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Lesson Plans


Social Studies
Our original lesson plans are developed by Thirteen Ed Online Master Teachers. Starting with tried-and-true lessons that work in the classroom, our Web-savvy teachers have built Web-based activities that use the rich resources of Thirteen/WNET New York and the Internet.

Each month, we will create new lessons based upon outstanding PBS series and around outstanding Web resources.



Grades 9-12


Using the new NOW episodes "Global Health: Todayís Challenge" and "Global Health: Americaís Response," this lesson looks at how government policies have impacted the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in the United States and Uganda. Specifically, the lesson strategies include a timeline analysis of United States HIV/AIDS policy from Reagan to the present, an examination of Uganda's experiences with HIV/AIDS prevention, and a debate on issues relevant to current HIV/AIDS policy in the United States.

Grades 9-12


Using the WIDE ANGLE episode "Gutted," that chronicles the struggles of Scottish fishing families to maintain their way of living under the new policies of the European Union, students will explore the complex issues underlying the plight of the fishing families of a small Scottish town. They will identify and discuss the issues raised in the film, and then conduct further research on these issues using a jigsaw format. Alternatively, they may write letters to characters in the program demonstrating their understanding of the issues.

Grades 9-12


The lesson explores the limitations and restrictions placed on women as well as the many barriers to succeeding in an entrepreneurial business venture. Students identify and discuss the issues raised in the WIDE ANGLE documentary "Pickles, Inc.," learn more about women's cooperative businesses around the world, and conduct a service project in which they raise money to support a cooperative. As a culminating activity, students come up with their own ideas for small business ventures and write business plans.

Grades 9-12


Although the national crime rate has decreased in the past few years, the rate of hate crimes has increased. Media attention on hate crimes has reached a state of frenzy in some cases and public opinion can be scattered. Perhaps one of the most well-known recent hate crimes was the Matthew Shepard case. In this lesson, students examine hate crimes within the context of the Matthew Shepard case and debate whether or not hate crime laws should be a part of government legislation.

Using a learning model called Academic Controversy and one episode from the IN THE LIFE public television series, students will engage in a collaborative process of communication, perspective-taking, and problem-solving as they debate the use of hate crime legislation. Students will develop skills in the creation and presentation of arguments, research, collaboration, communication, conflict resolution, and consensus-building. They will be evaluated on participation, use of student organizers, and a culminating project, which will demonstrate their understanding of the content as well as mastery of the Academic Controversy process. (For more information on using Academic Controversy in the classroom, go to http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/classroom/controversy.html).

Grades 9-12


This lesson examines the recent controversy in the media surrounding charges of government propaganda and irresponsible newsgathering by journalists. Students will also examine media ownership and censorship. Through research, dialogue, role-playing, and viewing an episode from public television's IN THE LIFE series, students will define for themselves what journalism is and how controls on the broadcast, print and online media can shape the stories that are reported. As a culminating activity students will research journalistic guidelines or media control and write a position paper stating their views.

Grades 5-8


In this lesson, students will explore the role played by perspective and point-of-view in an examination of American slavery. Students will look at the early history of widespread slavery in colonial America, and the ways in which some Northern slaves chose to deal with their situation amidst the chaos of the American Revolution. Utilizing the PBS series SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, students will examine the life of Titus, a runaway slave from New Jersey who led a band of guerilla soldiers for the British, and explore why and how African Americans fought during the Revolution. Following their examination of Titus, students will utilize a variety of online interactive resources to examine the experiences of runaway slaves throughout the history of American slavery. As a culminating activity, students will creatively write journal entries from a variety of historical perspectives, including slave, runaway slave, slave owner, and British soldier.

Grades 5-8


In this lesson, students will examine Thomas Jefferson's complex and contradictory relationship with slavery. Students will view segments of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, Episode 2, "Liberty in the Air," and examine a variety of online primary source documents to determine Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery, as well as how he chose to address them in his most famous document, the Declaration of Independence. As a culminating activity, students will have an opportunity to rewrite portions of the Declaration to a) more accurately reflect Jefferson's views, and b) more accurately reflect contemporary American society.

Grades 7-8


In this lesson, students will examine how individuals can leave behind records, memoirs, or artifacts that reflect or capture the time period in which they lived. Students will view excerpts from SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, Episode 3, "Seeds of Destruction," and examine an excerpt from Harriet Jacobs' autobiography, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." After exploring the legacy Harriet Jacobs left behind, students will examine other artifacts relevant to slavery in the SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA Virtual Museum. As a culminating activity, students will be asked to develop a plan for a time capsule of objects and artifacts that accurately reflects contemporary life for middle school students at the beginning of the 21st century or an exhibit displaying slavery's legacy within the local community.

Grades 7-8


Family relations were often used by slaveholders to enforce obedience and submission. However, when the family unit was threatened, this could also result in acts of defiance and resistance. Using episodes from the documentary series and short selections from contemporary accounts, this teaching unit will consider the struggle to maintain family relations under the system of slavery and the terrible toll that the system placed upon African American families. Utilizing the PBS series SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, students will examine the life of Emanuel Driggus and his family, and the way in which they attempted to navigate the changing nature of slavery in 17th century Eastern Virginia. The lesson unit's culminating activity will include a creative writing assignment in which students will take incidents from the documentary and readings to create accounts of families living in slavery (a common theme in abolitionist literature).

Grades 9-12


The U.S. Constitution requires that a national census be taken every ten years; U.S. census takers have done so since 1790. Historians have found census data to be an extremely important resource for identifying population shifts and trends. The online United States Historical Census Data Browser allows the user to select specific census categories and allows users to find data at the county level, when that data is available.

In this online activity, students will locate statistical information related to SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA using census data from the United States Historical Census Data Browser.

Grades 9-12


In this lesson students will examine "knowledge" and the slave community: what constitutes "knowledge," how it is gained, and how it is passed on to others. Prior to viewing selected episodes from the documentary series, students will discuss the difference between "education" and "knowledge," giving examples from each category based on their own experiences. Students will then view the SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA documentary and discuss the various types of "knowing," including skills and work-related knowledge, literacy, knowledge of the land, and human relations. Students will study selected online documents that touch on different aspects of knowledge possessed by slaves. For a culminating activity, students will construct a game show in which contestants will be queried on different topics related to slavery in America.

Grades 9-12


In this lesson, students will explore the forever-changing nature of language in the United States and what our language says about American society. In the following activities, students view segments of the PBS documentary DO YOU SPEAK AMERICAN?, conduct offline and online research, and engage in a team project concerning the evolution of teen expressions so they can better understand what speaking "American" is all about. The lesson addresses such issues as American English as a deteriorating language, American English as an evolving language, and American English as an indicator of modern societyís direction.

Grades 9-12


In this lesson, students will discuss the role of religion in politics in light of the upcoming 2004 election. After investigating how the Democrat and Republican parties use religion as part of their political platform, students will examine different religious voting blocks -- in particular Catholic, Muslim and Hispanic -- and how religion informs election day decisions.

Grades 9-12


In this lesson, students will examine the role oil has played in human history, how that role has changed over time, and the repercussions of oil use on society and the environment. After brainstorming a list of oilís current uses, students will use an online timeline to explore how the function of oil has changed over the course of history. Then, utilizing another dynamic online resource, students will complete an in-depth analysis of oilís current and historic applications. Finally, through the use of the broadcast series EXTREME OIL, students will examine the environmental impact of the oil industry, and decide whether or not they support an expansion of oil drilling operations into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Grades 5-8


In this lesson, students examine the myths and misconceptions about European colonists in the New World. After discussing their ideas about the colonists, students take an online quiz to test their colonial knowledge. Then, students will use Web research and another interactive quiz to see if they could survive the colonies. Students synthesize what they've learned -- and express themselves -- in a culminating creative writing exercise.

Grades 5-8


Students explore the life of New England colonists in the year 1628, in this lesson. After watching segments from the PBS hands-on history series COLONIAL HOUSE, students will complete an online virtual "scavenger hunt" in which they find various objects from the colonists' cottages. Then they will use an online research organizer to investigate the history of their own area.

Grades 9-12


This lesson utilizes the HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS DVD-ROM to explore the relationship between memory and history, the role of memory in shaping both individual and collective identity, the importance of rituals, and the impact on individuals and society when memories fade. Students will engage in research, small-group discussions, whole class discussions, family interviews, and interaction with multimedia resource material. Assessments include class and group participation, individual journal reflections, family calendars or family history projects, and presentations.

Grades 9-12


This lesson plan allows students to appreciate how writing transformed society and to explore the ways that ancient texts both reflect and influence a society's beliefs. Students will utilize the resources on the HERITAGE DVD-ROM to learn about the development of writing and its impact on the ancient world, particularly as it allowed people to record history in permanent, written form. Students will also study the Bible as a historical text and examine the concept of worshipping one god as compared with the practice of most ancient Near Eastern societies, which were polytheistic.

Grades 9-12


In this lesson, students analyze media and historical documents on the HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS DVD-ROM to discover how Jews achieved high levels of assimilation and acceptance under Islamic rule during the Golden Age of Spain. Students will engage in research, small-group discussions, whole class discussions, poetry readings, and dramatic performances, among other activities. Assessments include class and small-group participation, individual journal reflections on material viewed or discussed in class, and oral and fine arts presentations.

Grades 9-12


This lesson is designed to give students an understanding of the experiences of Jewish immigrants to the United States. By examining historical documents and other primary source materials on the HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS DVD-ROM, students will gain insight into both the American immigrant experience and American society throughout history.

Grades 9-12


This lesson helps students learn about Judaism and Islam as religions and cultures, and explores their interrelationships. It is not intended to extend to the modern-day Arab-Israeli conflict or the broader conflict between radical Islam and the West. Rather, students will utilize the resources on the HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS DVD-ROM to expand their knowledge and understanding of culture, religion, geopolitical realities, and the changes and interrelationships in these arenas with regard to Judaism and Islam over the centuries.

Grades 6-8


This lesson shows students how to use video and web-based primary and secondary source documents to examine the experiences of Irish immigrant workers who helped build the nation's railroads. After gathering information and watching the documentary, MAY THE ROAD RISE TO MEET YOU, students will synthesize the information to create their own folk song.

Grades 9-12


Did the Iraqi government really commit human rights abuses? And how can that be proven? Use this lesson to help students understand the complex interaction between human rights, international affairs and personal choices.

Grades 9-12


The six women who married Henry VIII have been defined by their deaths, not their lives. But in a four-part PBS Thirteen documentary series, THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII with esteemed British historian Dr. David Starkey, we learn who these remarkable women actually were. In this lesson, students explore history critically through group research in order to understand fully the social, political and cultural life of Henry VIII's reign. Then, students synthesize what they have learned in presentations and short fiction.

Grades 9-12


Thirteen's four-part documentary, THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII with esteemed British historian Dr. David Starkey, re-casts Henry's six spouses as remarkable women who struggled to survive in a tumultuous and dangerous time. In this lesson, students learn about the biographies of Henry's wives by doing group and individual research. Students also acquire new vocabulary and write an analytic essay in which they compare the qualities of 2 or more wives.

Grades 9-12


This lesson plan considers BERGA: SOLDIERS OF ANOTHER WAR as part of the literature of the Holocaust. The writer and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel has written that "if the Greeks invented tragedy. . . our generation invented a new literature, that of testimony." Like other examples of this new literature, BERGA: SOLDIERS OF ANOTHER WAR focuses on the need to remember, to recall details, and to locate and recover the specific stories of individuals touched by the Holocaust.

Grades 9-12


The 350 POWs at Berga represented a small portion of the 1.2 million Allied prisoners of war held in German POW camps. One million of these prisoners were Soviet soldiers; the remaining 200,000 were from the other World War II Allied nations. This lesson plan looks at BERGA: SOLDIERS OF ANOTHER WAR in the context of the Geneva Convention and studies the role of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

Grades 3-5


In this lesson, elementary students develop an understanding of what it means to immigrate from one country and culture to another. Using various resources, including video segments from the documentary BECOMING AMERICAN: THE CHINESE EXPERIENCE Web sites, and student organizers, students examine the experiences and contributions of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. and explore their own cultural heritages. As a culminating activity, students invite guest speakers who are first- or second-generation immigrants to tell about their experiences.

Grades 4-6


In this lesson, elementary students develop an understanding of the risks and rewards of immigrating to the U.S., focusing on Chinese immigrants but including other groups as well. Using various resources, including video segments from the documentary BECOMING AMERICAN: THE CHINESE EXPERIENCE, Web sites, and student organizers, students examine the treatment, often exclusionary, of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. and explore the dynamics of inclusion, exclusion, and prejudice. As a culminating activity, students interview first- or second-generation immigrants.

Grades 4-6


The struggle to create a nation continues at the Constitutional Convention as the founding fathers present differing visions of governance. Conflict gives way to compromise as three branches of government with two houses of Congress emerge for a new and fragile United States. Through viewing and discussion of the FREEDOM: History of US video and investigation of the Web resources, students will develop a deeper understanding of the formation and infancy of the United States.

Grades 7-8


The Triangle Trade, though morally reprehensible, was integral to the growth of the economies of the United States and Great Britain. The last leg of that trek, known as the Middle Passage, retains the infamy of having been a horrific journey for Africans who had been free in their countries but were being enslaved in the Americas. Through the video series, Freedom: History of US and the companion Web site utilized in this lesson, students will explore the economic importance of the Triangle Trade and the experience of enslaved Africans who were forced to endure the Middle Passage.

Grades 9-12


In this social studies, standards-based lesson, high school students explore what it's like to be a teenager living today in an Islamic country in the Middle East. They begin by gaining background knowledge about the religion and the region from a variety of sources including the PBS program ISLAM: EMPIRE OF FAITH. They then choose a Middle Eastern country to explore in-depth using epals and Web resources. The lesson ends with the creation of a personal narrative by each student in the voice of a teenager living in his or her chosen country of study.

Grades 9-12


Every year the Tuareg travel 1,000 miles over a six-month period in the hostile African desert. Based on the DESERT ODYSSEY episode of the AFRICA series, airing Sunday, September 16th at 8:00 PM, this lesson encourages students to explore how the environment influences the Tuareg semi-nomadic culture and experience. Students research and analyze other groups as well, including their own, and examine the impact culture has on environment.

Grades 9-12


How do we learn about the past? What clues help us piece together a picture of life long ago? In this lesson, students become detectives as they investigate a mystery at Stonehenge, featured on the Thirteen/WNET New York program, SECRETS OF THE DEAD: MURDER AT STONEHENGE. They learn about archeologists and anthropologists and the tools and methods they use to gather and interpret scientific evidence. They research current archaeological excavations and contact the scientists working at these digs. As a culminating activity, students advise a colleague on how to proceed with the excavation of a mysterious skeleton. Students can build on their knowledge of Stonehenge and archaeology through art and language art extension activities.

Grades 9-12


In this Internet-enhanced lesson, students act as historians and scientists investigating the mysterious deaths of the original colonists of Jamestown, the settlement founded in 1607 in what is now Virginia. Students work with historical, archaeological and climate-related evidence. They also evaluate the credibility of their sources. After forming and answering their own research questions, students evaluate a new theory proposed by Dr. Frank Hancock.

Grades 10-12


This multimedia lesson gives students the opportunity to learn about civil rights through an examination of the exclusion of gays in the military. After exploring the major questions surrounding this topic, students demonstrate what they have learned in a mock trial.

Grades 5-12


In this interactive and multi-disciplinary lesson, students learn about the role that perspective plays in the writing of history by focusing on the changing views about Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II. Students will demonstrate what they've learned by forming a version of history - in a medium that they select - while adopting a perspective other than their own.

Grades 7-12


In this interactive and multi-disciplinary lesson, students learn about forest fires and their positive and negative effects. Eyewitness accounts, real-time data, virtual reality online, case studies, and models predicting forest fires will comprise the online resources for students to use in this lesson. Students will keep a journal of their data analysis, and use collected information to convince an elected official of fire's pros or cons.

Grades 6-12


In this social studies lesson, students explore the status of girls across the globe. This lesson uses technology as a communication and research tool to develop knowledge, then asks students to empathize with their subjects by writing personal narratives and emailing to others in the voice of an imaginary girl from selected cultures.

Grades 4-6


Students examine the rich cultural contributions of Ancient Egypt by becoming investigative reporters of these ancient times! Along the way, students learn not only about this far away land, but they also about the major components of a news article.

Grades 4-8


This lesson will expose students to the issues of gun control, the right to bear arms, and the overwhelming seriousness of gun related violence. After exploring the complexities of this problem, students will then examine what can be, and what has been done to redress the situation using the Million Mom March as a reference point. Students will be required to synthesize web information on the topic in the form of a research paper.

Grades 7-12


As we look toward identifying our leaders in the new millenium, it will help students to reflect upon the contributions of those who have represented that role in the past. In this lesson, students will research and debate Benjamin Franklin's most significant role and contribution to the history of the United States. Which was most important to American History - Benjamin Franklin's work as a printer, a writer, a statesman or an inventor?

Grades 6-8


Students will work in groups to research and present a Native American legend using a format of their choice: a multimedia presentation, another visual presentation, or a theatrical performance. Students will then individually write their own legends based upon their research.

Grades 6-8


In this lesson students will study Native Americans in order to become familiar with the contributions to and influences on American society particularly, but not exclusively, in the Western region of the United States. This lesson will focus on some of the cultural history, writings and symbols of the southwestern tribes. After researching, studying and comparing the differences among the various tribes in small groups, students will produce individual reports about a specific Native American perspective.

Grades 6-8


In this lesson students will gain a better understanding of the Dewey Decimal System. They will see why using it electronically will make finding specific books for research papers a less intimidating experience. The Internet will be used to demonstrate how the Dewey Decimal System is used at The Central Library at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, New York.

Grades 6-8


This is a cooperative learning activity in which students create a newspaper about The Brooklyn Museum of Art. Each student in the group takes on the role of a different type of newspaper creator. The computer is used to publish the finished product.

Grades 8-12


In this lesson, students conduct research on Toni Morrison's life, her work as a writer, and the major contributions her writings have made to the field of literature.

Grades 7-12


The student challenge in this lesson is to design a new logo for the musical version of RAGTIME. After researching background information about RAGTIME on Thirteen Online's GREAT PERFORMANCES Web piece, Creating Ragtime, students visit other relevant Web pages to see examples of contemporary theater memorabilia.

Grades 7-12


In this lesson students will study the "Digital Divide" through comparison with other historical "divides" such as race, gender, and poverty. After studying and comparing a number of solutions to previous "divides," groups of students will propose and implement their solutions to the "Digital Divide."

Grades 5-12


Students will research the geography and culture of various world locations and create drawings, collages, or computer graphics of a figure divided into three segments. Each segment of the students' figures will contain clues as to its geographic and cultural origins. Students will interchange segments to create "exquisite corpses."

Grades 5-8


Using online content from the AMERICAN VISIONS episode entitled "The Promised Land," students will examine the importance of individual and group identity in framing the way people see the world. Students will create self-portraits, design a model society, and write essays.

Grades 9-12


Students will explore the social, political, and artistic climate of the Great Depression. They will conduct surveys and interviews, and create and publish a variety of media about the Depression.

Grades 5-8


Students will learn about immigration, Ellis Island, and tenement life from 1890 to 1924. Students will conduct online research and write an essay about immigrant life.

Grades 7-12


With the Gershwin opera PORGY AND BESS as its focal point, students will explore ways in which cultural, social, and historical perceptions shape and define characters in literature and drama. This lesson encourages students to examine the issues surrounding the characterization of African-Americans in books, film, and theater over the last century.

Grades 5-10


In 1856 Mary Ann Patten was sailing from New York to San Fransisco on a clipper ship when her husband, the captain became very ill and she had to take command of the ship. She bacame the first woman in history to take full command of a merchant sailing ship.

Grades 5-8


Inspired by AMERICAN VISIONS online content, students will explore the historical and cultural meaning of memorials, with a focus on works and structures eulogizing the American Civil War. Using a variety of resources, students will also investigate how the Civil War impacted their community.

Grades 7-12


In this Web-based lesson, students explore several themes relevant to the life of Paul Robeson and the social, artistic, and political realities of the first half of the 20th century. Students identify local heroes in their communities, interview them, and publish profiles on their school's Web site.

Grades 4-6


What tales did the ancient Egyptians tell? How did they communicate and calculate? This multidisciplinary lesson plan will explore the roots of writing and numbering systems of Ancient Egyptians through the use of unique, interactive Internet resources.

Grades 6-10


In September of 1857 the steam ship SS CENTRAL AMERICA, filled with 578 passengers and crewmembers and 21 tons of gold from the California gold fields sank in a hurricane off the Carolina coast. Over one hundred years later, engineer Tommy Thompson began trying to solve the problem of finding and retrieving the lost treasure of the SS CENTRAL AMERICA. This lesson looks at events that were taking place in our country during this time period, and explores the innovative and individualistic traits that often define the American spirit.

Grades 5-12


Students look back on the inventions, concepts, cultural items, and literary contributions of the past one hundred years. As a class, the students determine the things that have survived through the 20th century, think about why these things have survived, and finally, compose a presentation based on the research they do in favor of one thing that should withstand the 21st century

Grades 5-8


This lesson is meant to be used in conjunction with the online serial Overboard, a 13-episode interactive "soap opera" that examines the nature -- and consequences -- of alcohol and substance abuse. This lesson will help students identify the elements that make for good storytelling, such as mood and characterization, and plot devices like foreshadowing. Through this lesson's activities, students will have opportunities to analyze, reflect, investigate, and create their own work.

Grades 9-12


Students will learn about the growth and development of U.S. cities from 1920 to 1940. Students will write an essay comparing two contrasting images from this time period.

Grades 9-12


In this lesson, students take the information from the sites and develop a cohesive argument about the benefits or disadvantages of the Three Gorges dam project in China.

Grades 7-12


This lesson plan will examine the public health issues and diseases doctors faced during the 1900s. Throughout the 20th Century, the world has become a healthier place. Life expectancy has increased by almost 30 years. These changes can be attributed to improvements in public health and disease control, sanitation, immunization, better maternal and child health, and healthier lifestyles.

Grades 4-8


In this lesson, students conduct a research project on one American President. Focusing on personal and political details, they work in pairs to present selected information in a mock interview. The facts and figures collected by each group are compiled in a presidential facts database used to enhance student understanding of presidential characteristics and chronology.

Grades 9-12


After exploring an online soap opera for teens, students will use a Web discussion forum as a medium for exploring scenarios that deal with a variety of issues. The lesson is built on the premise that both adults and students communicate more openly and frankly when role-playing, and via electronic communication.




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