It’s the Bee’s Knees: Examining Clashing Cultures in the Roaring Twenties 

roaring twenties
Russell Patterson: Where there’s smoke there’s fire, ca. 1925. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)B

By Ceci Brunning and Jenna Bunnell 

Originally, we were going to do our DBQ project on the emergence of flappers in the 1920s.  However, we decided that this topic was too specific, and thus decided to focus more broadly on the social tensions of the 1920s.  The 1920s were a decade full of controversial changes that some people embraced and others fought.  It was truly a war of cultures, and examining documents from the “Roaring Twenties” exposes how these cultures clashed and what it meant for the future of Americans.

We plan to use a variety of primary sources. These include video clips, which were relatively new in the 1920s.  We also plan to use photographs, samples of literature, and magazine articles.  We chose these types of sources because they are reflective of the popular culture. They include both positive and negative reactions to the shifting societal norms.

scopes trial
Newspaper headline highlighting the Scopes Monkey Trial
  • To what degree was the 1920s defined by a clash of cultures in America?
  • Why did societal norms shift so dramatically after World War I?
  • What societal tensions emerged during the 1920s as a result of societal norms shifting?
  • What groups promoted dramatic change in society? What groups fought to preserve the past?
  • How were tensions between these groups demonstrated?

We see this assignment as the equivalent of a large lab experiment for a historian. We want these students to learn how to examine primary sources and make and argument based on their observations.  The DBQ projects gives students a chance to do this on a larger scale, because it involves so many primary sources.  This is not to say that it is more work, but it is actually an advantage for students because they have more evidence to base their argument off of.  Additionally, it gives students a chance to do what historians do.

We are very excited about this project because the 1920s is a fun, radical, scandalous topic.  There are also a lot of resources out there that we can use to model our DBQ.  One setback is that there are almost too many sources that could work for our topic, so a challenge will be sifting through the sources and determining which ones we want to use.

Arriving in the Land of Plenty

ellis island
Title: U.S. inspectors examining eyes of immigrants, Ellis Island, New York Harbor Date Created/Published: New York : Underwood & Underwood, c1913.

Accessed: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Target Students: 9th through 12th grade (Questions can be revised to reflect grade level and content studied)

Historic Skills: Sourcing and Corroboration

Primary Source: This is an excerpt from the Poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, 1883. An inscription of the poem was later added to the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Island in 1903.

new colossus
Title: The New Colossus Author: Emma Lazarus, 1883.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Accessed: Library of Congress 

Questions Pertaining to Sourcing:

Sourcing Question: The excerpt from Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus” is indicative of the millions of immigrants that emigrated through Ellis Island and is useful in understanding the experiences of and attitudes towards immigrants . Do you agree or disagree? Use evidence from the source to support your answer.

Guiding Questions: Who wrote this? What is the author’s perspective? When was it written? Where was it written? Why was it written? Is it reliable? Why? Why not?

Title: Our Immigrants at Ellis Island; An exercise prepared for young people and descriptive of the reception, inspection, and experiences of our immigrants in the detention room and railway offices Author: Mrs. Francis E. Clark, 1912.

The following are a few excerpts from a book called “ Our Immigrants at Ellis Island” by Mrs. Francis E. Clark, a member of the United Society of Christian Endeavour, 1912. The book was meant to educate young Americans on the hardships and experiences associated with immigration during the late 19th and early 20th century by using real immigrant examples.

Accessed: The Library of Congress

Primary Sources: 

  1. T.D. : Temporarily Detained
  2. E: Excluded
  3. O.K. : All right



Questions Pertaining to Corroboration:

Question #1:Explain why a historian may or may not agree with the way in which Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus” describes the experiences of and attitudes towards all immigrants who came through Ellis Island.

Question #2: Using the examples of immigrants from the book “Our Immigrants from Ellis Island” decide whether or not these sources can support Emma Lazarus’ take on immigration in “The New Colossus.” If the sources are not supportive, explain why not.

Description of the Lesson:

This mini-lesson allows students to source a primary document and then find supportive evidence from other primary documents to support or challenge the information being presented in the first primary source. Students are essentially being asked to compare and contrast the differences between a fictionalized account of immigration and actual accounts of immigration while remaining critical of the sources’ origins. The students will be able to interact with the primary sources and ask questions of the primary sources.


Creating a lesson comprised entirely of primary sources leaves the history geek inside of me very content. The SHEG model really allows students to interact with primary source material and engage with material that is often neglected in a more teacher-centered classroom. By giving students an opportunity to analyze the sources directly, they not only take responsibility for their own learning, but are able to make prior connections to what they may already know. A primary source is like a window into another time and another place. In order to understand these windows, it’s essential to learn how to think and analyze like a historian. By teaching students to practice essential historian skills like sourcing, corroboration, and context, one can ensure that the students see the whole picture. I’m very excited to be using primary source material in a way that gives students a chance to grapple with their own opinions and interpretations of history.

Facts or Fiction? There’s a Genre for that!


Lesson Study 1: Sixth Grade Book Genres


Throughout the year my sixth grade Language Arts class is introduced to different genres of books so that they can practice how to best read the material for comprehension and overall enjoyment. By the end of the year, the goal is for each student to read at least one book from the different genres discussed. This introductory lesson is meant to familiarize the students with the concept of literary genre as well as facilitate a discussion about how to categorize books into specific categories based on the book’s content. Take note, this lesson is meant to span over two or three days so the students will be able to really solidify their understanding of genre as a concept and a tool to use throughout the school year.


Students are accustomed to completing a daily warm up in their composition notebooks each day. Today the warm up will be more open- ended in that students will be asked to give their opinion. The question they must answer will probably go something like this:

What makes a book interesting to you? What are your favorite parts of this interesting book? Take the next five minutes to list as many different reasons as you can for why you like this book. You don’t have to write in complete sentences.

After a short while, I will ask the students to share their opinions with their table groups on what the word ‘genre’ means and how the students’ descriptor words that they came up with in their warm up might help put books into different subject categories.

After the students are done sharing within their table groups, I will hand out a quick little handout that gives a brief overview of the different components of each genre. The handout will provide an overarching definition of genre at the top and list the various other types of genres. The students will be able to use this as a guide in case they forget a particular genre throughout the school year. I will choose random students to read through the genre definitions at this time.

But wait! There’s more!  The students will then be given a task to create a poster for around the room. They will create these in a group and will be assigned one particular genre from a list of genres at random. Using the given definition and their own brainstorms from their warm up, the students will be asked to create a poster that describes their particular genre. They will be given magazines, markers, glue, and whatever craft supplies their hearts’ desire to create a poster that gives examples of the genre along with key words associated with the genre. This will take some time to accomplish but once the posters are finished the students will be hang them up around the room. The posters will be a visual guide for the students so that they can quickly recognize different parts of different genres. The groups will then share their genres with the whole class and essentially ‘teach’ their peers all about their genre and the key words associated with the genre as well as give some examples from their poster.


The students will have a produced a poster that shows their understanding of their particular genre. Because this is a pretty lengthy introductory lesson, the overall goal is to connect students’ own understanding of a particular genre with terms and examples they already know.  The students should be given an opportunity to create their own idea of what a particular genre entails by using words and images that they understand. The idea is to create a foundation in which the students are asked to make their own connections to that is relevant and useful to them in the future.


At the end of the first day of this lesson, I will assign the students to write a one page reflection in their composition notebooks about genre for homework. This reflection will ask the students to pick their favorite genre and explain why it is they like that particular genre using the key words and images they talked about in class. The students will also include their least favorite genre and why they don’t like it/ have trouble with it. Their reflection should include insight as to how the student can use genres as reading tools for categorization in Language Arts. This is somewhat informal in that I will use these to judge the lesson plans and provide the supports needed to the students who have difficulty understanding different categories of genres. The more formal evaluation will be the poster which will be grade mostly on content and originality as opposed to presentation and style.

What kinds of thinking will the students need to do to participate in the lesson?

Overall the students will need to:

  • Know the content
  • Differentiate or comprehend the differences between different genres
  • Create a visual aid that explains the particular genre using students’ own key words and phrases
  • Reflect on their own opinions and preferences about genres and how they can use genre as a reading tool in Language Arts

To what extent do the students have options or choices regarding these lesson components?

While I must provide the lesson materials, the students autonomy really boils down to the creation of their posters and the discussions they lead within their table groups. The group discussion is essential to creating an understanding between peers. Not only will discussion facilitate cooperation, but also give kids to share their different insights and concerns about the concept. The lesson is structured, but is also give the kids a chance to create a tool that will best suit them in understanding the content.


When I first set out to create this lesson plan I had an idea about how I wanted to incorporate more student autonomy into the process and finished product. What came out of my lesson was a snarling monster of note-taking and fill-in-the- blank that would have stifled my students’ creativity and essentially smashed any dreams of them owning their own education. So I did what felt right, and I deleted that lesson study. I threw it out, emptied my virtual trash can, and never looked back. Lesson #1 learned from our peer editing class was something simple and yet crucial to being effective and engaging in the classroom: Throw things out. Start over. Invent that new wheel. And if your lesson plans turn into yet another snarling monster that needs to be tamed, you fight it head on and start over. Your kids will thank you one day for saving them from the burden of a lesson plan that didn’t require their special talents in defeating a particularly hard concept.

Lesson #2 learned through the peer evaluation process required the lesson plans to be tamed rather than slain. The valuable information that I received from my two peer reviewers helped me to see the flaws I was dealing with in my lesson plan. The information may have been there, the delivery and student participation were minimal at best. Thanks to my two evaluators, I was able to take a step back and see how the lesson was relevant to my students. Were they making their own choices? Were they being allowed to use what they already know and construct their own ideas about the concepts learned? Were they allowed to interact with peers during the lesson? It’s these sorts of questions that I should have been answering in my first set of failed lesson plans and the same questions that I hoped to address in my second, improved lesson plan.

Photo title: Rural Wales needs £16,000,000

Photographer: Geoff Charles (1909-2002)

Accessed:  Europeana Libraries Project