Teaching Materials Explore by time period, theme, reading level, and/or resource type.

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    • peoplevcolumbus
    • The People vs. Columbus, et al.

    • The People vs. Columbus, et al.

    • Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. 8 pages.
      Role play in the form of a trial to determine who is responsible for the death of millions of Tainos on the island of Hispaniola in the late 15th century.

    • Resource Types: Teaching Activity PDFs | Time Periods: Colonization: 1492 - 1764 | Themes: Imperialism, Native American | Reading Levels: High School
    • peoplevcolumbus spanish_download_buttonThis role play begins with the premise that a monstrous crime was committed in the years after 1492, when perhaps as many as three million or more Taínos on the island of Hispaniola lost their lives. (Most scholars estimate the number of people on Hispaniola in 1492 at between one and three million; some estimates are lower and some much higher. By 1550, very few Taínos remained alive.)

      Who — and/or what — was responsible for this slaughter? This is the question students confront here.

      The lesson begins as follows:

      1. In preparation for class, list the names of all the “defendants” on the board: Columbus, Columbus’ men, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Taínos, and the System of Empire.

      2. Tell students that each of these defendants is charged with murder — the murder of the Taíno Indians in the years following 1492. Tell them that, in groups, students will portray the defendants and that you, the teacher, will be the prosecutor. Explain that students’ responsibility will be twofold: a) to defend themselves against the charges, and b) to explain who they think is guilty and why.

      Download PDF for the rest of the procedures and the student roles.




      As you can see from the photos below, students become very engaged during the People vs. Columbus trial. (Teacher: Julian Hipkins, 11th grade at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Rick Reinhard, 2012.)

      This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in Rethinking Columbus. For more lessons like “The People Vs. Columbus, et al.,” order Rethinking Columbus with more than 80 essays, poems, interviews, historical vignettes, and lesson plans edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson. See Table of Contents.

    • got coal lesson
    • Got Coal? Teaching About the Most Dangerous Rock i...

    • Got Coal? Teaching About the Most Dangerous Rock in America

    • Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. A lesson examining the motives, goals, and environmental consequences of the coal mining industry.

    • Resource Types: Teaching Activity PDFs | Time Periods: 2001 - Present, 21st Century | Themes: Environment & Food | Reading Levels: Grades 6-8, High School
    • View teaching activity.

      The teaching activity is on the Rethinking Schools website.

      In 30 years of teaching, I’d never taught explicitly about coal. Coal appeared in my social studies curriculum solely as a labor issue. We read passages about the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of striking coal miners and their families in Colorado, and watched John Sayles’ excellent film Matewan when we looked at early-20th-century labor struggles. But coal was mostly invisible in my history classes.

      At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the world cannot afford this kind of curricular invisibility today. Forty percent of the main greenhouse gas produced in the United States, carbon dioxide, comes from burning coal for electricity; so does two-thirds of all the sulfur dioxide pollution. According to the American Lung Association, coal is responsible for 24,000 premature deaths every year. More than 50 percent of this country’s electricity comes from burning coal: more than a billion tons of coal every year—almost 20 pounds of coal burned each day for every person in the United States. And most coal mining in the United States these days is strip mining—the earth is essentially skinned alive to get at the coal seams within. Coal companies have sliced the tops off 500 mountains in Appalachia and dumped the waste in the valleys, burying 1,200 miles of streams and poisoning residents’ water. The term for this is mountaintop removal, and it’s not a metaphor.

      So I decided that it was time to break my curricular silence on coal.

      In this teaching activity, students have the opportunity first to play and later to analyze a game created by The American Coal Foundation. In this way they learn to think critically about the coal industry’s motives and goals. By writing creatively from the perspective of the coal-mining environment, its residents, and environmental activists, and by watching excerpts from films portraying the effects of U.S. coal mining after playing the game, students also expand their contextual knowledge of coal mining and its consequences. [Description by Bill Bigelow.] Continue reading.

      This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in an edition of Rethinking Schools magazine, “Climate Crisis in the Classroom,” (Spring 2011; Vol. 25, #3). For more articles and lessons like “Got Coal? Teaching About the Most Dangerous Rock in America,” order Rethinking Schools magazine, “Climate Crisis in the Classroom.” See Table of Contents.

    • RadicalDissentHelenKeller
    • The Truth About Helen Keller

    • The Truth About Helen Keller

    • Article for Teachers and High School Students. By Ruth Shagoury. 6 pages.
      A review of children’s picture books about the life of Helen Keller reveals the omission of any description of her active role in key social movements of the 20th century.

    • Resource Types: Articles | Time Periods: World War I: 1910 - 1919, 20th Century | Themes: Disability, Education, Women's History | Reading Levels: Adult, Grades 3-5, High School
    • picture-9It’s time to start telling the truth about Helen Keller. The “Helen Keller story” that is stamped in our collective consciousness freezes her in childhood. We remember her most vividly at age seven when her teacher, Annie Sullivan, connected her to language through a magical moment at the water pump. We learned little of her life beyond her teen years, except that she worked on behalf of the handicapped.

      But there is much more to Helen Keller’s history than a brilliant deaf and blind woman who surmounted incredible obstacles. Helen Keller worked throughout her long life to achieve social change; she was an integral part of many important social movements in the 20th century. She was a socialist who believed she was able to overcome many of the difficulties in her life because of her class privilege—a privilege not shared by most of her blind or deaf contemporaries. “I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment,” she said. “I have learned that the power to rise is not within the reach of everyone.”

      More than an icon of American “can-do,” Helen Keller was a tireless advocate of the poor and disenfranchised. Her life story could serve as a fascinating example for children, but most picture books about Helen Keller are woefully silent about her life’s work.

      Reprinted from Rethinking Popular Culture and Media (published by Rethinking Schools), edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy.

      Related Resources
      Americans Who Tell the Truth: Helen Keller: Painting by Robert Shetterly and short biography. The Radical Dissent of Helen Keller: An article in Yes! Magazine by Peter Dreier provides a biography of Helen Keller including her activism.
      KellerToGermanStudentsFinal Letter to German Students: Helen Keller’s blistering letter to students in Germany preparing to burn her books in 1933. Read related article at Slate.com.



    • A few of the unsung heroes featured in a lesson available online. Portraits from Americans Who Tell the Truth.
    • Unsung Heroes: Encouraging Students to Appreciate ...

    • Unsung Heroes: Encouraging Students to Appreciate Those Who Fought for Social Justice

    • Teaching Activity. Essay by Howard Zinn and lesson by Bill Bigelow. 11 pages.
      Students research and share stories about unsung heroes in U.S. history.

    • Resource Types: Teaching Activity PDFs | Time Periods: All US History | Themes: Civil Rights Movements, Organizing, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements, Women's History | Reading Levels: Grades 6-8, High School
    • Ella Baker, center. 1960.

      Schools help teach students who “we” are. And as Howard Zinn points out in his essay “Unsung Heroes,” too often the curricular “we” are the great slaveholders, plunderers, imperialists, and captains of industry of yesteryear.


      Dolores Huerta

      “You can no more win a war, than you can win an earthquake.” —Jeannette Rankin

      Thus when we teach about the genocide Columbus launched against the Taínos, or Washington’s scorched-earth war on the Iroquois, or even Abraham Lincoln’s promise in his first inaugural address to support a constitutional amendment making slavery permanent in Southern states, some students may experience this new information as a personal loss. In part, as Zinn suggests, this is because they’ve been denied a more honorable past with which to identify — one that acknowledges racism and exploitation, but also highlights courageous initiatives for social equality and justice. (Read how in the teaching activity by Bill Bigelow on the downloadable PDF that highlights unsung heroes such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Soldier, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, César Chávez, Sojourner Truth, Jeannette Rankin, Malcolm X, Elizabeth, Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Carlos Bulosan, William Lloyd Garrison, Sarah and Angelina, Grimké, Emma Goldman, Elaine Brown, Marcus Garvey, Black Panther Party for Self Defense, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Bessie Smith, Bernice Reagon, Queen Lili’uokalani, Nat Turner, Henry David Thoreau, Melba Pattillo Beals, Mickey Schwerner, James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Harvey Milk, Dolores Huerta, Fred Korematsu, Leonard Peltier, Mark Twain, Philip Berrigan, and Ella Baker.)

      Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)

      From the opening of the “Unsung Heroes” essay by Howard Zinn: “A high school student recently confronted me: “I read in your book A People’s History of the United States about the massacres of Indians, the long history of racism, the persistence of poverty in the richest country in the world, the senseless wars. How can I keep from being thoroughly alienated and depressed?”

      Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

      It’s a question I’ve heard many times before. Another question often put to me by students is: Don’t we need our national idols? You are taking down all our national heroes — the Founding Fathers, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy. Granted, it is good to have historical figures we can admire and emulate. But why hold up as models the 55 rich white men who drafted the Constitution as a way of establishing a government that would protect the interests of their class — slaveholders, merchants, bondholders, land speculators?

      Why not recall the humanitarianism of William Penn, an early colonist who made peace with the Delaware Indians instead of warring on them, as other colonial leaders were doing?” (Continue reading this essay by Howard Zinn on the downloadable PDF.)


      This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in Rethinking Our Classrooms, Volume 2: Teaching For Equity and Justice. For more lessons like “Unsung Heroes: Encouraging Students to Appreciate Those Who Fought for Social Justice,” order Rethinking Our Classrooms, Vol. 2 with a rich new collection of from-the-classroom articles, curriculum ideas, lesson plans, poetry, and resources – all grounded in the realities of school life, edited by Bill Bigelow, Brenda Harvey, and Stan Karp. See Table of Contents.


    • picture-14
    • ‘What We Want, What We Believe’: Teaching with...

    • ‘What We Want, What We Believe’: Teaching with the Black Panthers’ Ten Point Program

    • Teaching Activity. By Wayne Au. 7 pages.
      The author describes how he used a study of the Black Panther’s Ten Point Program to help students assess issues in their own communities and to develop Ten Point Programs of their own.

    • Resource Types: Teaching Activity PDFs | Time Periods: People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974, 20th Century | Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Organizing, Racism & Racial Identity | Reading Levels: High School
    • picture-14spanish_download_buttonDuring the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, in particular, community self-determination was central to many peoples’ struggles. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense sought social justice for African Americans and other oppressed communities through a combination of revolutionary theory, education, and community programs.

      Their party platform, better known as the Ten Point Program, arose from the Black Panthers’ assessment of the social and economic conditions in their community. It became part of the party’s philosophical backbone and served as a model for many other community groups such as the Brown Berets, the Young Lords, and the Red Guard.

      I taught about the Panthers in the context of a high school African Studies class in Seattle that focused on African history and the experience of the Diaspora. Of the 30 working- and middle-class students, most of them 10th graders, 25 were African American, four were white, and one was Chicana. When I teach about the Black Power Movement, I try to connect the movement to today’s issues. One way is by having students review the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Program and develop their own personal versions of the program. This lesson, of course, has to take place within the context of a larger unit on the Panthers and African American history in general.

      This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in an edition of Rethinking Schools magazine, (Fall 2001; Vol. 16, #1). See Table of Contents.



    • japaneseamericaninternment
    • A Lesson on the Japanese American Internment

    • A Lesson on the Japanese American Internment

    • Teaching Activity. By Mark Sweeting. 4 pages.
      How one teacher engaged his students in a critical examination of the language used in textbooks to describe the internment.

    • Resource Types: Teaching Activity PDFs | Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944, 20th Century | Themes: Asian American, Democracy & Citizenship, Education, Laws & Citizen Rights, Racism & Racial Identity, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements | Reading Levels: High School
    • japaneseamericaninternmentWorld War II, like so many other events in history, presents the teacher with an overwhelming range of topics. The rise of Nazism and fascism in Europe, the Holocaust, the military history and diplomacy of the war, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war in the Pacific, the Nuremberg Trials, the dropping of atomic bombs, the beginnings of the Cold War — there is no way to cover all these events in a typical month-long unit.

      One event that invariably gets neglected is the war-time internment of Japanese Americans from the West Coast of the United States. The reasons are numerous. But I suspect the main reason is that serious investigation of the internment would contradict the traditional presentation of the U.S. role in the war — how U.S. ingenuity and power turned back Hitler, liberated the concentration camps, halted Japanese expansionism, and generally fought the good fight. Such an interpretation does not leave much room for aberrations, particularly one as anti-democratic as the Japanese internment.

      This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in Rethinking Our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice (Volume 2). For more lessons like “A Lesson on the Japanese American Internment,” order Rethinking Our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice (Volume 2) with a rich collection of from-the-classroom articles, curriculum ideas, lesson plans, poetry, and resources, edited by Bill Bigelow, Brenda Harvey, and Stan Karp. See Table of Contents.


    • A People's History for the Classroom
    • A People's History For the Classroom

    • A People’s History For the Classroom

    • Teaching Guide. By Bill Bigelow. 2008.120 pages.
      Lessons to introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of U.S. history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula. Published by Rethinking Schools.

    • Resource Types: Teaching Guides | Time Periods: All US History | Themes: Education |
    • A People’s History for the Classroom helps teachers introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of U.S. history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula.

      It includes an introductory essay by veteran teacher Bill Bigelow on teaching strategies that align with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

      These exemplary teaching articles and lesson plans—drawn from an assortment of Rethinking Schools publications—emphasize the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history, and raise important questions about patterns of wealth and power throughout U.S. history.

      An understanding of the “people’s history of the United States” provides the perspective and analytical tools so important for making sense of—and improving—today’s world.

      A People’s History for the Classroom was produced by Rethinking Schools in cooperation with Teaching for Change, as part of the Zinn Education Project.

      ISBN: 9780942961393.


      “I can think of no better way to excite young people about the history of our country than to introduce them to the teaching activities in A People’s History for the Classroom.” —Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States

    • bhh
    • Beyond Heroes and Holidays

    • Beyond Heroes and Holidays

    • Teaching Guide. Edited by Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart and Margo Okazawa-Rey. 2006. 436 pages. Guide for teachers, administrators, and parents shows how teach from a multicultural perspective that goes beyond the superficial “heroes and holidays” approach.

    • Resource Types: Teaching Guides | Reading Levels: Adult
    • bhhA Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development

      This award winning interdisciplinary guide for teachers, administrators, students, and parents offers lessons and readings that show how to:

      - Analyze the roots of racism
      - Investigate the impact of racism on all our lives, our families, and our communities
      - Examine the relationship between racism and other forms of oppression such as sexism, classism, and heterosexism
      - Learn to work to dismantle racism in our schools, communities, and the wider society.

      Beyond Heroes and Holidays has sold over 45,000 copies to date and is used as a core curriculum in college courses.

      ISBN: 9781878554178 | Published by Teaching for Change.

    • people
    • A People's History of the United States: 1492 - Pr...

    • A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present

    • Books – Non-fiction. By Howard Zinn. 2005. 702 pages.
      Howard Zinn’s groundbreaking work on U.S. history. This book details the lives and facts that are rarely included in textbooks — an indispensable teacher and student resource.

    • Resource Types: Books: Non-Fiction | Time Periods: Colonization: 1492 - 1764, Revolution & Constitution: 1765 - 1799, Early 19th Century: 1800 - 1849, Civil War Era: 1850 - 1864, Reconstruction Period: 1865 - 1876, Industrial Revolution: 1877 - 1899, Turn of the Century: 1900 - 1909, World War I: 1910 - 1919, Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944, Cold War: 1945 - 1960, People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974, Post-Civil Rights Era: 1975 - 2000, 2001 - Present, All US History | Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Democracy & Citizenship, Economics, Education, Immigration, Imperialism, Labor, Laws & Citizen Rights, Native American, Organizing, Racism & Racial Identity, Slavery, Social Class, US Foreign Policy, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements, Women's History | Reading Levels: Adult, High School
    • People's History of the United StatesSince its original landmark publication in 1980, A People’s History of the United States has been chronicling American history from the bottom up.

      Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People’s History is the only volume to tell America’s story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. As historian Howard Zinn shows, many of our country’s greatest battles—the fights for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women’s rights, racial equality—were carried out at the grassroots level, against bloody resistance. Covering Christopher Columbus’s arrival through President Clinton’s first term, A People’s History of the United States features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history.

      Library Journal calls Howard Zinn’s iconic A People’s History of the United States “a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those. . . whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories.” Packed with vivid details and telling quotations, Zinn’s award-winning classic continues to revolutionize the way American history is taught and remembered.

      Frequent appearances in popular media, like The Sopranos, The Simpsons, Good Will Hunting, and the History Channel documentary The People Speak, testify to Zinn’s ability to bridge the generation gap with enduring insights into the birth, development, and destiny of the nation. [Publisher's description.]

      More than two million copies sold.


      Quotes and Reviews

      “It’s a wonderful, splendid book—a book that should be read by every American, student or otherwise, who wants to understand his country, its true history, and its hope for the future.” —Howard Fast, author of Spartacus and The Immigrants

      “[It] should be required reading.” —Eric Foner, for the New York Times Book Review

      I remember first reading A People’s History of the United States while on a train going to work. After reading about how the Tainos had their hands cut off when they didn’t bring back enough gold, I had to put the book down. I felt betrayed by our education system. I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of this before, especially as a man in his mid-twenties. From that point forward I decided that if I ever had the opportunity to teach, I would use this book as the classroom textbook. A People’s History of the United States allows citizens to confront the most unpleasant acts of the past in order to gain strength to move on into the future. Julian Hipkins III, Washington, D.C., High School U.S. History Teacher

      Because of this book, I understood early in my college career the importance of the true, unfiltered words of the actual actors in a historical event. As a result, I was drawn further into the study of history and, eventually, into my career as a history teacher. What A People’s History brought to my attention is that American history is much more interesting than that. Our history is an exciting, sometimes appalling, struggle for power and that makes us just like every other country that has ever existed. . . . A long list of “good guys” with no one to struggle with is neither a true story nor a good story. It doesn’t resonate because it leads the student to believe that we are all waiting for the next exceptional leader, instead of becoming a force for change in our own communities. A People’s History helped me recognize this as a student of history and inspires my attempt to bring true stories to young people, weary of the inaccessible lists that history teaching has become. —Reynolds Bodenhamer, Gulfport, Mississippi, 11th-Grade U.S. History Teacher

      Read more quotes from teachers about the impact of Howard Zinn and A People’s History of the United States on their work.

      ISBN: 9780060838652 | Published by HarperCollins.

      Table of Contents

      Chapter 1. Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress

      Chapter 2. Drawing the Color Line

      Chapter 3. Persons of Mean and Vile Condition

      Chapter 4. Tyranny Is Tyranny

      Chapter 5. A Kind of Revolution

      Chapter 6. The Intimately Oppressed

      Chapter 7. As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs

      Chapter 8. We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God

      Chapter 9. Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom

      Chapter 10. The Other Civil War

      Chapter 11. Robber Barons and Rebels

      Chapter 12. The Empire and the People

      Chapter 13. The Socialist Challenge

      Chapter 14. War Is the Health of the State

      Chapter 15. Self-help in Hard Times

      Chapter 16. A Peoples War?

      Chapter 17. Or Does It Explode?

      Chapter 18. The Impossible Victory: Vietnam

      Chapter 19. Surprises

      Chapter 20. The Seventies: Under Control?

      Chapter 21. Carter-Reagan-Bush: The Bipartisan Consensus

      Chapter 22. The Unreported Resistance

      Chapter 23. The Coming Revolt of the Guards

      Chapter 24. The Clinton Presidency

      Chapter 25. The 2000 Election and the “War on Terrorism”



    • The People Speak-Extended Version DVD
    • The People Speak - Extended Edition - DVD

    • The People Speak – Extended Edition – DVD

    • Film. Directed by Howard Zinn, Chris Moore and Anthony Arnove. 2009. 110 minutes.
      Dramatic readings and performances based on “Voices of a People’s History” and “A People’s History of the United States.”

    • Resource Types: Films | Time Periods: All US History | Themes: Democracy & Citizenship, Labor, Organizing, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements, Women's History | Reading Levels: Adult, Grades 6-8, High School
    • "The People Speak" film is a wonderful classroom companion. Directed by Howard Zinn, it offers dramatic readings and performances based on "Voices of a People’s History" and "A People’s History of the United States."The People Speak, the feature documentary inspired by A People’s History of the United States and based on live readings of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, offers readings and performances of letters, diary entries, speeches, and songs from throughout U.S. history. Narrated by Howard Zinn, this DVD is an extended version of the film that aired on the History Channel in December 2009. This is an essential resource for every history teacher.

      The extended edition of the film features dramatic readings by Matt Damon, Danny Glover, Kerry Washington, Viggo Mortensen, Sandra Oh, Sean Penn, Lupe Fiasco, Rosario Dawson, Don Cheadle, Michael Ealy, and Staceyann Chin, and musical performances by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, and many other noted artists. View the full list of chapters, performers, readings, and songs.



      Film Trailer

      Selected individual performances (including some from the film and others) that can be used in the classroom are online at Voices of a People’s History.

      Using the Film in the Classroom

      Send us your stories to share about how you have used the film with students.

      I have organized my interdisciplinary 2 credit American Studies course around the theme of American identity; for the midterm student must write an essay showing the evolution of our identity, using specific history and literature examples which they explain and analyze from 3 of our 5 units. Throughout the course, they read A Peoples’ History of the United States as a companion to their textbook. I use The People Speak as a transition from the first part of the course which goes from the Puritans to 1900 and the second semester which goes from the turn of the century to the present. —Deb Springhorn, Lebanon High School, Lebanon, NH

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