Being An American
American Heroes: Past and Present
One fifty-minute class period
Students will examine how a diverse group of Americans have exemplified the responsibilities of citizenship. Students will consider how these historic figures defended the principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights through their choices and actions.
A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.
Inalienable / Natural Rights
Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.
Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.
The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.
Representative / Republican Government
Form of government in which the people are sovereign (the ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.
Students will examine how a diverse group of Americans have exemplified the responsibilities of citizenship. Students will consider how these historic figures defended the principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights through their choices and actions. Students will also reflect on how they, too, can be American heroes.
[A] good moral character is the first essential in a man, and that the habits contracted at your age are generally indelible, and your conduct here may stamp your character through life. It is therefore highly important that you should endeavor not only to be learned but virtuous. - George Washington (1790)
[Heroes are] imperfect people of extraordinary achievement, courage, and greatness of soul whose reach is wider than our own. - Peter Gibbon (2003)
Critical Engagement Questions
How have individual Americans throughout history embodied civic values?
- Understand civic values that have motivated significant Americans throughout history.
- Analyze the values, attitudes and actions of those individuals.
- Compare their own values and actions with those of American heroes.
- Assess the ways they can or do act in accordance with these values.
- CCE (5-8): IIB1-2, IIC1, IID3, VD1
- CCE (9-12): IIB2, IID3, IID5, VC2, VD4
- NCHS: Era 2: 2F; Era 3: 1B, 1C, 3A, 3B, 3D; Era 4, 2A, 4A, 4B, 4C; Era 5: 2A; Era 6: 1C; Era 7: 1A; Era 8: 2A, 3C; Era 9: 4A
- NCSS: Strands 2, 5, 6 and 10
- Handout A: What Is a Hero?
- Handout B: Character Cards
- Handout C: My American Hero
- Handout D: Dinner Party Seating Chart
Background 10 min. (day before)
Ask the question: “What is a hero?” To answer, students could do one of the following:
- write a short paragraph about a well-known American hero
- draw a simple illustration of a heroic act
- read a local newspaper article about someone who acted in a heroic manner; neatly cut out and paste the article onto colored paper
- write a short paragraph about someone in their lives whom they consider an American hero
Warm-up 10 min.
- At the beginning of class, have students post their homework from the previous day around the room.
- Distribute Handout A: What is a Hero? Allow students about ten minutes to take a “gallery tour” to study their classmates’ work and answer the questions on Handout A. Have students rotate every two to three minutes clockwise around the room. They do not need to see every piece, but they should try to see a variety.
- Bring students back for a large-group discussion that will develop a list of characteristics shared by the selected heroes. A class recorder can list the traits on the board or overhead projector.
- Help students understand what the word “hero” does NOT mean. It does not mean “popular:” celebrities are not necessarily heroes. It does not mean “perfect:” heroes are human and therefore imperfect. Guide them to an understanding of the Peter Gibbon quotation: “[Heroes are] imperfect people of extraordinary achievement, courage, and greatness of soul whose reach is wider than our own.”
- Ask students how heroes can act as leaders. What is the role of leaders? How are leaders developed?
Activities 40 min. total
Activity I – 20 min.
- Distribute one card from Handout B: Character Cards to each student. Students should read the character card and take a few minutes to complete Handout C: My American Hero.
- After completing their analyses, students will play the hero and take part in a historic “tea party.” Give students five to ten minutes to circulate through the room, introduce themselves to other heroes, and provide a glimpse into the life, personality, and achievements of the American hero.
Activity II – 20 min.
- After students have had a chance to speak to six to eight historic figures, form mixed groups of four that will represent different time periods, genders, beliefs, careers, etc. Possible groups might look something like:
- In these new groups, students will have a “dinner party” where they will get to know the other historic figures. Students should act in character and engage in a conversation that allows them to compare their assigned heroes’ lives, accomplishments, values, opinions, and heroic actions.
- When they have completed this sharing, each group should work together to answer questions on Handout D: Dinner Party Seating Chart.
- Have students list values exemplified by the figures highlighted in this lesson and take an opinion poll of their peers, relatives, and neighbors to determine if these civic values are still significant today. They should write a paragraph analyzing their results and add a list of civic values they think are necessary in the twenty-first century.
- Have students write a three- to five-line epitaph for one or more of the heroes. Additional sources for information about all the heroes in this lesson can be found in the Character Card Resources on pages 85-87.
- Have students think of a time when they acted in a heroic manner (even on a small scale). Have them draw superhero comic strips that chronicle their deeds.
- Have students make and then exchange business cards for their assigned heroes.
- Have students create a PowerPoint slide show about their assigned “dinner party” hero. Slides shows could be combined to include all twenty-eight historical figures. Each student could narrate his or her slide, or students could select a speaker from their “dinner party” to introduce the heroes from their table.
- Have students interview a hero living in their community. Students could share the results of this oral history project through transcripts of the interviews, photo essays, a community “quilt,” or collage.