I was browsing the Smithsonian's "O Say Can You See?" blog and came across an interesting read by Emma Hastings, an intern at the National Museum of American History, about New England primers use of the body's imminent end for instruction. How might you use this in your American history classroom?
For background, read Hastings' post here.
1. Choose any popular children's book. To illustrate the gulf between early American primers and more recent books, choose a "Dick and Jane" or something with a similar message accessible to children. Read the story out loud to the class and ask for the moral, message, big takeaway, etc.
2. As a class, discuss the purposes of children's literature. Is it to entertain, to inform, to persuade a certain idea/lifestyle/religion/etc. is "correct"? You could also discuss what students would include in a book geared toward today's children.
Introducing the Objects
3. Show students the pages from Hastings' post (all from the collection of the NMAH) and solicit answers to the following questions:
- What stands out in the images?
- What do the images have in common? Any major differences?
- What was the moral, message, big takeaway, etc. of this collection of images?
- When/where do you think these books were printed and/or used? Why then/there?
4. Reveal the dates and locations of each of the books and ask students what they know/think they know about those areas and time periods.
5. Divide students into teams, hand out large sheets of paper or have students create a Padlet or similar online board, and assign the following task: Using information from these primers, visualize New England in each of the following areas: Religion, Education, and Government.
- This could be a way to introduce the New England colonies to students. Use inquiry and primary sources to predict what a group of people believed regarding religion, the purpose of education, and the function of government.
- Students could record their responses through paragraphs, bulleted lists, pictures, mind mapping, knowledge webs, etc.
6. Student work could be presented and used as a starting point for further inquiry or you could introduce an extension activity.
7. Students could use the information gleaned from the New England primers to create a biography of a typical New Englander at the turn of the 19th century. If you're feeling crafty, you could also create a silhouette of your New Englander.
These were a few ideas after reading the post at "O Say Can You See?". Does anyone else use something similar in their classes? How else could you utilize these resources from the Smithsonian?
Keeping things ecumenical,