Course title: 8th Grade United States History



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Course title: 8th Grade United States History

Unit title: Westward Expansion


Unit questions:

  • How has the geography of the United States changed over time?

  • What political and economic factors drove westward expansion?

  • Why did westward expansion lead to domestic and international conflicts?



Lesson Title and Number: Lesson 6: Life in the American West – Myth vs. Reality




Materials to be used: SmartBoard; Lesson 6 PowerPoint; SmartBoard review activity; “Myth vs. Reality” handout; red and green note cards; copies of movie posters in sheet protectors; primary source documents for Oregon Trail, Gold Rush, cowboys, and women in the western frontier; copies of “Sweet Betsy from Pike” lyrics; “Sweet Betsy from Pike” MP3; highlighters; copies of “Riders and Reality” documents; notebook paper; “Westward Expansion Quest Review” handout

Lesson Assessment Charts





List each lesson question for this lesson.

Where was this question addressed in this lesson?

  1. What are pervading myths about the American West?

True/False Anticipatory Set: In this activity, students will utilize their prior knowledge to determine whether statements about life on the western frontier are true or false. Students also must provide a rationale for their thinking. The teacher will debrief the students at the completion of the activity.

  1. How did the reality of life on the western frontier compare with depictions in popular culture?

Comparing Hollywood vs. Reality Activity: This activity requires students to compare competing depictions of life in the American West. One depiction comes from popular western films, and the other comes from a primary source written by a person who experienced life on the western frontier. By completing this activity, students will gain an understanding of how the “Wild West” portrayed in popular culture does not actually reflect the reality of life in the American West.

  1. Why has life in the American West been romanticized in popular culture?

Culminating Activity: Students will read an excerpt of Don Walker’s “Riders and Reality.” By reading this excerpt, students will be able to explain in writing why historical myths are created and perpetuated.
Extension Activity: (This activity will only be completed if time allows.) In this activity, students will examine the lyrics to “Sweet Betsy from Pike” and identify parts of the song that allude to myths of the western frontier. Students will also discuss the purpose of the song, and how and why the song inadvertently perpetuated these myths.




List each lesson objective for this lesson.

How was this objective met in this lesson?

  1. Students will discern between fact and fiction, and support their arguments with historical evidence.

True/False Anticipatory Set: Based on their prior knowledge and what they have learned so far in this unit, students will discern between fact and fiction about the American West. Not only do students have to determine whether statements are true or false, they must also provide a rationale for their choice based on historical evidence.
Extension Activity: (This activity will only be completed if time allows.) In this activity, students examine the lyrics to “Sweet Betsy from Pike” to identify myths contained in the song. After doing this, students will discuss the purpose of the song, and must support their ideas with evidence from their prior knowledge or lesson content.

  1. Students will extrapolate and synthesize information from visual and written primary sources.

Comparing Hollywood vs. Reality Activity: In this activity, students examine a visual source and a primary document relating to one of the following groups or events: the Oregon Trail, cowboys, women in the western frontier, and the California Gold Rush. They must gather information from both these sources in order to compare how depictions of the American West in popular culture differ from how it is described in written primary sources.

  1. Students will cite textual evidence from secondary sources to explain the phenomenon of the historical myth.

Culminating Activity: After reading the excerpt from “Riders and Reality,” students will explain how and why historical myths come into being in a written response. Students must cite at least one direct quote from the excerpt in their response to support their argument.




List each NCSS Standard in this lesson

How DID YOUR STUDENTS MEET THIS standard?

II. Time, Continuity, and Change

• guide learners as they systematically employ processes of critical historical inquiry to reconstruct and interpret the past, such as using a variety of sources and checking their credibility, validating and weighing evidence for claims, and searching for causality;



Comparing Hollywood vs. Reality Activity: This activity requires students to extrapolate and synthesize information from both visual and written sources in order to arrive at conclusions about historical truth. By doing this activity, students will gain an understanding as to how depictions of the American West in popular culture are largely inaccurate, but serve other extra-historical purposes.

V. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

• help learners analyze group and institutional influences on people, events, and elements of culture in both historical and contemporary settings;



Culminating Activity: In this activity, students read an excerpt from “Riders and Reality” in order to gain an understanding as to why historical myths form, and which groups are responsible for creating and sustaining them. This activity also requires students to consider historical movies they have seen, and how the movie industry has affected their understanding of history through entertainment.




List each Delaware Standard in this lesson

How DID YOUR STUDENTS MEET THIS standard?

History Standard Two 6-8b: Students will examine historical documents, artifacts, and other materials, and analyze them in terms of credibility, as well as the purpose, perspective, or point of view for which they were constructed.

Comparing Hollywood vs. Reality Activity: This activity requires students to examine different types of historical materials with conflicting interpretations of events. By extrapolating information from these visual and written sources, students will construct arguments about the reality of life in the American West, supporting them with evidence from the sources.




If Applicable, List the Common core in this lesson

How DID YOUR STUDENTS MEET THIS standard?

Writing Standard: Text Types and Purposes

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.



Culminating Activity: This activity requires students to construct an argument as to why it is difficult for historians to determine the absolute truth of past events. Students must support their argument with evidence from the text, including one direct quote. Responses should be at least one paragraph long.

Lesson 6: Life in the American West – Myth vs. Reality
Assessment Project Lesson C




Lesson Focus (4 minutes)


  • Students should hand in their rough drafts of the Common Core project at the beginning of the period.

  • Project the following prompt on the SmartBoard, which students will have three minutes to respond to:

    • For 3 points of extra credit: What were the three most important things you learned about the Mexican-American War?

  • Collect student responses when they are finished. Responses will be used to measure how well lesson questions, objectives, and standards were met for Lesson 5: The Mexican-American War (Lesson B of assessment project).
  • Project the map of U.S. Expansion 1783-1856. Remind students that last class we learned how the United States expanded from the original territory east of the Mississippi River to present-day California. The United States acquired the Mexican Cession as a result of the Mexican-American War, and got the Oregon Territory from a treaty with Great Britain, expanding the U.S. to the Pacific Ocean.


  • Tell students that today we will discuss what life in these areas was like.

Intro-Activity (4 minutes)


  • Project the following quote on the SmartBoard for students to preview:

    • “History is a myth that men agree to believe.” – Napoleon

  • Ask students to define “myth.” Tell students that a myth is a traditional story that is usually based on true events, but has been embellished or exaggerated.

  • Students will respond to the following prompt based on the quote:

    • What does this quote mean? Do you agree?

  • Ask for a few students to volunteer their responses.

  • Tell students that life in the American West has been romanticized through movies and literature, portraying it as the “Wild West.” When many people think of the West, they think of stereotypes of cowboys and Indians engaged in violent brawls. However, the reality of the American West was much different.


Developmental Section

  • Westward Migration Review (7 minutes)

    • Tell students that to understand what is fact from fiction, we must first review why people went west in the mid-1800s, and where they went.

    • Remind students that we have already discussed challenges of moving west. These included: conflict with Native Americans, not being familiar with territory, risk of disease or exposure, etc.

    • Ask students why they think people would move west despite these risks. Anticipated student responses include: possible economic gain, increased freedom, sense of adventure, etc.

    • Tell students that the reasons people moved west generally fell into two categories: economic or ideological.

    • Students will then participate in a SmartBoard activity to review the reasons why people moved west. The SmartBoard activity requires students to discern between economic and ideological reasons for westward migration.

  • True/False Anticipatory Set (15 minutes)

    • Tell students that while the reasons people moved west in the 1800s are clear, what their lives were like after arriving have been romanticized.

    • Distribute “Myth vs. Reality” handout.

    • Students will work in pairs to determine whether each statement listed on the handout is a myth or fact. They must also explain why they think so.

    • As students are working, distribute red and green note cards. These will be used for reviewing the activity.

    • Review the handout as a class. Students should hold up their red note cards if they think the statement is false, and the green note card if they think it is true. The correct answers will be projected as part of the PowerPoint presentation on the SmartBoard, and students should write the correct answers in the “reality” column of the worksheet.

  • Comparing Hollywood vs. Reality Activity (40 minutes)

    • Have students count off by eight. This should result in groups of 2-3 students. Students should move to sit with their group members.

    • Each group will receive one copy of a movie poster and one primary source document per student pertaining to one of the following events or groups:

        1. The Oregon Trail

        2. Cowboys

        3. California Gold Rush

        4. Women in the American West

    • Students should refer to the reverse side of the “Myth vs. Reality” handout to complete this activity. They will work together to determine how the Hollywood depiction of their event/group differs from the information they find in their primary source. Students will have seventeen minutes to do this.

    • The class will then come back together to review the activity. As each movie/show poster on the SmartBoard, ask groups the following questions:

      • Which source did you think was more accurate?

      • What myth(s) about the American West did you find in the visual source?

    • After all groups have shared their findings, ask the class the following question: “Why would comparing movie posters with one primary source not be enough?” Anticipated student responses include: source might be biased, one source does not include every perspective, the author may have left out details or embellished others, etc. Tell students that to strengthen their argument about myths depicted in these visual sources, they would have to consult several other sources about their group/event, as well.

    • Students will keep this handout in their notebooks as part of their Marking Period 4 notebook check.

  • Extension Activity: Music of the Western Frontier (15 minutes – if time allows)

    • Distribute “Sweet Betsy from Pike” lyrics and highlighters. Play the song as students follow along with the lyrics.

    • With a partner, students will identify and highlight phrases in the lyrics that exemplify the myth of the “Wild West.”

    • Call on student volunteers to name one phrase they identified, and why they believe it is a myth.

    • Using a think-pair-share strategy, students will discuss the following question with a partner: “What is the purpose of this song?” The question will then be discussed as a class.

    • Explain to the students that “Sweet Betsy from Pike” was about the California Gold Rush, and was meant to convey how long the journey to California was. It was meant to provide entertainment to gold miners, with comic lyrics and exaggerated story line. It ended up becoming one of the most popular American folksongs of all time, and perpetuated myths of the American West.



Wrap up/Closure/Culminating Experience (10 minutes)


  • Distribute a copy of “Riders and Reality” to each student. Students will read the excerpt individually. Students should not write on these because they will be needed for each class.

  • On a separate sheet of paper, students will respond to the following prompt. Students should write a paragraph for each, and include at least one direct quote from the excerpt in their response:

    • Why is it difficult for historians to agree on the truth about the past?

    • Name a historical movie that you have seen. Do you think you gained an accurate understanding of history from it?

  • If time allows, ask for a few student volunteers to briefly share their responses.

  • Student responses will be handed in for a classwork grade, which will be included as part of the assessment project.

  • As students are working, distribute “Westward Expansion Quest Review” handout. Remind students that they will be taking their “quest” next class, and their homework is to study for it. Also tell students that the remainder of the period will be a “writer’s workshop,” in which they will be working on their final drafts for the Common Core project.



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