Teacher Tips

Classroom Activities and Discussion Suggestions to Accompany

Questions for consideration and discussion

1. How is “Kanzas” described in Information for Kanzas Immigrants? [You can see the original document at http://archive.org/details/informationforka00webb ] How is it different from the town that Lucy and her family find when they arrive in Kansas? Why does Lucy prefer “Kanzas” to the Kansas where she lives?

2. Why does Papa think is it important to go to Kansas? How does Lucy feel about it? What changes Lucy’s feelings about the issue of slavery?

3. Lucy’s blue silk gown is a luxury that reflects her family’s social standing and Lucy’s expectation that she will grow up as a lady of culture. How do her feelings about the dress change in the story? What does the dress represent to her later?

4. What kind of relationship does Lucy have with her brother Joseph? How is it typical of brothers and sisters? How and why does their relationship change?

5. How does Lucy feel about taking things from her family’s store to help the runaway slaves? Why doesn’t she tell her parents? Do you think they would have wanted to help? Would Mamma feel differently about it than Papa?

6. Miss Collins tells Lucy that “Words alone are only noise. To make a difference, they must be proven with actions.” How does Lucy use her words and actions to make a difference? How can you use your own words and actions to help others? Can you think of situations where it takes great courage to make that choice?

7. Lucy and Joseph make a dangerous choice to rescue Phoebe. If the story continued past the book’s ending, do you think Lucy would continue to help slaves? Why or why not?

8. If you had a time machine that could take you to 1855 Lawrence, what do you think life would be like? What would be much more difficult in your everyday life? What would you miss most from the modern world?

Historical Topics for Exploration

The Kansas-Nebraska Act  of 1854. Students may wonder why the formation of the Kansas territory was so controversial. Discussion may include the Missouri Compromise, and how the Kansas-Nebraska Act nullified that act. The balance of free states and slave state in the Senate was an important concern. What was “popular sovereignty”? How did that affect the elections in the territory and other events in 1855?

The “Bogus Legislature” of Kansas Territory. The freestate settlers used this name to describe the territorial legislature. Details about the elections, the formation of the legislature, the short-lived tenure of territorial governors, and the many attempts to draft a state constitution can be found in Cutler’s History of Kansas http://www.kancoll.org/books/cutler/ as well as Territorial Kansas Online and other sources. Students may look at the first constitution drafted by the Bogus Legislature to see how it limited the freedoms of the settlers and supported the proslavery agenda.

Underground Railroad. Because of its name, many students may have the mistaken idea that this was an actual railroad with locomotives. More specific information about the operation of the UGRR in Kansas Territory may be found through the websites of the Kansas State Historical Society and Territorial Kansas Online.

Early Feminism. In chapter two, Lucy discusses the ideas of Sarah Josepha Hale, an early proponent of education for women. In chapter three, Lucy speaks briefly with Clarina Nichols. Mrs. Nichols was an early proponent of voting rights for women. She attended every session of the constitutional convention at which the Topeka Convention was formed. How is Mamma’s role in the operation of the store unusual for this era?

Information for Kanzas Immigrants (online at http://archive.org/details/informationforka00webb ) This document enticed many people to travel to Kansas Territory with the help of the Boston Emigrant Aid Society. Like Lucy, many of them were disappointed that the reality of life in Lawrence was not quite what the pamphlet had described.

The Conquest of Kansas by Missouri and Her Allies by William Phillips (1856)  [This book is available online in PDF format through Google Books]. Phillips was a reporter for the New York Times. He traveled to the territory and stayed there through the early days of the struggle for freedom. His viewpoint is decidedly in favor of the free state cause, but his accounts of the early elections, through the Sack of Lawrence (1856), and the Pottawatomie Massacre by John Brown are fascinating.

Newspapers. The Kansas State Historical Society has a full listing of the newspapers of the territorial era. Additionally, Kansas City Kansas Community College has digitized many of the newspapers for online research. Students may be interested in reading both free state newspapers (like the Herald of Freedom and the Kansas Free State) and also proslavery newspapers (like the Squatter Sovereign) to compare their accounts of incidents that occurred during the era.

Extension activity: Have students imagine that they are newspaper reporters in Lawrence and write an article about some event that happens in A Voice for Kanzas. Some may also write about events from the proslavery perspective. Or, they may write a letter to the newspaper editor expressing an opinion on an issue or event.

Poetry Study and A Voice for Kanzas

Lucy enjoys reading poetry as well as writing it. She is familiar with the notable poets of her era such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe. Miss Kellogg introduces her to the poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier.

Students may enjoy sampling some poetry of the mid 1800s. Some instruction in poetic devices such as rhyme scheme notation and meter, as well as forms such as sonnets may help them recognize those elements in Lucy’s poems.

For discussion:

How do Lucy’s poems reflect the style of poetry of her era?

How do Lucy’s poems reflect her growth as a character as the story progresses?

Extension activity: Write a “Lucy” poem for a chapter that doesn’t already have one. Try to reflect Lucy’s emotion or reaction to the events in that chapter in the mood of your poem.

Encouraging student interest in history

We all know that our young friends may be less enthusiastic about historical subjects than we are.  That may be because their past study of the subject has consisted mostly of memorizing names and dates.  I must admit that was my own main objection to learning history when I was younger.

Below are some ideas you may find helpful in your history and/or language arts classroom:

Encourage students to read historical novels about the period they are studying.  This may help them get a more personal viewpoint of the time period.

If available, share with them journals of people (preferably kids their own age) from the time period.  Again, this can help them imagine what it was like to live through the era.

Help them find interesting websites and videos about the time period.  Check the For Further Reading lists at the ends of books.  Most will list kid-friendly websites.

Imaginary Community Project

I used this teaching unit very successfully with students in my high school classes.  I believe it could be successfully adapted for students at just about any grade level.  It combines history study, report writing, oral presentations, creative writing, and even newspaper design/writing.  It could be used in a language-arts classroom, a history classroom, or ideally, in a combination of both.  I used it in language arts, but coordinated with a history teacher who was covering the same era.

Teacher preparation:

First, choose an era pertinent to your class.  I used the unit with one class  reading Arthurian legends, and with a different class studying Kansas history/Westward settlement.  I have also known teachers who used it with Elizabethan-era study and it could also be used with Depression-era or World War II eras, etc.  The class creates an imaginary town in this time period, and each student becomes a fictional resident in the town.  Students create fictional stories of their individual characters in daily journals and culminate in creating a town newspaper.

I believe thorough teacher preparation is essential to the success of the unit.  Teachers must have a good overview of the historical material, so that they know what subjects their students should research, and they should also have a good idea of what to expect students to be able to find in their own school library and on the Internet.

Major components of the unit:

Historical overview:  This may be provided by the teacher, and may take the form of lecture, reading material, or film/video.  This should give students a general idea of the life of people in the era and some of the main events.  It should also give students an idea of what communities in the era were like, and what kinds of jobs people had.

Research reports:  Students may be given report topics individually or in pairs on limited subjects related to the era.  They will prepare oral reports which may include visual aids to help their classmates understand the subject.  For example, in a unit on pioneers, a student may prepare a report on covered wagons which would include the dimensions, outfitting, cost, etc. for this important vehicle.  The teacher may determine (according to the age and educational level of the students) how formal these reports should be.  The information given in the reports becomes realistic detail as students tell their characters’ stories. In my class, I spread these out so that each class began with one report giving factual information, and then students used that info in their fictional journals (see below).

Development of the imaginary community:  The students may locate and decide on a name for the town.  Each student imagines a character he or she will portray in the town.  The teacher can provide a character-development worksheet  on which students create the details of their characters:  Name, age, gender, occupation, etc.  One fun element is for each student to imagine a “secret” for his/her character.  Later, a directory is created listing all the characters and their details, and giving a hint of the secret without giving it away.  Students may work these other characters into their own stories.

Fictional journals:  Each day, allow students some time to write a journal.  The journal is in the fictional character’s voice, and tells a story of his/her own life and adventures.  My students really enjoyed this.  When I did this activity with my lowest-level classes, even students who always “hated” writing, would plead for more time when our 15 minutes of writing time was up!  Many of them willingly took their journals home to work more on them outside of class.

Community newspaper:  The class decided on a name for the newspaper, and students worked in groups to edit the major pages of the newspaper:  front page, local page, editorial page, society page, and classified ads.  You could include comics if you wanted to.  This gives students a chance to practice journalistic style for both factual and fictional events.  All students wrote for all parts of the paper; each group edited the page it worked on, and chose articles for it.  One of my favorites was for the Medieval newspaper:  “For Sale:  used coat of armor.  Hole in breast plate, needs repair.  Contact the family of the late Sir Michael.  Must sell.  All offers considered.”

You may even want to end the project with a class party in which students can share their stories and their characters’ secrets.  The length of time you choose for the total unit is up to you!  If you decide to use this idea, or have questions about it, I’d like to hear from you.


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