The 4th of July is a time of celebration. As a nation, we take the day to shout, in our own ways, "I love being an American!" Whether it be a family get together, neighborhood barbeque, or fireworks display, our nation still celebrates its birth in style. It is a perfect holiday to encourage our young people to reflect on what living in America means to them.
Many ideas come to mind when deciding how to approach the holiday within the classroom. There are so many fun sites on the Internet that can provide ideas to help get the young Americans in your class to think about their country from different perspectives.
Survey and Journal Reflection
Music is always fun to bring into the classroom. MSNBC has an enjoyable clip that looks at the "Star Spangled Banner," and the reporter asks random people if they know the song. This story comes from the perspective of our national song being so difficult to sing.
You could begin your holiday study with the reporter's story, or create a day lesson with this as the theme. Before watching the news story, it might be fun to have your class complete a survey (I have created a sample survey for you on Survey Monkey). The survey will let them see just how much of the national anthem they really know. You will need to create a survey yourself if you want to track the results. I've found that most teenagers love surveys, so it is one sure way to grab their interest. Afterward, they can watch the news clip that portrays regular citizens singing the different verses. Then, finish up with a journal entry that asks if having a national anthem is important, and why or why not? Or, you could ask for a description of how it feels to hear the national anthem at the Olympics or at a school sporting event. Ask pupils to answer using descriptive language that involves imagery and the senses. It's a simple start, but gets them thinking.
Chat Room / Voicethread Discussion
The other MSNBC article is called "Voices from Lady Liberty: What Does America Mean to You?" It is in sound-bite form and plays recordings of American voices reflecting on what it means to be an American. You can go in many directions with this news story. Some ideas are:
- Have students engage in a chat room discussion about the best thing about being in America. Have them support their choice with details. If they say freedom is the best thing, they should explain that comment from a personal perspective. I have created a sample chat room site on Todays Meet.
- Using the same concept, you could put an image of the Statue of Liberty on a voicethread slide and pupils could all comment in a text or audio format. You will need to register with voicethread but there is no charge and the tutorials are very helpful.
- You could have learners assume a personality from the nation's past, like Ben Franklin or Sitting Bull. They can research the person and to try responding to the question, "What Does America Mean to You?" from the perspective of their assumed personality.
An idea for creating a reflective mood is to show the MSNBC slide show, "The Most American Places." Some ideas on how to use the slide show are:
- Have each individual class member (or with a partner) choose one of the images to create a back story as a creative writing exercise. What is going on in the picture? Who are the people? Why are they there? It could be a mystery or science fiction.
- Another direction you could go with creative writing is to create a fictional expository article about one of the slides that incorporates the 5 W's in a news report format.
- If you have the time, you could break into partners and have them create their own slideshow with photos from Google Images or Flickr that express their own opinions on the most "American" places. This will also give them a chance to practice documenting their image sources on a works cited slide. Their slideshows could then be shared with the class using PowerPoint, Glogster, or Prezi.
- Have pupils reflect in their journals on the many mediums that could have been used to show the most "American" places and the advantages or disadvantages of their chosen format.
Whatever direction you decide to go in, our nation's birthday will provide the inspiration your entire class will need to reflect on the wonderful country in which they live.
Connecting to the Common Core
- W.8.10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
- L.8.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
- L.8.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
- L.8.3. Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
Speaking and Listening
- SL.8.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Reading: Informational Text
- RI.8.7. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.
Whether you are teaching history or literature, this lesson will provide you with all the tools you need to bring the Fourth of July celebration into your classroom. It is a close look at the Declaration of Independence that is well-organized and provides all of the documents you will need. It also includes a link to the American Heritage website. The Declaration of Independence is analyzed at different levels with discussion and reflective journaling opportunities at its conclusion. It includes a 12-page pdf guide needed for the lesson, a full copy of the Declaration of Independence, a document scramble that partners can use to put the Declaration of Independence in its proper order, a vocabulary and comprehension segment, and a 4-part analysis that discussion groups can hash through for deeper understanding. This is a ready-made lesson that has been designed for ease of use and fulfills many learning standards.
I love this creative look at our history. Based on a New York Times article "10 Days that Changed History," your class will be guided through specific dates in history that were considered big dates and asked to consider "what if?" Learners will participate in a close look at these dates and contemplate the effects of big moments or decisions in our history. Opportunities for great classroom discussions are here, as well as possible ideas for small groups. If you would like your class to put their thoughts into a narrative, they can create a "what if?" scenario with one of the dates in history and write out what they think might have occurred if things went differently that day. This type of thinking challenges writers. There is also an extension activity that specifically references the Fourth of July.
If you are looking for a longer lesson, this resource looks at documents, symbols, and American freedom. The outline is helpful and specific. It describes each activity and provides links to all necessary sites. Your class will have a chance to research the American documents, historical figures, and patriotic symbols that we all hold dear. Many learning styles are satisfied in this plan as pupils research online with documents, images, music, and lyrics. While this lesson appears to be geared towards middle schoolers, it could be easily supplemented to make it appropriate for high school learners. This will be enjoyable for your creative pupils.