Immigrants.pngWe are a people still young and we know that we have not yet come to the fullest of our powers.—Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize Banquet Speech, 1939.


Pearl S. Buck was the first American woman to be awarded both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for Literature. The committee recognized her “for the notable works which pave the way to a human sympathy passing over widely separated racial boundaries and for the studies of human ideals which are a great and living art of portraiture.” Buck’s prolific writing drew on her extraordinary childhood and early married life experiences living in China. She detailed the richness of that country at a time when China was a complete mystery to most Americans and built bridges between the two distant cultures.



Despite these accolades and accomplishments Buck has been sidelined in English departments in recent years. That may be changing now. Forty years after her death, the discovery of a posthumous manuscript has thrust Buck back into the limelight. (Her new novel, The Eternal Wonder, is scheduled to be released in paperback and e-book format this fall.) The publication is sure to encourage a resurgence of interest in Buck’s fiction and non-fiction; both are prime examples of Common Core State Standards texts for high school students.


“On Discovering America”

On Discovering America,” with its portrait of what it means to be an American, is perhaps more relevant today than when Buck penned it seventy-six years ago this June. It poses the essential questions: What does it means to be an American? How does that impact immigration to this country?  Personal observation and first-hand immigrant experience formed her vision of “America, as it is, and as it is bound to be.” Her essay is ripe for 21st-century classroom analysis and can be used as an exemplary informational text to apply the ELA Common Core State Standards.


EDSITEment’s Pearl S. Buck: “On Discovering America” offers students a vehicle to undertake an independent close reading of the essay. Activities in the companion student version, Launchpad: Pearl S. Buck, echo those found in the lesson.


Both provide an application of Anchor Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1:

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


Three worksheets accompany the lesson activities to inform and structure students’ study of the essay.


The lesson opens with an activity exposing misconceptions and myths surrounding immigration. Zeroing in on legislation, students consider Key Moments in American Immigration Policy to determine how immigration patterns to the United States have changed over time.


Activity 2 introduces students to Pearl Buck and makes the distinction between the terms “immigrant” and “migrant.” The PBS documentary The City/La Ciudad may be tapped to define “immigrant,” while CCSS exemplar, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (the subject of an earlier Closer Readings post), may be used to define “migrant.”


Moving on to a close reading of the essay, students determine what Buck is explicitly stating and make logical inferences from it. “On Discovering America” Reading Questions requires specific textual evidence to be cited in support of students’ responses. Particular attention should be paid to Buck’s observations of immigrant relations and how she defines the term “American.” (Example: ask students if they agree with Buck’s premise: “We are all immigrants, we Americans.”)


Activity 3 explores immigrant relations in the context of the 1930s. The student resource, Immigration LaunchPad, contains primary source documents and audiovisual material about immigration in which students discover how the media portrayed immigrants in that era.


Through this window to the past and Buck’s ever-relevant comments, students draw parallels to the current state of immigration. The wisdom found in Buck’s text offers a fresh perspective as the present administration crafts a new immigration policy for the 21st century and congressional leaders consider legislation on “comprehensive immigration reform.”


Note that there are ample opportunities for writing assignments throughout the lesson plan. Options include personal response to Buck's essay; an analysis of the impact of the Immigration Act of 1924; or a short analysis of one of the documents, photos, and clips viewed in the Immigrants in the Media section. A possible culminating activity would be to render the primary source materials dealing with American immigrants of the1930s into a multimedia presentation.


Additional Resources



C. E. Chambers, “Food will win the war. You came here seeking freedom, now you must help to preserve it. Wheat is needed for the allies—waste nothing,” 1917. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Declaration.jpgOne of the more thought provoking of the CCSS ELA standards, and yet the one that may give ELA teachers some anxiety is:


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.9: Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.


A few months ago, we touched on this standard in our discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and promised to have more to say about the meaning of a foundational document. As Ameriblog-logo-banner-smler.jpgcans prepare for July 4th, it seems appropriate to consider the foundational text in our history.


Our lesson The Declaration of Independence: “An Expression of the American Mind” begins with Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter to Richard Henry Lee written 50 years after the fact about his intentions in drafting the Declaration.


Jefferson relates how the decision “to resort to arms for redress” of American grievances led patriots of the American cause to issue “an appeal to the tribunal of the world” with an eye towards explaining and justifying the American actions:


This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.


Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, not yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.


The lesson asks whether Jefferson accurately portray the process that went into the creation of the Declaration. If so, what were those “harmonizing sentiments of the day” to which he referred? In order to answer these questions, students are asked to analyze the structure of the Declaration into its four component parts:


  • philosophical ideas of the Preamble;
  • the set of grievances against the King and Parliament;
  • the concluding assertion of American sovereignty; and
  • the “honorable” determination to fight for it.


The lesson also considers the process of revision Jefferson’s draft underwent at the hands of Benjamin Franklin and the Continental Congress. Students will be able to appreciate how much of a “team” effort the writing of the Declaration actually was. Although Jefferson gets the lion’s share of historical credit, in fact, the final product was a group effort, including the initial input of the four other committee members—Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston.


In the final stage, members of the Continental Congress offered their suggestions, which were not entirely welcomed by Jefferson. (The writing of the Declaration is an example for students of how teams work in the real world. A team is assigned the work, one person does the draft, gets feedback from others, and then they present to larger group and get feedback.)


Students “interview” Thomas Jefferson, about what it was like to have “his” document altered. The interview should show the major changes that were made. Students should try to determine how Jefferson would have felt about them.


Students also compare two different versions of the Declaration of Independence Jefferson’s “draft” at the Library of Congress and the final version, which was edited by the Continental Congress. Upon completion of this lesson, students will understand the document’s purpose, ideas, structure, and rhetorical features, and how, taken together, these elements produced this “expression of the American mind.”


Why is the Declaration “foundational”? A word about the abolitionists

Just as the Declaration of Independence evolved from earlier writings, so, too, it has affected later demands for more freedom and equality. In the extending the lesson section, students look at how the principles of the Declaration have been evoked on behalf of other groups in U.S. history.


For example, after publicly and notoriously burning a copy of the Constitution on July 4, 1854, slavery opponent William Lloyd Garrison (1805–79) asked, “What is an abolitionist but a sincere believer in the Declaration of ‘76?”


In EDSITEment’s lesson, Slavery’s Opponents and Defenders, students are asked to do a close reading of one of Garrison’s earlier speeches “On the Constitution and the Union” in which he denounces the Constitution’s compromises with slavery. They will see that even when most critical of their government, abolitionists such as Garrison evoked its finest principles.


Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration: further exploration

The Declaration influenced Abraham Lincoln’s thinking and was frequently cited in his speeches from 1854 on, culminating in his magnficient refelction on it in the Gettysburg Address (1863). But teachers may not know about his profound meditation on the relationship between the Declaration and the Constitution written in the secession winter of 1861. The main goal of EDSITEment’s lesson on the Fragment on the Constitution and Union (1861)—The Purpose of the American Union is to show students how Lincoln’s understanding of the meaning of the American union was based upon a prior understanding of the principle of “liberty to all” found in the Declaration of Independence.


In addition to reading and answering questions on Lincoln’s “Fragment,” students also analyze the Declaration and the verse in Proverbs 25. A synthesis of the ideas in these three documents should enable them to answer the foundational question: What Is the relationship between “Liberty to All” in the Declaration of Independence and the American constitutional government?



Currier and Ives. The Declaration Committee, New York, 1876. Copyprint of lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division (56)

City-street-crpd.jpgAsk your students to recall the last time they heard a poet reading a poem on TV. They might mention watching the last presidential inauguration, or perhaps a televised poetry reading at last summer’s Olympic Games. Most likely, though, they won’t be able to remember a time when they heard a poet anywhere, let alone on television.


Carl Sandburg (1878–1960) was a well-loved poet in the mid-20th century—not only among the literary crowd, but among blog-logo-banner-smler.jpgmany other Americans as well. He appeared on popular TV shows reciting his poetry including the Ed Sullivan Show, the Texaco Hour, the early Today Show, and See It Now. He wrote the very popular six-volume Life of Abraham Lincoln, for which he won one of his three Pulitzer Prizes. (The other two were for books of poetry.) His childhood home was even preserved as a memorial. But since his death in 1960, Sandburg’s popularity as a poet has fallen. Many students today do not know who he is.


Sandburg is an intriguing character to introduce to students in both ELA and U.S. history classes. While appealing to a broad audience, he advocated a form of social realism in his work and was very concerned with politics. In fact, his social consciousness was central to many of his poems. He was particularly interested in issues of industrialization and class in America, a theme that he explored poignantly in his poem “Chicago.”


The lesson

EDSITEment’s lesson on Sandburg’s poem Chicago offers an excellent window through which to teach visual literacy to the interdisciplinary rigor of the Common Core. The poem is especially pertinent this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of Sandburg’s poem.


According to the poem, the Chicago of 1900 was “stormy, husky, [and] brawling”: a financial, agricultural, manufacturing, and transportation matrix for the nation. The poem is a celebration of an urbanization fueled by industrialism and inventions like electric lights and new modes of transportation. It is also a realistic look at a city growing so fast that its population was doubling every 20 years.


Students encounter visual literacy in this lesson plan as they explore this era in American history through the use of multiple primary resources. By first examining photographs, maps, and other documents that depict Chicago at the turn of the century, they anticipate Sandburg’s description of and attitudes towards the city. They then read a short biography of the poet in order to make further predictions about the poem. Finally students read the poem and identify the ways in which Sandburg uses literary techniques such as personification and apostrophe to make vivid the Chicago he knew. At the end of the lesson, students will bring all these strands together by using “Chicago” as a model for writing original pieces about places that are important to them.


Teaching Sandburg across the disciplines: the Common Core

The Common Core Standards illuminate the impact on student learning that comes from exploring content across disciplines through multiple disciplinary lenses. Being able to ask critical literary and historical questions of a text helps prepare students for college readiness.


This lesson gives students the opportunity to look at Sandburg’s poem in a literary, historical, and biographical context. In a literature course, the poem might be read to illustrate the literary technique of “personification,” or it might be studied as part of a survey of American poetry. For students of history, it might be used to illustrate one perspective on urbanization and industrialization before the First World War. The poem might also as a frame or contrast to examples of literary naturalism such as The Jungle or Sister Carrie.


At the end of the lesson, students create a poem or short descriptive essay that celebrates a place they know and love. They should accompany this writing with their own “primary document” that shows something important about that place as it is now—either one available at an online resource or an item (such as a photograph) that they themselves own or have created. To further align with the Common Core, students can use technology to publish their poems online, and learn about audience and purpose while doing so.


Additional Resources

For teachers who are interested in gaining more background knowledge on Sandburg, the latest online issue of NEH’s Humanities magazine features an excellent article on the author’s life and work.


For more on how teachers can use this lesson to build critical literacy skills across the disciplines using primary historic resources, please visit EDSITEment’s “Chicago” Prezi.




South Water Street Market looking west from Dearborn Street.
Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0003451. Courtesy of Chicago History Museum.

tim-bailey-cropped.jpg“Who should be mentoring other teachers? The Tims of the world should.”

—Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education


We have been following the career of Tim Bailey ever since he won the Gilder Lehrman National History Teacher of the Year award in 2009. Currently on a sabbatical from teaching in the Salt Lake City School District, Tim is serving as a Senior Fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.



For the past 20+ years, Tim was in the classroom as a U.S. history teacher at Northwest Middle School in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has, however, taught at all levels, from elementary school to college. His work, almost exclusively with high-risk, low-income, second-language populations, makes him especially sensitive to the challenges posed to ELL students by the new English Language Arts Common Core State Standards.


A new Common Core approach for U.S. History

Tim’s extensive work with David Coleman, one of the chief authors of the English Language Arts Common Core Standards, has made him a recognized expert in its implementation. Currently, he designs and directs the new Gilder Lehrman Teaching Literacy through History program. (Free registration for K–12 teachers or students is required.*)


The goal of the program, which aligns history instruction with Common Core State Standards through content-based curriculum and professional development for educators, is to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance.


Tim has already developed units that focus on the close reading of foundational U.S. history documents: the Declaration of Independence; the Bill of Rights, Washington’s Farewell Address; the Gettysburg Address; and FDR’s First Inaugural.


Complementing these are lessons on other significant informational texts such as Christopher Columbus’s letter of 1493 on his discovery in the New World; John Winthrop’s City on a Hill sermon; and Andrew Jackson’s Message to Congress on the Indian Removal Act of 1830.


This list of lessons is but the tip of the iceberg. There are over a hundred lessons to come, each based on an important historic document, from Tim’s shop at GLI.


Someone might say, “Most of these documents are too challenging for my students.”


We asked Tim why he thinks every student should read these documents, and how to teach them to every student.


“Every student in an American classroom has the right to study what Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt, or Lincoln had to say in those esteemed  men’s own words. There should be little argument about that. The question then is how to teach those documents in a way that gives every student access to the words of those men. There are teaching methods that can unlock those documents for all students, but it takes time and strategic effort.”


Tim goes on to ask this compelling question:


“[W]ould you rather have students analyze, reflect, and comment on what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all …’ or would you rather someone tell the students what he meant to say? The study of history is always going to be a matter of interpretation and point of view, but the closer we get to the actual words and actions of the past, the closer we will be to understanding it. That goes for our students as well.”

High quality professional development is also going to be essential and so Tim and Gilder Lehrman are developing an extensive program to accompany these lessons and implement the Common Core shifts, which demand teachers build content knowledge, emphasize evidence, and provide practice reading complex texts.


How to teach the Declaration: a professional development video

You will want to see Tim in action teaching the Declaration of Independence to his 8th-grade class of struggling readers. Go to the Common Core section of the America Achieves website. (Again, free registration is required.)


The video lays out how Tim leads his class in grappling with the text by breaking it down into its component paragraphs and spending a class on each of paragraph. Observe how he gets students to pull out the important words in each paragraph; how he directs them to use “Jefferson’s own words” to make a summary; and the techniques he uses to allow students to take the final step of paraphrasing the Declaration in their own words. Watch as they write a short essay about the meaning of Declaration. In this careful step-by-step process, Tim proves that all students can acquire the skills necessary to analyze any primary or secondary source.


Then click on the accompanying video as a group of teachers who have spent some professional development time with Tim reflect on topics relevant to the techniques shown in the module; on the lesson itself; and on how teachers can successfully implement the Core.

*Here you can also find information about the wonderful Gilder Lehrman Affiliate School Program, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provides free resources and professional development opportunties for teaching and studying American History.

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