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Lesson Plan Table of Contents

Letters from the Frontier: Reading and Writing Primary Documents

Objectives: Students will be able to:

  • Exhibit a greater understanding of the events surrounding the life of George Catlin, particularly in terms of his role as a chronicler of Native American culture.
  • Acquire skills in reading and interpreting historical documents within their original cultural context through class discussion and a written composition.
  • Relate Catlin's choice-making strategies to their own lives and choices.
  • Understand Catlin as a complex figure capable of making good and bad choices.
  • Understand themselves as capable of making good and bad choices.
  • Discuss how and why one person can display a variety of responses to the same event.

Standards: U.S. History, English Language Arts.

Skills Addressed: Linguistic, Logical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal.

Interdisciplinary Connections: History/Social Studies, English/Language Arts, Psychology.

Length: Two to three fifty-minute class periods.

Materials: Internet access.

Products: News article based on the events surrounding George Catlin's life; chart explaining how diction and syntax convey ideas and emotions; group log of letters between family members regarding Catlin's choices and their consequences and responses to concurrent national events.

Content Introduction: George Catlin made extensive observations on the various native peoples that he encountered on his travels west. He recorded his experiences in letters and notes. These documents provide us with critical information on the culture and daily lives of many Native American tribes in the nineteenth century. By examining Catlin's letters, students will gain a greater understanding of the tribes he encountered, the land they lived on, and who Catlin was as a person.

Part I is designed to introduce students to the concepts of diction and syntax and the power inherent in them. Students will also be exposed to the observations made by Catlin on his many travels west. By examining Catlin's choice and arrangement of words in his letters, students will gain a closer understanding of his ideas concerning American Indians, U.S. policy, and his own hopes and fears concerning his travels and the people he encountered.

Part II focuses on the value of role-playing in historical studies as a way to make history come alive. Students will have the opportunity to write their own letters and apply what they have learned to their own lives.

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Lesson Plan Table of Contents

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