Teaching with Historic Places in Real Classrooms: Leska Foster, on the 'Chattanooga' lesson plan

TwHP Lessons, State Standards, and Teaching Techniques

The following is a case study by Leska Foster, 5th Grade Teacher at Holz Elementary School, Charleston, West Virginia, in using the Chattanooga, Tennessee: Train Town lesson plan.

In elementary classrooms across the United States, teachers must cover a multitude of skills. Whenever possible, the integration of multiple skills into one lesson or topic, either as examples or as a review of skills previously taught, can benefit both teacher and students.

The Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan Chattanooga, Tennessee: Train Town, helps students better understand the many ways in which railroads have shaped cities throughout the U.S. and influenced American culture. Teachers can use this lesson to further several Reading / Language Arts (RLA) skills and activities, either by integrating them into the TwHP lesson or by pulling parts of the TwHP lesson into your existing Reading / Language Arts lessons.

In West Virginia, our academic subject requirements are broken down into grade-level Content Standards and Objectives (CSOs). For upper elementary students (grades 4-5), TwHP lessons contain a wealth of informational and expository reading that helps to meet our state standards. Throughout this case study, I have identified the relevant West Virginia state RLA standards for the fifth grade parenthetically.

Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The Railroad Helps Build a Town: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Students can use the sentences in any of the paragraphs to review the parts of speech. If you teach diagramming, use one or more of these sentences to demonstrate various diagramming skills. You can begin your discussion by choosing one paragraph to focus on. Then have the students identify the types of sentences found in the paragraph – declarative, exclamatory, imperative, interrogative, as well as simple, compound, and complex sentence structure (RLA Next, the students can work independently, in pairs, or in small groups to correctly label each word with the correct part of speech. If you have access to a Smartboard in your classroom, you can display Reading 1 onscreen and have the students show their work. An overhead with transparencies also works well.

A second RLA activity using Reading 1 is to have the students independently read this passage (or assigned paragraphs, depending on your students’ reading levels), then determine the main idea of each assigned paragraph or of the overall passage. Once they have determined the main idea, they can list the supporting details to further assist them with comprehension of the topic or passage (RLA,

As a final activity with this passage, the students can compose an Exit Slip to hand to the teacher explaining how they personally related to the passages they read in class. The Exit Slip can also be used as a formative assessment if needed. Exit Slips have been used for years in classrooms across the country but have only recently been labeled as such. Students are asked to reflect on that day’s lesson – what they learned, what they did or didn’t understand, what they might not completely understand. Students do not have to answer all of those questions in the Exit Slips. Teachers can have the students write a response to whatever they observe as a need. Exit Slips in the elementary classroom can have various forms, one of the most common being half a piece of notebook paper or copy paper. Sticky notes, index cards, or any other form can be used for Exit Slips – it’s the teacher’s choice.

Reading 2: Promoting Chattanooga

This guide, which was published by the city government of Chattanooga and Hamilton County in 1896, is a good choice to help students develop and apply comprehension strategies. This is an example of the writing style from that time period, which students normally don’t encounter in their educational career until high school. Exposing elementary students to this writing style can be rewarding; you can witness comprehension unfold as students begin to put the pieces together.

After first having the students make predictions about the main idea of this passage (recording them for future reference or holding a class discussion might be desirable – RLA,8), next have them make personal connections based on what they predicted (again recording their ideas, either whole-class or individually – RLA,7,8). Once students have completed those activities, then have the students read and discuss the article, using their vocabulary skills to help deepen comprehension of the unique words (RLA,2).

Visual Evidence

Each TwHP lesson comes with visual evidence, which might consist of photographs, maps, drawings, or other types of images. These graphic sources are an important source of information for understanding the TwHP lesson as well as practicing reading skills. It is important that students develop these needed skills in order to read, understand, and apply the information for further comprehension as the class works its way through the TwHP lesson.

Drawing 1: Terminal station and surrounding area

In this drawing, students view an aerial drawing of the area surrounding the Chattanooga train terminal. Using the accompanying questions, students can interpret the drawing. This covers our West Virginia RLA CSO. This is also a skill that shows up on our spring state testing across all four tested areas – Reading / Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Math. You can pull drawings and other types of visual images from any of the TwHP lessons to complement the unit of study currently going on in your classroom.

Putting It All Together

As a final thought on incorporating TwHP lessons into the elementary classroom, using the Putting It All Together section also meets one of our research and writing CSOs (RLA Fifth grade students are expected to plan and complete a short research project. The activities found in the Putting It All Together section helps meet that need. This lesson has three different activities: one on analyzing natural and human-created incentives for locating businesses; one on looking at how places enter popular culture through music, literature, and the arts; and one on researching local railroad history.

Students can complete these individually, in pairs or small groups. As the teacher, you can either assign students to projects or give them the option of choosing which project they would like to work on depending upon your curriculum requirements and time constraints. All TwHP lessons come with this section, so even if this lesson doesn’t fit into your curriculum, keep looking and there will probably be one that does fit in.

Read how Leska answers the question, Why Use TwHP? When Opportunity Knocks . . .

Read Case Study #1:TwHP Lessons, State Standards, and Teaching Techniques

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