This activity supports Disciplinary Literacy in Social Studies — Thinking Like a Historian — Turning Points. Adapted from the Wisconsin Historical Society lesson plan “An ‘American Letter’ by Norwegian Immigrants.”
Grade level: Appropriate for grades 4-12 with teacher modifications.
Duration: Two class periods.
1) Have students search Recollection Wisconsin to find letters and diaries composed by European immigrants and/or other early settlers in Wisconsin. To find letters and diaries from immigrants and settlers through Recollection Wisconsin:
- Explore our online exhibit “Wisconsin Memoirs.”
- Explore the Wisconsin Pioneer Experience, a digital collection of diaries, letters, reminiscences, speeches and other writings of people who settled Wisconsin during the 19th century.
2) After students have read several examples of letters and diaries, ask the following questions to prompt discussion:
- What was the author’s intent in writing this letter or diary entry?
- Are there favorable comments concerning America and/or Americans?
- What is it about Wisconsin that seemed to most impress the main author?
- Are there important events in Wisconsin (or the United States) that the author mentions?
- Consider the author’s overall views on life, work, family, health, death, and the status of men versus women in society. How have these views changed or remained the same?
- How did the author’s decision to leave home narrow or eliminate his or her choices?
- How did this decision to leave change his or her life?
- What makes leaving one’s home for another state or another country a turning point for an individual or a family?
3) Then have students select a letter and write a response to it, either from their own modern perspective or from the historical perspective of someone such as the letter writer’s family member or friend.