Social Education 59(4), 1995, pp. 195-197
National Council for the Social Studies
designed to strengthen students' cognitive structures, a term Ausubel uses for a person's knowledge of a particular subject matter at any given time and how well organized, clear, and stable it is. . . . Ausubel maintains that a person's existing cognitive structure is the foremost factor governing whether new material will be meaningful and how well it can be acquired and retained. (Joyce/Weil, 1981, 77)
The advance organizer described in this paper involves the presentation of a "preview of coming attractions" in which the students are introduced to specific detailed events and people they will encounter during the unit. The example used here is a unit dealing with the period of westward expansion in the United States.
Literature has been chosen as the vehicle to pique student interest because the magic of books has been acknowledged in recent years by many curriculum specialists. Charlotte Crabtree (1989), in particular, has emphasized the power of biographies, myths, folktales, and historical narratives to capture children's imagination:
Whether these . . . are drawn from the recent past or from some long-ago reaches of human history is not the critical factor in their accessibility to children. Rather, it is the nature of the story told, its power to capture children's imagination, to draw them into the historical event or human dilemma. . . ." (1989, 36)
In Children's Literature and Social Studies (1993), Myra Zarnowski has demonstrated the value of the use of literature sets-collections of children's trade books that focus on a single current topic and can be used by children in small groups to discuss varied perspectives. Prior to group study, a brief discussion of the books can be used to highlight their time/place/incidents/etc. In part, these brief introductions are used to generate interest among the children (Zarnowski 1993, 36).
The use of literature to teach social studies became a major trend in social studies instruction during the late 1980s. California led the way with a new History-Social Science Framework (1987). A major characteristic of this approach is the enhancement of history lessons through literature related to the period studied. Frederick Risinger states, "This trend has particular implications for elementary social studies. . . . Student interest is heightened when literature is used as an integral part of a social studies program. . . . carefully selected literature can make historical periods come to life and provide a flavor of the thoughts and feeling surrounding a historical event" (1992, 2).
The use of an advance organizer based on literature appears to be an effective strategy that can provide students with the structured input necessary to help them acquire new and more specific knowledge in a subsequent unit of study. The following advance organizer is presented as one vehicle to set the stage for an upcoming unit of study-Moving Westward Through Literature.
Introducing the Unit
Briefly introduce the unit idea by focusing on a bulletin board in which a large outline map of the United States is displayed. Indicate the boundaries and the land claimed by the United States before 1800. The teacher might compare this map with a current map of the United States. The teacher will inform the students that they will complete the large map during the course of the unit by indicating the boundary changes as they occur. The map will reflect major events, people, and their struggles to explore and settle the West.
During this introduction, the students will become actively involved as the teacher guides them through the development of a map illustrating specific settled and unsettled areas, as well as the territory claimed by other countries before 1800. When the students indicate boundary changes during the subsequent unit, they will develop a better understanding of how historical events affected the setting of the current U.S. boundaries.
To elicit student interest and prepare students for the events and people they will encounter as they explore the westward movement, the teacher will provide a brief preview of the "coming attractions." The students will be encouraged to imagine themselves putting on their bonnets, packing up their wagons, and preparing to see a sneak preview of the journey they will take as they explore the period known as the Westward Expansion in the United States.
The purpose of this preview is to provide a brief glimpse of the events and participants in the historical period that will be closely examined. An overhead projector can be used to provide visuals as the students are introduced to each event. During this "sneak preview," the teacher introduces events and people by reading brief excerpts from relevant literature, as pictures depicting events or specific historical figures are projected on the screen. Transparencies can be made with the help of a color photocopying machine from book covers that illustrate people and events.
One example might be the reading of a brief excerpt depicting the travels of Lewis and Clark. The cover from The Incredible Journey of Lewis and Clark by Rhoda Blumberg can be projected on the screen: it has a picturesque portrayal of a Native American settlement of the time, which can be used as a starting point for discussion of how people lived at the time. The preview continues with the presentation of specific events and people with an impact on the setting of the boundaries of the United States. Illustrations and excerpts might be chosen from literature such as Lillian Schlissel's Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, John Jakes's Susanna of the Alamo, or J.S. Holliday's The World Rushed In, all of which have covers portraying ordinary people caught up in dramatic historic developments. An appropriate end for this "Preview of Coming Attractions" might be the projection of the transparency of the cover of Susan Jeffers' Brother Eagle, Sister Sky as the teacher reads the moving words of Chief Seattle, who is portrayed on the cover.
During this preview, students should be given opportunities to read book excerpts and/or quotations that illustrate specific events or characters. Questioning will occur throughout the preview to elicit student responses: students might, for example, be asked about the physical conditions in which the characters lived as they took part in shaping the United States. To close the preview, the teacher can ask students to write down their questions about specific events or characters, and indicate what they hope to learn during the subsequent unit of study.
The following is a summary of the unit activities in which the students will be actively involved.
Activities in "Moving Westward through Literature"
The unit "Moving Westward Through Literature" is intended to provide the students with a sense of reality as they develop an understanding of the events and lasting changes that were occurring as a result of the movement westward in the late 1700s and throughout the mid-1800s. The following topics and activities may be useful means of involving students during the development of this unit of study.
Topic 1: Introduction to Westward Expansion
This activity will be the Advance Organizer-"Preview of Coming Attractions." It is intended to develop an awareness of the major events and the people that opened the way for settlement across the Mississippi River. The students begin map activities and Westward Expansion folders.
Topic 2: The United States Looks Toward Mexico
Students develop an understanding of the events that led to the settlement and acquisition of Texas. Students are actively involved in researching and completing a cause/effect paper-using a double-entry journal format-about events leading to the conflict with Mexico.
Topic 3: The United States Expands to Include Texas
The students are taught major events leading to the setting of the southern border of the United States. The students are actively involved in small groups as they research and write a sequential story about the acquisition of Texas.
Topic 4: The United States Moves into the Oregon Country
The students create a pictorial time line illustrating events and people who encouraged the initial movement into Oregon Country.
Topic 5: On to Oregon
Students summarize and illustrate specific events related to the Oregon Trail. These illustrations will be combined to form a class patchwork quilt that tells a story of life on the Oregon Trail.
Topic 6: Gold Is Discovered in California
Students develop physical and political maps depicting the discovery of gold in California. Literature and research information facilitate student participation in discovering pertinent information related to who came to California, the routes they took, and life on the trail, in the boom towns and in the "diggings." Students can participate in a simulation of life and adventure in a frontier mining camp. Small groups of students can create murals to depict major aspects of the California gold rush.
Topic 7: Effect on Lives of Native Americans
The students will write news articles about events and opinions that focus on the treatment of Native Americans during the period of westward expansion. After input and research, the students will develop a class newspaper that includes governmental policies, Native American reaction, and maps depicting the movement of Native Americans during this period of time.
Topic 8: Westward Expansion Participants
Forming cooperative groups, the students gather, organize, and summarize data related to specific groups of people who participated in or were affected by westward expansion in the United States. They will focus in particular on the conditions and events that motivated people to move westward. Over a period of time, the students will plan a group presentation for the entire class. Their research findings may be presented in numerous ways, such as a research paper, play, story roll, diorama, poem, mural, etc.
The overall purpose of presenting a "Preview of Coming Attractions" is to provide an advance organizer to set the stage for a projected unit of study. The "preview" focuses on "reaquot; people and selected events to provide initial information and pique student interest in a subsequent unit of study. The suggested topics and activities are intended to provide ways in which students might be actively involved during the unit "Moving Westward Through Literature."
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Atlas of American History. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1991.Allen, T.D., ed. Arrows Four: Prose and Poetry by Young American Indians. New York: Washington Square Press, 1974.Anderson, Joan. Spanish Pioneers of the Southwest. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1989.Bealer, Alex. Only the Names Remain: The Cherokees and the Trail of Tears. New York: Little, Brown, 1972.Blumberg, Rhoda. The Incredible Journey of Lewis and Clark. New York: Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard Books, 1987.Brown, Marian Marsh. Sacagawea. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1988.Chambers, Catherine E. Wagons West: Off to Oregon. Mahwah, New Jersey: Troll Associates, 1984.Drumm, Stella M., ed. Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.Fisher, Leonard E. The Oregon Trail. New York: Holiday House, 1990.Freedman, Russell. Children of the Wild West. New York: Clarion Books, 1983.Fritz, Jean. Make Way for Sam Houston. New York: Putnam, 1986.Holliday, J.S. The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience. New York: Simon Schuster, 1981. Holling, Holling Clancy. Tree in the Trail. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942, 1970.Hughes, Dean. The Mormon Church: A Basic History. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986.Jakes, John. Susanna of the Alamo. San Diego: Hartcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.Jeffers, Susan. Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. New York: Dial Books, 1991.Jones, Hettie (selected by). The Trees Stand Shining: Poetry of North American Indians. New York: Dial Books, 1971.Kurtz, Jane. The Oregon Trail: Dangers and Dreams. Grand Forks: Roots and Wings Publishing, 1990.Levine, Ellen. If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1986.Maclachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: Harper Collins, 1985.McGovern, Ann. The Defenders. New York: Scholastic, 1987.McNeer, May. The California Goldrush. New York: Random House, 1950, 1977.O'Dell, Scott. Sing Down the Moon. New York: Dell Publishing, 1970.Pelz, Ruth. Black Heros of the Wild West. Seattle: Open Hand Publishing, Inc. 1990.Petersen, David. Sequoyah, Father of the Cherokee Alphabet. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1991.Quontamatteo, Nancy & others. The Gold Rush Era. Jackson, California: Conceptual Productions, 1981.Ravitch, Diane, ed. The American Reader: Words That Moved a Nation. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.Schlissel, Lillian. Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey. New York: Schocken Books, 1982.Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Oregon Trail. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1984.Stewart, George. The Pioneers Go West. New York: Random House, 1954.Time-Life Books. The Indians. New York: Time-Life Books, 1976.Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House in the Big Woods. New York: Harper and Row, 1932.Williams, Jeanne. Trails of Tears. Dallas: Hendrick-Long Publishing, 1992.Joy Ann Morin is an Associate Professor in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction at California State University, Los Angeles.