Lesson Plan

Calling Andrew Johnson using Morse Code

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Grade Level:
Third Grade-Eighth Grade
1 hour
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
Social Studies
RH 6-8.9



Students will explore a means of communication during Andrew Johnson’s presidency.  Students will also use primary sources to gather information on the history of this innovative technology.  Students will be challenged to work cooperatively as they “send” a telegram from Queen Victoria to President Andrew Johnson.     


1) The students will analyze the impact of the transatlantic telegraph on worldwide communications.

2) The students will compare and contrast current technology to that of the 19th century.


Andrew Johnson National Historic Site offers multiple primary resources to share the story of Andrew Johnson as he rose from a runaway apprentice to a political leader. These resources provide an opportunity for interactive learning in unique historical location. Andrew Johnson, whose life exemplifies many struggles faced by Americans today, worked his way from tailor to President. He stood strong for his ideals and beliefs. His presidency, from 1865-1869, illustrates the U.S. Constitution at work following Lincoln’s assassination and during attempts to reunify a nation that had been torn by Civil War. His work helped shape the future of the United States and his influences continue today.  


This lesson is completed in three parts. Part one utilizes the Morse Code challenge and Morse Code decoder; part two utilizes the Teacher Diagram and Instructions for Relay, ropes, position cards, post it notes, Morse Code decoder, and cards with each letter in the word “success”. The Morse Code challenge, the Morse Code decoder, and Teacher Diagram and Instructions must be downloaded and printed before the lesson. If you are planning to implement this lesson on site, contact a park ranger for use of ropes and position cards. 



Assess student understanding by assigning them to write a journal entry from the perspective of a person involved in the development, the laying, or the use of the Transatlantic cable or telegraph.

Park Connections

The significance of Andrew Johnson National Historic Site to our country’s cultural heritage is in the reflection of the 17th President’s modest and humble lifestyle. This is demonstrated in the parks museum collection, historic furnishings and the architecture of the buildings that the President once owned.
Rising from the ranks of the working class, Andrew Johnson overcame many obstacles so that he could influence and champion the cause of the working peoples. This theme is preserved in the tailoring artifacts and shop exhibited at the site. Students will utilize the primary resources available from the site to compare and contrast current technology with technology from the 19th century. This lesson illustrates examples of the changing role of the United States in the world community as well as the expansion of technology.


Stomp it Out Game: For this activity the students will need the Morse Code decoder sheet. In groups of 3 students will stomp out a 3 letter word in Morse Code with one letter for each student. Groups try to decode the message and receive 1 point for each correctly decoded word.

Additional Resources

PBS.org has an interactive webpage that gives more in depth history about the Transatlantic cable and the telegraph. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/cable/index.html



Transatlantic cable, telegraph, Morse Code, electromagnetic

Last updated: April 29, 2015