Where there is no struggle, there is no progress.—Frederick Douglass


For Black History Month 2014, EDSITEment offers a revised and updated version of our Guide to Teaching Resources.


The Guide is a comprehensive collection of EDSITEment's free NEH-supported websites and lessons on African American history and literature. These resources bridge the gap between the expanding academic scholarship of the black experience and the need for this history to be more widely taught at the K–12 level.blog-logo-banner-smler.jpg


EDSITEment staff has also been working to help teachers meet the demands of the new Common Core ELA standards, particularly the central requirement of giving students practice with complex informational texts and academic vocabulary. And because one can read images, video, and film as a text, we’ve included these as well.


Mastering such texts and their academic vocabulary is not only rewarding in itself, it promises dividends for later academic and career success. With this in mind, we’ve come up with some suggestions about how teachers might use recent NEH-funded projects for all these purposes.


Here are some highlights from the new EDSITEment listing:


  • Scores of enslaved African Americans maintained Montpelier, the estate of our fourth president, James Madison. This short video hosted by the Foundation’s archaeological team reveals how the people who made this great estate run actually lived and worked. Students can witness history coming to light through the excavation of the slave quarters and the Madison household.
  • Students may not appreciate the diversity of opinion that obtained among nineteenth century free African Americans. A new lesson, contrasting the views of David Walker and John Day can help them see that black opinion was not monolithic. Walker, an abolitionist, argued in his famous Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World  that the principles of the Declaration of Independence justified resistance to slavery and emancipation. John Day, a Baptist missionary (and one of the founding fathers of the modern African nation of Liberia), maintained that free blacks could never expect to live on equal terms with whites in the United States and needed to found their own nation in Africa.
  • As you prepare to teach the Civil War, your students can learn more about how much a small group of devoted abolitionists accomplished against seemingly insurmountable odds. Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the Grimké sisters fought for thirty years to end slavery in America. The entire PBS film The Abolitionists is now available as a streaming video on NEH’s Created Equal website. The site has a robust teaching section with questions for active viewing, background essays, lessons plans, and primary sources.
  • Students will be interested to know that the story of Solomon Northup as recounted in 12 Years a Slave was first filmed by the distinguished African America photojournalist Gordon Parks over 30 years ago as Solomon Northup’s Odyssey. This important event in cultural history is recounted by Chad Williams in Humanities magazine with a ten-minute clip accessible on the NEH website. (The complete film is available through Amazon Instant Video.) Note: two lessons on the text of Solomon Northup memoir are coming soon to EDSITEment.
  • For targeted, primary-source research and analysis, introduce your class to a vast database of historic African American newspapers via Chronicling America. Currently, 42 different titles of newspapers covering the years 1865–1922 are available from the District of Columbia to Washington State. Students searching these sources will discover how events from Reconstruction to Jim Crow to the First World War and the Great Migration were reported from diverse regional perspectives.
  • In the long civil rights struggle, the strategy of nonviolent protest  was vividly demonstrated and effectively used  by the Freedom Riders. These courageous, college-age men and women challenged segregation in the Deep South in the early sixties, pushing the Kennedy Administration to enforce the law prohibiting segregation in interstate travel. Your class can gain in-depth knowledge of this struggle through the award-winning documentary Freedom Riders now available online and accompanied by teaching resources as part of Created Equal.
  • Also included in Created Equal, The Loving Story tells the fascinating story of Mildred and Richard Loving, a quiet interracial Virginia couple who were arrested by state officials for the crime of living as man and wife. Two ACLU lawyers took their case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court. The landmark ruling in their favor appealed to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and led to the overturning of miscegenation laws in fifteen states. It has been cited in our time as a precedent by advocates of same sex marriage.
  • The story of Eugene Allen, an African American man who worked as maître-d’ for eight presidents for over 30 years, focuses yet another lens on civil rights history. Watch the 20-minute video interview with Will Haywood, the journalist who was author of the book about Allen that inspired the film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler.


For the full listing of resources, go to Guide to Black History Month Teaching Resources and NEH’s Created Equal.

Eileen Bach taught English at Ithaca High School from 1979–2008. She retired and moved to Shanghai, where she currently teaches English at Concordia International School. Eileen developed AP English Literature and Composition resources relating to Winston Churchill under the auspices of an NEH Summer Institute and The Churchill Centre.


“Words are the only thing that last forever” Winston Churchill, 1938

There is no one better suited than British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) to engage students in the study of informational texts through well-crafted language and argument that bears close scrutiny.



Students may be surprised to learn that the man who led Great Britain to victory against Hitler in World War II received the 1953 Nobel Prize for his achievements in literature. In the words of the Nobel Committee, he was honored “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values."


Students may also be pleased to learn that for much of his career, Churchill made his living through the pen. Although an aristocrat, he was always cash poor; and since he delighted in a grand lifestyle, he needed to tap more mundane sources of income. As a consequence, Churchill wrote 40 books of biography and history, as well as innumerable articles and speeches. Some of these books such as The History of the English Speaking Peoples are still read in high schools worldwide.


The hours Churchill devoted to composing speeches, essays, and books have resulted in a treasure trove of material that dovetails with Common Core standards and provides outstanding models for students to emulate.


I'll suggest a number Churchill’s works that form the basis for lessons aligned with Common Core standards. These resources, outlined below, cover Craft and Structure Standards for grades 11–12 as follows:


  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RSI.11-12.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RSI.11-12.5: Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RSI.11-12.6: Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text.

Diction, rhythm, analogy, and argument

Memorial Day and D-Day commemorations provide touchstones that make an examination of Churchill’s works especially noteworthy, for Churchill’s WWII speeches with their striking phrases “end of the beginning” and “finest hour” still resonate in the public ear. An excellent place to begin is Churchill’s unfinished essay, “The Scaffolding of Rhetoric,” written at age 23. After an opening sentence equating the “gift of oratory” with powers more “durable” than those of a king, he proposes to uncover the power of “six principle elements” of rhetoric (although he only details four in this unfinished work:diction, rhythm, analogy, and argument). To mine the gold in this essay, see my four lessons that walk students through Churchill’s clear definitions of these four elements and lead them to fine examples penned by Churchill with relevant exercises.

Churchill as prophet: the truth about Hitler

To view Churchill’s principles in action, as well as his prescient political judgment, we can turn to his magazine article, “The Truth about Hitler.” Published in November 1935, it warned of the serious threat Hitler posed to European peace at a time when Churchill was viewed with disdain by members of his own party. (The article is available through a link on the Churchill Archive (images 27–32.)

Antoine Capet’s essay “The Creeds of the Devil: Churchill Between the Two Totalitarianisms, 1917–1945,” provides useful historical context and some analysis of Churchill's article.

Churchill’s article is also a fine introduction to Rogerian or “common ground” argument structure. This type of argument begins with a concession to the opposing viewpoint before thoroughly refuting it. It is one of the most basic and effective techniques of argument and thus one that students need to learn early on. This article features other noteworthy rhetorical flourishes, including allusions that transcend the time period.

Disarming Churchill

To humanize the “great man,” I also showcase his disarming presentation of himself as an inept pupil, one who excelled in history but failed at math. This image delights students as they recognize the dry humor in a selection from Churchill’s memoir My Early Life, which I’ve named “Phantasmagoria of a Fevered Dream: Churchill's Adventures with Mathematics ” after a line from the excerpt. The excerpt is also accompanied by text dependent questions to encourage close reading.

Finally, I conclude with  one of Churchill’s most delightful activities, his hobby as a “Sunday Painter,” which began during WWI and continued until his death. In his charming essay “Painting as a Pastime,” Churchill makes one of his most stunning comparisons: between the painter and the military commander in battle. In my lesson on this passage, I show how the unusual analogy provides solid practice in close reading as students seek elements common to both professions. To facilitate this study I provide a set of multiple choice questions with an accompanying answer key to test their understanding of this passage.

Churchill Lessons for English Teachers

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