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[Detail] Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, Manhattan, New York, NY

Overview | Preparation | Procedure | Evaluation

Lesson Procedure


Entry Level Skills and Knowledge

A basic understanding of Internet research, knowledge of search terms to navigate Library of Congress digital content, and reasonable facility with multimedia tools are needed.

When working with archival collections students must think like historians and archivists. Resources from the Teachers Page can help students get started. Acquaint students with the unique qualities of primary resources. You may want to create or use a set of primary sources to help students understand the process of primary source analysis.

If this is the first time you have used the Library of Congress collections, it will be helpful to consult the Using Primary Sources section of the Teacher Page. It may also be helpful to use the Collection Connections section to help understand and use specific American Memory collections.

Organizational Requirements

Define the scope of the project:

Before introducing the lesson, or as a class, define the scope of the historical research conducted in this project. Will teams gather material from a specific decade? Will they work with a single American Memory collection? Will research be guided by a theme, such as immigration? Will research be linked to literature the class is reading?

Determine desired learning outcomes:

What do you expect your students to know and be able to do when they have completed the activities. Create an assessment rubric for students based on your expectations.

Determine required learning product(s):

You may want students to create a Web page, a multimedia product, a video, or a contribution to the transformation of their classroom into a Decades Museum. Whatever format the student product may take, students should present and defend their ideas.


Engage students:

Invite students to begin their inquiry by considering the dreams of today and the dreamers of the present. Next, use The Library of Congress collections to learn about our cultural heritage and find evidence of the dreamers in our collective history. Finally, ask your students to compare their own dreams to the dreams of those who lived before them. Students should understand that history is the continuing story of human experience, the stories of people like themselves. Help students to understand that as they define and pursue their own dreams, they create the future of our nation and the world.


Introduce students to the student lesson pages. Divide your class into learning teams and assign roles and responsibilities.

Each team will select (or be assigned) a research role (photographer, lawyer, poet, politician, producer, comedian, musician). Each student will work as part of the team to complete the project. Remind students that while they each have specific tasks, all team members pitch in and help one another. Provide time for students to explore the student page of the project.

Team Description Product
Photographer With your artful eye, you capture the images of the American Dream. Design a photo essay that shows the American Dream. Show how the Dream has been affected by time, cultural influences, and significant historical events.
Lawyer Your passion for controversy and debate guide your vision of the American Dream. Prepare a legal brief about the status of the American Dream. (Legal brief includes: title, who vs. whom, statement of facts, argument, conclusion, references.)
Poet Using your poetic grasp of language, you seek out the heart and soul of the American Dream. Create a poet's notebook that shows the American Dream. Your notebook includes samples of your poetry that shows how the "Dream" has been affected by time, cultural influences, and significant historical events.
Politician With a finger on the pulse of the American people, you trace significant political events that shape the American Dream. Write and deliver a speech that traces the political events that shape the American Dream. Your speech shows how the "Dream" has been affected by political response to cultural influences and significant historical events.
Producer Lights, camera, action! You show the story of the American Dream through stories, films, and a script for a movie. Make a storyboard for your movie. Sequence the scenes to produce a movie of the American Dream.
Comedian You find the irony in the American Dream. Write a standup comic script or create a political cartoon or comic strip that expresses irony or the humorous side of the American Dream.
Musician With your ear for melody, you play the music of the American Dream. Write the sheet music or record music that characterizes the American Dream based upon your research.
Reporter On the newsbeat you report and chronicle the events which shape the American Dream. Write a news article that reports the results of your research on the American Dream. (Article includes: title, who, what, when, where, and how.) Your news article describes the events that have shaped the American Dream through the decades.


Individual responsibilities might include:

  • Team Manager
    As team manager you have full responsibility for this team. You will manage all aspects of the project by assisting the research, production, and archive managers in meeting their obligations to complete the project. Excellent interpersonal and management skills are required. You are ultimately responsible for helping the team meet the project deadline.
  • Research Manager
    Your job is key to the success of this project. You can shape the research by using focus questions. You will assist others in finding just the right quote, picture, or sound bite. Your team will rely on effective use of your detective and inquiry skills as you search the collections.
  • Production Manager
    You will lead the group in building the final product. You must gather materials from your archive manager and work with the researcher during production. You must be flexible and resourceful as you work and assist others with last minute changes; manage graphics, sound or movie clips; and deal with the unexpected occurrences of creating a product.
  • Archive Manager
    Excellent organizational skills make this job a challenge. You will keep track of all materials for the team and check to be sure that resources are compatible. For example, are your sound clips in the correct format? You will keep the original files, and back up files, and organize the the final project.

Building Background Knowledge and Skills 

(suggested- 2 class periods)

Anticipatory Set:

Link to students' prior knowledge and work with them to develop a concept of the traditional "American Dream." Use the "What Is the American Dream?" essay to initiate a discussion (either as a whole class or in team groups).

You may wish to have your students conduct interviews, explore other readings, engage in further class discussions, or hear guest speakers. Pair them to brainstorm: What do you already know about the American Dream? They might use paper or visual thinking software to record ideas and then share them with the learning team members in their groups.

Primary Source Analysis:

Before students begin their research, review strategies for analyzing primary source materials. Each student team will work with a set of pre-selected materials. Students analyze the materials recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

Each team will analyze its assigned primary source.
Photographer - Mr. & Mrs. David Vincent and daughter, Martha, by their sod house
Poet - "Dedication," Robert Frost's presidential inaugural poem, 20 January 1961
Politician - "Americanism", Harding, Warren G. (Warren Gamaliel), 1865-1923
Producer - Arrival of immigrants, Ellis Island
Lawyer - Petition for change of venue, 1886 June 10, Evidence from the Haymarket Affair, 1886-1887
Comedian - Katzenjammer Kids: "Policy and pie"
Musician - The old cabin home. H. De Marsan, Publisher, 54 Chatham Street, New York
Reporter - The Independent gazetteer, or, The chronicle of freedom, 1788

Researching Online and Gathering Primary Resources

(suggested - 5 class periods)

  • Team organization and accountability:

    Guide students in choosing a research role and developing an action plan. One strategy is to assign roles, such as team manager, research manager, production manager or archive manager. Support students as needed in identifying tasks to be completed and drafting a timeline.

    Possible considerations during research might include:

    • Theme or Topic: What is your focus for inquiry? Identify your research topic or theme.
    • Research Questions: What questions will focus your research? List a series of questions you intend to answer to focus your research. What additional information do you need to answer these questions?
    • Primary Sources: How will you know you've found what you are looking for? List the type of resources you intend to look for to answer your research questions. What primary resources from the Library of Congress will you search for?
    • Evidence: How do you know that the examples you've found are valid? Once you have located a few examples of primary sources, what are your criteria for selecting these as evidence?


    You may require each team to keep a "research log" of work accomplished during each work session to help students stay focused and, later, to help in the evaluative process.

  • Review the assessment questions:

    Choose the questions that will provide a focus for the project. Students can use these questions to guide their research.

    • Gathering primary sources:

      As a class, create and continually add to, a list of "tried and true" search terms. Remind students that the Library of Congress Web site is a collection of collections. It is not encyclopedic and it simply does not have "everything." If an initial search does not yield desired results, guide students in how they can narrow or refocus the search. Your schedule may limit students to visiting only the suggested collections and provided links for each team. As possible, however, encourage them to identify additional items in the Library of Congress collections and to expand their resources with other sources.

    • Begin independent team exploration.

      Supply students with primary source analysis tools to use to record their growing set of evidence. Allow at least two (more preferred) days/class periods for exploration and research.

Creating the Learning Product

Students can produce a variety of products to demonstrate their interpretation of the material. Public or private Web sites, podcasting, digital narratives, video documentaries, slide shows, oral presentations, booklets or newspapers, or museum display within the classroom of print documents, multimedia, and realia are all excellent vehicles for students to share their learning.

Creating and refining a final learning product that allows students to represent, present and defend their ideas about the American Dream is the tangible outcome of this project. Allow plenty of time for this vital phase. (Having students add what transpires during this phase of the project to their research log can provide useful insight in the  evaluation process.)

Reinforce ethical use of the Internet by requiring that proper citation and/or bibliographical entry be used for all collected print and Internet resources.

Developing a Personal Dream for their Future

(1 class period)

When students have completed their research and have produced and presented the products that share their learning, they can be invited to consider their own American Dream – for themselves, their families and loved ones, their community, their nation and the world. Encourage students to give serious thought and honest expression to their hopes and dreams for the future. For inspiration, they may wish to view the Wall of Dreams contributed by other students.


Who are the dreamers that inspire us today? Ask students to read about or interview others who have a dream. Enrich this project with your own web resources, books, movie clips, interviews, or guest speakers.