Lesson Plan #2:  Investigating The Lives of Recognized Leaders

Overview:  Fifth-graders are naturally interested in biographies and they are also well into the "hero worship" stage.  In this lesson plan students analyze their simultaneous biography reading by constructing and comparing timelines.

Concepts/Vocabulary:  biography, autobiography, politics, government, turning points, accomplishments, recognitions, role models

Main Ideas:

*  many of our political, governmental, and military leaders share common experiences in their public service backgrounds

*  many of our most famous social activists and humanitarians share similar experiences in their backgrounds

*  by focusing our biography reading and sharing our findings, we can increase our learning about what is important in life

Objectives:  As a result of this lesson, students will

* identify the common life events, tests, and difficulties that all leaders experience

* recognize in themselves and others qualities that characterize service-oriented leadership

* list chronologically important events, decisions, and accomplishments in a public-service leader's biography

Time Required:  Two 40-minute class sessions plus several 20-minute discussions

Materials/Resources Required:  biographies of recognized leaders; Timeliner® or some other software capable of creating, storing, displaying, and printing biographical timelines; computers; OR light-colored string cut into 36-inch segments and marked with bright pen at ten three-inch intervals, each representing a decade in time (one per student); paper strips for recording events; tape for attaching strips to string.

        Note:  What is important is that the timelines be of the same unit length so that one person's 50-year lifespan doesn't appear larger than someone else's 50-year lifespan.  Note, too, that if you use string you will still have to mount it on paper or find some other way of designating whose timeline it is.

Preparation Before Teaching:  You must have read a biography or autobiography of the required type and have completed a timeline to show your students.  A week prior to starting this lesson plan, ask your media center to locate all of its available biographies and autobiographies of political, governmental, military, social activists and humanitarians, focusing most selections, if possible, on Americans.

Suggestions For Teaching The Lesson:

Opening the Lesson

1.  Gather your students up close and show them the biography you have just finished and the timeline that you made for the person's life.  For example, if you have read former president Jimmy Carter's autobiographical account of his early life and first election to the Georgia legislature, Turning Point, A Candidate, a State, and a Nation Come of Age your timeline might show such events as Mr. Carter's service in the U.S. Navy as a submarine officer, his service as a school board member, his fight for fair elections, and his refusal to join the white citizens councils despite the financial damage that this did to his peanut seed business.

2.  Explain that over the next two weeks each student will be asked to participate in a project that will analyze the common themes and incidents in the lives of Americans who had political, governmental, military, social activist or humanitarian careers.  Show your students the collection of biographies that you have, place them into categories (political, governmental, military, social activists, humanitarian) and see if your students know about these individuals.

3.  Brainstorm a list of other names that might fit into one or more of the categories, attempting to find leaders that match the same backgrounds as your students if at all possible.  One of the easiest ways to find biographies is to go to the biography.com website and enter a category name such as "social activists" or your state's name.  Biography.com's URL as well as several other biography websites' URLs are listed in the last chapter.  You can also locate books through one of the on-line book vendors such as Amazon.com.

4.  If you wish, you can allow students to work in pairs on a single biography since doing this will naturally generate some additional thinking and decision-making in the construction of the timeline.

5.  Now that the students understand how to make their timelines, show them where the supplies and/or software are located and make a note of who is reading which biography.  Help students who may be having trouble making up their minds.

6.  Give the students pacing expectations for reading their books and allow students to take them home if they wish.  Meet daily or every other day for 10 to 15 minutes to answers students' questions and make entries on their timelines.

7.  As the timelines start to fill up post them and help the students notice similarities.  For example, the students may find that all or most of the politicians lost their first election, or that religious training played a role in all or most of the social activists.

Closing the Lesson

8.  When the biographies and timelines are completed, hold a discussion to summarize what students have learned about this group of famous Americans.

Ask the students to share the ways in which their own lives and those of their heroes are alike and different.  Discuss the types and frequency of persons chosen, the commonalities in their traits and contributions, and characteristics of the times that helped determine their greatness.

9.  Display your timelines for others to see.

Evaluating The Lesson:

Ask your students to write a one to two page summary of their person's life, to include their person's most important accomplishment and the story behind that accomplishment.  The summary should also include a statement about what we can learn from this person's life and achievements and share what each would most like to be remembered for if they were to be recognized in history books and biographies in the future.

Ideas For Enrichment, Extension, & Adaptation

*  Have students brainstorm answers to the "What if?" question, for each of their leaders.  For example, what might have happened if President Carter had been more like his racist neighbors?

*  Array the students' biography timelines on a master timeline that notes many of the things that were going on in the United States and the world at specific points in time.  See if connections can be made between these events and the lives of the recognized leaders.

*  Develop skits that illustrate the key turning points in your leaders' lives.

*  Make a mural showing these people saying some of their most powerful ideas, phrases, or quotes.

Lesson Analysis:

        This lesson plan simultaneously addresses several important goals of history-for-citizenship instruction.  For example, it engages students in richly textured, authentic historical accounts and encourages critical thinking about these accounts.  By focusing on individuals who had careers in the military, government, or politics or who attained fame as social activists or humanitarians, it helps students appreciate important aspects of the relationship between citizenship and government.  Because the biography reading is spread over many individuals, rather than a single person, it is more likely that students will be able to identify with one or more of these famous people.  For the concluding evaluation, ask students to reflect on their own lives and aspirations in response to their critical assessment of the career of the person whose biography they read.