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Lesson Plans
Coney Island:
The Great Escape

This lesson is written by Master Teacher Adrienne J. Kupper.
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Grade Level
Time Alloment
 Four 45-Minute Classes


In the early part of the 20th century, the city of New York was a bustling center of industry and action. People from all over the world converged in New York, and their lives revolved around working. In that world of industrialized chaos, though, Coney Island was an oasis of fun and frolic, providing city-weary families with a place to escape from their everyday problems. As the century progressed, the country became embroiled in two World Wars and the Great Depression, and the real world came crashing into this great escape, leaving Coney Island a very different place.

Through the activities presented in this lesson, the students will take a trip back to the New York City and Coney Island of the 1910s and 1920s. They will become familiar with the life and society of that time by reading family histories from Web sites, reading and examining primary source documents, and creative writing. Once they have gotten a sense of the time period, they will juxtapose it against their existence today, examining the similarities and differences in the two societies.

Learning Activities

Students will be able to:

  • Use primary sources, such as newspaper articles and period film footage, to gather information about New York City and the people living in it during the early 1900s

  • Describe and understand the living and social conditions of working class people living in New York City in the early 20th century

  • Compare those conditions to the lives of working people in New York City today

  • Create, explore, and understand a character through visual images and creative writing


National Standards for History

Appreciate historical perspectives - (a) describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like; (b) considering the historical context in which the event unfolded--the values, outlook, options, and contingencies of that time and place; and (c) avoiding "present-mindedness," judging the past solely in terms of present-day norms and values. (NSH 2F)

National Standards for the English Language Arts

Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works. (NSELA 2)

New York State Social Studies Standards

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in the history of the United States and New York. (NYS SS 2)

Media Components


The American Experience: Coney Island
This video takes the viewer on a trip through the history of Coney Island, from its discovery to the present day. There are interviews with former employees of the parks, and well as a large amount of archival photos and film.

Web Sites:

Greetings from Coney Island
This Web site, a portion of a larger site about amusement park histories, examines the golden age of Coney Island, describing many of the rides and attractions. Of particular interest are the "Coney Island Articles," which are primary source documents from early twentieth century newspapers. In addition, there are two articles written by the webmaster about recent trips to Coney Island. This site contains many photographs.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a renovated tenement building in New York City. The mission of the museum is "to promote tolerance and historical perspective through the presentation and interpretation of the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan's Lower East Side, a gateway to America." At this site there is a section called "A Tenement Story" that examines the lives of different families that lived in the same tenement building over the course of approximately 50 years. This section includes family histories, pictures, and a 360 panoramic view of an actual tenement apartment.

The American Experience: Coney Island
This Web site is connected with the PBS series The AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. An exciting aspect of this site is the short video clips of various aspects of Coney Island that are available. Requires Real Video or QuickTime Media Players.

Technology at Home
This Web site, which ties in with the PBS series NOVA, provides students with an "online kitchen," and they can see how technology developed from 1900-1998. Requires Shockwave.


  • Web site hyperlink document in Microsoft Word format
  • Student Worksheet
  • "Coney Island for Battered Souls" by Bruce Bliven
  • Coney Island Video Footage Creative Mini-Biography
  • Online Kitchen Technology Activity