19th century letter

Lesson 1
What I Know/Want to Know About Communication

  • Time Required: 90 minutes
  • Curriculum Fits: History and English/Language Arts

Lesson Overview

This lesson provides an opportunity to activate students’ prior knowledge and begin to generate questions that will focus research. Students engage in an active dialogue about the methods of long distance communication then and now and create a research plan.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will summarize their current understanding of communication in 1850 and today.
  • Students will formulate research questions about communication in 1850 and today.
  • Students will formulate effective research plans.
  • Students will reflect on their expectations and experience with the research process.


  • student worksheet: KWL Graphic Organizer
  • student worksheet: Job List Form
  • accordion folders, shoe box or other storage containers
  • writing materials, post-its, paper clips, binder clips, index cards etc.
  • blackboard or Smart Board


  1. Break the class into several working groups explaining to students that they will work within their groups for the duration of the unit. Explain the following set of expectations for the unit:
    • Students can do work outside of class on their own, but in-class work will be completed within their groups.
    • In each class period, there will be a mini-lesson led by the teacher. These mini-lessons will introduce information, techniques, questions, and ideas that the groups can use in their research.
    • Each class period the group will assign duties to each group member, recording those names on the Job List Form in their storage container. A significant portion of each student’s grade will reflect how well the student performed his/her “job.”
    • Each class period, each research group will be responsible for completing a research journal entry, updating their research plan (if necessary), and reporting to the class.
  2. Give each group a storage container (accordion folder, box etc.) to collect their materials in over the course of the unit. Each group should have a copy of the Job List Form to keep in their storage container for use during subsequent class periods.
  3. Hand out the KWL Graphic Organizer. Explain that the “K” column is for information they already know, the “W” column is for the questions they want to know the answers to and that the “L” column is for what they will be learning.
  4. Ask each group to complete the first two columns of the organizer, filling in what they know about long distance communication in 1850 and today, and brainstorming 8 questions they would like to investigate for further learning. Allow approximately 15-20 minutes for this activity.
  5. Bring the class back together for a group sharing of their results. Write their contributions on a whole class KWL chart on the board, combining similar questions and adding any that may have been overlooked. Provide each student with a copy of the class KWL chart and each group with a copy to include in their storage container.
  6. Give students time in their small groups to begin working on research plans. Each group should define its research question(s), possible resources and research steps they will take. Once they’ve done this, have each group share their plan with the larger group for feedback allowing time for revision as they consider new ideas. Post the plans on the classroom wall for future reference.


Before leaving class, each student will be asked to hand in a brief written statement about what they feel may be challenging or especially interesting about the upcoming unit.

Homework Assignment

  • Choose one question from the “W” column of the KWL Chart and begin research, following your group’s plan.
  • Bring the information you gather to the next class.
  • Write a ½-1 page journal entry about your research experience. Was it easier than you expected? More challenging?