Lesson Plan: The American Dream

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From: http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/
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The American Dream: A 5 C’s Lesson Plan

In one of my teaching courses this summer my assignment was to analyze a lesson plan that I teach or have taught classifying the components using the “5C’s.” The 5 C’s are “ Contrast, Compare, Conceptualize, Comprehend, and Combine. Each C signifies a particular aspect of the learning process that should happen in an effective lesson.

After perusing the excellent NYLearns site I decided to tackle a topic I taught last year in my American Culture & History class but this time I decided to create a hybrid lesson plan crossing my original with a great Library of Congress lesson I discovered on the site. I enjoyed doing this class last year but after looking at the Library of Congress lesson I am inspired to expand it and add a historical research component. (This will also serve to reinforce my earlier teaching of the different historical epochs of the United States).

The goal of this lesson is to teach my Spanish students about what the idea of the American Dream means–and how it has changed over time.

The Library of Congress Lesson Plan proposes breaking students into groups and then having them complete creative research projects together—with each student having a different professional role to bring to the final project. I love this idea, but I have to simplify it greatly as this will only be a 1-week class rather than the two plus weeks that seems to be called for.  Also, although my students have a very high level of English some of the older texts are still too difficult for them.  (Particularly the specialty texts, like the lawyer’s brief, where without any previous exposure to American legal system they lack any context to understand).

This lesson will take place after students have learned about the basic historical arc of the United States so that they will have enough historical context to carry out simple historical analyses.  At the end my students will understand and be able to explain a general idea of what the American Dream has been over time.  They will also be able to perform general searches of the Library of Congress online resources.


I will begin by accessing prior knowledge with a discussion of what is the American Dream to them.  Although I am teaching Spanish students, I expect them to have some idea of what the American Dream is, or at least be able to posit a good guess.  We will then turn to the you-tube video above to see what a few contemporary American’s say the American dream means to them.


Students will continue our discussion by contrasting what they had thought about the American Dream with what they have just heard.  I will ask them their thoughts about the video. Did the comments match up with what they themselves think of the American Dream?  What did they find surprising?  Is there a Spanish dream equivalent?

Next, I will hand out the essay on the American Dream (See Link).  Students will read it and we will discuss any difficult language and then do a group brainstorm of what the American Dream means with a mind map on the board.   The next day we will divide into groups and analyze the original sources provided by the line. (Of course, both the Compare and Contrast stages will be continued in further exercises)


Although the entire lesson is on how to conceptualize the idea of The American Dream, it’s on days 2 and 3 and when we will get down to the nitty-gritty.  Groups will be named and students with lower levels will be grouped with higher ability students to help them.  Next I will model how to interpret original sources using the template and one of primary sources provided (Maybe the Harding recording with a transcript projected since it is too difficult to hear).  I will encourage students to come up with questions and theories about the source.

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I will then assign each group a primary source material. Rather then giving my students complete freedom my groups will be assigned one of four time periods. (e.g. 1780s-mid 1800s,  Late 1800s to 1920s, 1930s, 1940s-70s) and then assigned materials from those date ranges.  (I will use the samples provided by the Library of Congress plus an extra or two, like a Superman comic or something else similarly iconic). Students will be expected to complete their own assessment and develop their own questions and then have a group discussion about what they think about the source material. Then they will also review what they already know about the historical period and how the piece fits into that conceptualization.

Comprehend & Combine

In the next class the four groups will search out their own pieces from the time period in the Library of congress library.  The goal will be to create an ensemble piece and then to explain how their selections reflect the idea of the American Dream in the time period they have chosen.  Students can chose songs, pictures, newspaper articles, etc.  I will begin the class by modeling how to search the library’s archives and then they will be off to find something appropriate (This will probably take two classes to complete).

On the last class will have the four presentations and summarize our findings. Each group will talk about how the American dream manifested itself during the period of time they researched.

Finally I will assign my reflective assessment as a take home short essay assignment. Students will be asked to think about some popular American movies that they have seen and write about whether or not they see the American dream represented in those films. If so how, if not how would the film have been different if it had an American dream component? Do they think the American dream is different today? I will remind them of the mind map we did at the beginning.

Before we go we will brainstorm movies, and if nobody comes up with some good ones. I will prepare a list of movies as a stop gap measure that students can choose from but I suspect that some students will think about some popular movies, such as last year’s remake of The Great Gatsby or The Titanic; and one or two might even choose an ironic film choice like Fight club. Either way the goal will be for students to reflect on what they have learned and see if they can apply that learning to other experiences they have had in life. Students who have real difficulties could be assigned a movie that covers the period their group already covered so they can use that learning to inform the essay.

Another, possibly better option that just occurred to me might be to ask the students if they think there is a Spanish dream, or even a European Dream, and to reflect on what that might be. I’ll think about it before I implement the lesson I will stick with the short film essay as my cumulative assessment.

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