Students will then determine for themselves how political writing can shape our understanding of history. As a culminating activity, students will debate Vidal's claim that America "wanted to be like Greece and ended up like Rome."

Lesson 28 - Clint Eastwood: An American Icon
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Over the past four decades, Clint Eastwood has touched generations of moviegoers as an actor, writer, producer and director. Since the beginning of his career as a contract actor for Universal Pictures in 1955, Eastwood's credits have grown to include roles in more than 55 films. He has also directed 23 movies and produced 18 others. After years in Hollywood, he won the film industry's highest honor when his "Unforgiven" won the Academy Award for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Editor. Using Eastwood as an example of an American film icon, students will learn about and understand the concept of icons by watching the AMERICAN MASTERS episode "Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows" and by applying Guided Reading strategies to the essays and interviews featured on the AMERICAN MASTERS Web site. In the culminating project, students will prepare presentations focusing on American and global icons of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Lesson 27 - Through the Lens of Robert Capa
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Nothing tells a story like a picture - and Robert Capa's pictures are some of the most famous in the world. Capa, the preeminent documentarian of 20th century war, photographed five epic conflicts on three different continents. He was a life-long pacifist who wore military uniforms, rode in tanks, jumped out of planes, dodged bullets and marched in the front lines in order to get a shot. As John Steinbeck once said, "he could photograph thought... and capture worlds." In this lesson, students will use Guided Reading techniques to learn about Capa's style and to discover the techniques that made him a great photographer. Students will also learn the basics of telling compelling stories through photos. In the culminating activity, each student will create a photo essay telling a story that has personal significance.

Lesson 26 - Following Muddy's Trail
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Born McKinley Morganfield in Rolling Fork, Mississippi in 1915, Muddy Waters was the first of the great Chicago Blues musicians. Using the AMERICAN MASTERS film Muddy Waters: Can't Be Satisfied and the Guided Reading strategy in their research, students will learn about the influential musician's childhood and trace his journey from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. Students will also learn about the Great Migration from the 1920s to the 1970s as they create a travel package for history buffs and Blues music enthusiasts.

Lesson 25 - Under Joni Mitchell's Influence
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Fans have long admired Joni Mitchell's wildly innovative and deeply personal music. Her music has evolved from folk into pop, jazz, and avant-garde. For decades, the fiercely independent songwriter and performer resisted the whims of mainstream audiences and the male-dominated recording industry, emerging as one of the most influential and inspirational singer-songwriters of our time. In this lesson plan, students will view the AMERICAN MASTERS episode entitled Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, examine the concept of influence, and explore how Joni Mitchell and her work have influenced others. Students will have a chance to study, interpret, and enjoy her lyrics by using the Choral Reading method.

Lesson 24 - You Are What You Eat: Lessons from Alice Waters
Grade Level: 4 - 6
Alice Waters, with her "delicious revolution" and now-famous Chez Panisse restaurant, has been a major force behind how Americans think about food, launching the explosion of local farmer's markets and redesigned supermarket produce departments. She is an activist in both the environment and in nutrition, putting her ideals into action by planting organic gardens at an inner-city middle school, a state prison, and even the Clinton White House. After viewing the AMERICAN MASTERS episode titled ALICE WATERS AND HER DELICIOUS REVOLUTION, students will examine their own eating habits and determine how they can eat food that is both healthier and tastier. Through Guided Reading strategies, students will use their findings to develop a proposal to the principal about improving the quality of food in the school.

Lesson 23 - Paul Robeson: The Renaissance Man
Grade Level: 6 - 8
Paul Robeson was an exceptional athlete, actor, singer, cultural scholar, author, and political activist. His talents made him one of the most recognized men of his time, yet his commitment to his social conscience all but erased him from history. In this lesson, students will explore the accomplishments of this decorated athlete, sought after actor, renowned singer, and political activist. They will research and debate Paul Robeson's most significant roles and contributions to the cultural history of the United States. Which was most important to American culture -Robeson's work as a scholar, a performer, an athlete, or a political activist? As part of their research, students will use the Guided Reading approach in their initial exploration of their subject area. After completing their research, students will prepare 10-minute oral and visual presentations to support their position.

Lesson 22 - The Sidney Poitier High School
Grade Level: 6 - 12
Sidney Poitier is one of our most famous artists. He nurtured his career by refusing roles that detracted from his human dignity, opting instead for roles that demonstrated his intelligence, wit, and talent. His depictions of blacks on stage, in film, and on television was and remains revolutionary because they show that black men can be proud and powerful characters without subjecting themselves to humiliation. In addition to his acting, he established himself as a writer and director, a thinker and critic, a humanitarian and diplomat.

Lesson 21 - Designing Another Juilliard
Grade Level: 8 - 12
Juilliard students are known for their talent, dedication, and excellence. The Juilliard School is known for all of these same qualities. From its very beginnings in 1905 as the Institute of Musical Art, the school hoped to rival the European conservatories and to bring high quality musical training to the United States. After viewing the American Masters episode about the Juilliard School and applying the Guided Reading approach to a related essay, students will understand the school's vision and commitment to excellence. Using what they have learned, students will then create their own fictional top-notch school promoting excellence in a discipline of their choice.

Lesson 20 - Lon Chaney
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Lon Chaney was the "man of a thousand faces." The legendary character actor -- known for the title roles of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, as well as the role of Fagin in OLIVER TWIST -- developed his craft by mimicking and doing pantomime to amuse his deaf parents. Though he is most often remembered for his work in horror films, he firmly established himself as a character actor, makeup artist, director, and screenwriter. In this lesson, students will watch the Lon Chaney episode of American Masters, read chapters from three original books on which Chaney's films were based, and use a reading strategy called Reader's Theater to adapt each chapter into a script. After performing their interpretations of the chapters, students compare their own work to Chaney's.

Lesson 19 - Willie Nelson
Grade Level: 3 - 5
Willie Nelson is an American icon. He has recorded 250 albums, written 2,500 songs, and for half a century played countless concerts across America and around the world. He's been instrumental in shaping both country and pop music, yet his appeal crosses all social and economic lines. Emmylou Harris once said, "If America could sing with one voice, it would be Willie's." Using Willie Nelson's words, students can recite his words in one voice, analyze his lyrics, and learn about this important person in America's musical history. Students will achieve this by using Choral Reading and Guided Reading strategies.

Lesson 18 - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Grade Level: 6 - 8
In this lesson plan, students study the biography and work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. They learn how the author used autobiographical elements in writing his stories and they try a hand at writing a Fitzgerald-style story with autobiographical elements of their own.

Lesson 17 - Ella Fitzgerald
Grade Level: 5 - 8
In this lesson plan, students will learn the basics of jazz appreciation. They will hear performances by various artists including Ella Fitzgerald, learning about jazz styles, the roots of jazz, and the characteristics of different types of jazz. They will also consider the culture of jazz and its relationship to African-American culture and history.

Lesson 16 - Ralph Ellison
Grade Level: 11 - 12
In The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison wrote about the experience of being ignored, bringing to light a powerful meditation on race and social structure. This novel was included in the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, in the top 20. Being an outsider, being outcast, being ignored - all are feelings most people can relate to. Ellison related this personal experience to a greater societal structure, using characters and imagery to do so. In this lesson plan, students will use similar tools to explore the theme of invisibility in the book, in their own lives, and in their communities.

Lesson 15 - Alfred Hitchcock & David O. Selznick
Grade Level: 6 - 8
In this lesson plan, students compare and contrast the Hollywood film industry of the 30s and 40s with Hollywood today. They conduct research, present it in a creative posterboard project, and follow up with a discussion of the findings of the entire class. How has the Hollywood movie industry changed since the 30s?

Lesson 13 - Lucille Ball
Grade Level: 5 - 8
As Merce Cunningham describes it, he doesn't choreograph dance pieces based upon an idea or story, but begins simply with an exploration of movements observed or experienced in life. In this lesson plan, students get a chance to observe movement by creating a "movement journal", and then they experiment with what they have observed to create a unique "movement vocabulary."

Lesson 13 - Lucille Ball
Grade Level: 5 - 6
Lucille Ball was a great comic actress. After starring in more than 60 movies and being known as the "Queen of the B-movie", she found her identity as a clown on the long running TV series I Love Lucy. In this lesson plan, students study images of women in movies and television, contrasting the ideal of physical beauty with the risks an actress takes to be funny. They also learn about physical comedy, discuss what makes clowning funny, and get to try it themselves.

Lesson 12 - Quincy Jones
Grade Level: 6 - 8
What makes an "American Master"? It's much more than just being famous. This kind of greatness has an ineffable quality, but it has something to do with being the kind of person who influences culture and changes the world in some way. In this lesson plan, students explore the qualities that define greatness, as they study the career of one American Master, Quincy Jones. They also study the context of Quincy Jones' work -- black music in the 20th century. And finally, students get an opportunity to imagine themselves having a career as a ground-breaking international star who embodies these qualities of greatness.

Lesson 11 - Vaudeville
Grade Level: 4 - 8
Using the tradition of vaudeville comedy as a starting pointing, this activity asks the students to think about comedy skits, based on family or domestic situations, and stage one of their own.

The activity is divided into several parts: 1) observing their family to come up with material for the skit, 2) writing a script for the skit, and 3) staging the skit.

Lesson 10 - Tennessee Williams: Exploring the American Dream
Grade Level: 9 - 12
The lesson on Tennessee Williams will consist of three thematic components: (1) an examination of the lyric form and mythology, (2) exploration of the dramatic form, and (3) an examination of the American Dream. Each of these overlapping themes will be addressed and developed within a social critical perspective that resonate with many of the playwright's major works. Within an examination of these themes, students will read one or more of Williams plays, and in small groups they will develop and perform interpretations of selected scenes. Students will conduct internet and/or library research to answer their own questions about the author and the American theater he so profoundly influenced. Students will discuss and write about the deeply personal and fundamentally human questions raised by Williams who, much like the mythic character Orpheus, descended into the underworld of the human soul using his lyrical talent to raise up unspoken human longings to the dramatic light of day.

Lesson 9 - Billy Wilder: Film Noir Inventor and Genius
Grade Level: 7 - 12
This lesson will expose students to one of the greatest American film writer/directors who shaped the landscape of American film today. Through the classic Noir film Double Indemnity, students will explore the historical and social impact of the 1930s and 1940s. Using the American Masters documentary and Web site, these learners will explore the impact of Billy Wilder and historical perceptions that have shaped popular culture in the 20th Century.

Lesson 8 - Maurice Sendak: Imagination and Art
Grade Level: K - 2 (part 1) / 6 - 8 (part 2)
Maurice Sendak has captured the imaginations of young readers for many years. This American Master's series lesson for teachers contains activities for both elementary and middle school students. Early elementary students will read books written and/or illustrated by Maurice Sendak, learn what reading was like at Sendak's elementary school, and write a class book based on one of Sendak's stories. Middle school students will learn how Sendak not only wrote and illustrated children's books and created works in the field of ballet, but also turned his book Where the Wild Things Are into an opera. They will also work in groups to produce an opera.

Lesson 7 - Diego Rivera: Art as the Universal Language
Grade Level: 7 - 12
The question of ownership of art has been debated for centuries. Many support the view that since art is essential for human life it can't just belong to the few. Diego Rivera, a renowned artist, said that art is the universal language and it belongs to all mankind. The lessons for teachers on Diego Rivera will involve students in discussions on the topics including the nature of art, what purposes it serves, and how Rivera's art reflected what was happening in the world during the time period of his paintings. Activities in this lesson include writing a short story based on one of Diego Rivera's murals, as well as creating a class mural.

Lesson 6 - Allen Ginsberg: Poetry and Politics
Grade Level: 9 - 12
The lesson on Allen Ginsberg will consist of three thematic components: (1) the link between art and politics, (2) the Sixties, and (3) poetry and popular music. Each of these overlapping themes will be addressed and developed using the poet's work as a point of departure. Within an examination of these themes, students will read one or more of Ginsberg's poems, will read about the work of other Beat writers, and will investigate the larger social and political climate in which they lived. Students will conduct internet and/or library research to address their own questions about Ginsberg, the Beat movement, and the turbulent social and historical context of the Sixties.

Lesson 5 - Robert Rauschenberg: Reinventing Art
Grade Level: 6 - 8
Robert Rauschenberg is one of the pivotal artists of the 20th century. His work, perhaps more than any other artist of his time, holds a mirror up to our culture. Using the American Masters online essay as a tool, this lesson will examine the cultural context of Robert Rauschenberg's work. Student will be encouraged to draw inspiration, as Rauschenberg did, from the political, artistic, and social culture of our times.

Lesson 4 - George Lucas and the Power of Myth
Grade Level: 6 - 12
The lessons for teachers on George Lucas will consist of three major components: the power of myths concerning good and evil, the power of a hero's journey, and the power of imagination and creativity. Each of these themes will be developed through an examination of values and popular culture. Students will read a variety of myths, conduct Internet research, engage in writing activities, construct debates, and create short projects as they learn about George Lucas and his contributions to society through his work.

Lesson 3 - Lena Horne: Race and the American Artist
Grade Level: 6 - 12
The lessons for teachers featuring Lena Horne will focus on how cultural and racial constraints shaped her personal and artistic development. Race played a critical role in Horne's life. She struggled with how to be a black woman, to make connections with her family and colleagues, and how to find herself as a human being and contributor to the larger world. Students will participate in activities that focus on the role of race in the entertainment world and make connections to Horne's life story. They will conduct research, participate in value-oriented discussions, compare Horne's experiences to other artists, and engage in reading and writing activities that promote critical thinking.

Lesson 2 - Truman Capote: Other Voices, Other Rooms
Grade Level: 7 - 12
At the age of 23, Truman Capote achieved critical acclaim with the publication of his first book "Other Voices, Other Rooms." Capote, quoted as saying, "My major regret in life is that my childhood was unnecessarily lonely", was abandoned by his mother at the age of ten, and raised in rural Alabama by a family of distant, elderly cousins. This American Master's series lesson uses Capote's autobiographical short story, "A Christmas Memory", to teach a lesson on characterization in writing.

Lesson 1 - W. Eugene Smith: Photojournalism and Compassion
Grade Level: 9 - 12
W. Eugene Smith is considered to be one of the world's greatest photojournalists. Smith saw himself as a perfectionist, artist, and a poet. He used these traits to change the world of the photo-essay, and to create some of the most compelling photo-essays of the twentieth century. In this lesson students will learn about Smith's compassion for the human race through his work during WW2, examine W. Eugene Smith's photo-essays, build a pinhole camera, and create their own photo-essay.


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