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Lessons

Scopes Trial: 5 Day Lesson

Overview:

Students consider the historical context that framed and stirred public interest in the Scopes trial. They watch a short introductory movie, read eight documents, answer guiding questions, and prepare to complete the final essay assignment using their notes. Students listen to a historian think aloud about excerpts from the documents to see analytical reading in action. They use a graphic organizer to guide their note taking. Finally, students write an essay using evidence from these documents to craft an argument that considers the historical context of the Scopes trial.

Learning Goals:

  • Students will be able to discuss, using evidence from documentary sources, how historical context, regional differences and mass media shaped the Scopes trial.
  • Students will build and write more complex stories of the Scopes trial than one that frames it as merely a debate between evolutionists and creationists.
  • Students will read documents historically, using strategies of sourcing, contextualization, careful reading, and corroboration.

Notes to Teacher: This lesson plan is written as if you are teaching it using one demonstration computer to show the historian think-alouds. However, if your class has access to a set of computers, they could do most of the lesson on-line except that you would print out the graphic organizer and final essay question to distribute to students. See http://www.historicalthinkingmatters.org/how.php and the five-day lesson in the Spanish-American War unit for help with teaching your students how to use the site.

When using the lessons off-line use the document packet with reading questions.

Plan of Instruction:

DAY ONE (approximately 50 minutes)
Step 1: 15 minutes: Introduce inquiry

Tell students that in 1925, a teacher was arrested for teaching evolution in Tennessee.

Write the following on the board:

Butler Act:

It shall be unlawful for any teacher . . . to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

Scopes confessed to teaching from the following textbook.

Pass out "Textbook" document.

    Students should read "Textbook" and answer the following questions:
  • Did Scopes violate the Butler Act?
  • Based on this document, why do you think so many Americans followed the Scopes trial?
Step 2: 10 minutes: Show movie

Show introductory movie twice. The first time students should just watch. The second time, ask students to write down what else was happening in America in the 1920s.

    Ask students:
  • How might these background issues relate to the Scopes trial?
  • According to the movie, how was the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial more complicated than a simple debate between evolution and creation?
Step 3: 20 minutes: Read document

Pass out "Sparks" document. Ask students to read the letter individually and answer the notebook questions.

After reading, ask students to underline parts of the Sparks letter that refer to the issues mentioned in the Scopes movie.

    Ask students:
  • How does Sparks characterize the 1920s?
  • In what ways, then, was the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial more complicated than a simple debate between evolution and creation?
Step 4: 5 minutes: Explain homework

Free-write: On the surface, the Scopes trial just seems like a debate between those who believed in evolution and those who believed in creation. However, the Sparks letter shows that Mrs. Sparks thought the Scopes trial was connected to "these times of materialism." Why would she connect the teaching of evolution to materialism and modernity? Do you think the two are connected?

DAY TWO (approximately 50 minutes)
Step 1: 10 minutes: Review homework (Whole class)

Ask students to share excerpts from their free-writes, Ask: Why would Mrs. Sparks connect the Scopes trial to materialism? Do you think the two are connected?

Step 2: 5 minutes: Explain graphic organizer

Hand out graphic organizer. Explain how the first round has been filled in for them using the documents from yesterday. Over the next three days, they are going to read three more rounds of evidence. Each round will point to another way that the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial was more complicated than a simple debate between evolution and creation. Their job is to figure out what the documents demonstrate about the background for the Scopes trial.

Step 3: 10 minutes: Read document, answer questions

Students independently read "Teachers" document and answer notebook questions.

Step 4: 5 minutes: Show think-aloud on "Teachers"

Show students historian think-aloud on "Teachers" document.

    Ask students:
  • What questions does Joy ask of the document?
  • What part of the document does Joy focus on? Emphasize to students that Joy is sourcing the document; she is focusing on the head note and asking questions. They should do the same when they read documents because thinking about who wrote a document, and why, helps you understand the rest of the document.
  • According to Joy, does the statement prove that all teachers believed in evolution?
  • Why does Joy think the AFT might have released this statement?
Step 5: 10 minutes: Read document, answer questions

Students independently read "Malone" document and answer notebook questions. Remind students to begin by focusing on the head note and asking questions about Malone and his perspective on the Scopes trial.

Step 6: 10 minutes: Fill in graphic organizer

In pairs, students fill in graphic organizer for "Teachers" and "Malone."

Homework

Hand students "Straton" document and ask them to answer notebook questions for homework.

DAY THREE (approximately 50 minutes)
    Website Materials:
  • "NY Times" document with notebook questions
Step 1: 10 minutes: Pair/share

In pairs, students share answers to "Straton" document.

Step 2: 10 minutes: Discussion
    Ask students:
  • According to Straton, how is the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial more complicated than a simple debate between evolution and creation?
  • What does Straton say about Malone? What would Malone say about Straton? Who would you tend to side with?
  • Why do you think there was so much tension between people who lived in the country and people who lived in the city? Between people who lived in the South and people who lived in the North?
Step 3: 15 minutes: Read document

Students read "NY Times" document and answer questions.

Step 4: 15 minutes: Discussion

Review answers to "NY Times" document. Explain to students that the New York Times is a northern city newspaper.

    Ask students:
  • How does the New York Times' description of Dayton confirm Straton’s belief that city folks look down on rural folks?
Homework

Students should fill in graphic organizer for "Straton" and "NY Times."

DAY FOUR (approximately 50 minutes)
    Website Materials:
  • "Cartoon" document with notebook questions
  • "Larson" document with notebook questions
Step 1: 10 minutes: Review homework

Have students take out their graphic organizers.

    Ask students:
  • What answers/hypotheses have you come up with so far in response to our central question: How was the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial more complicated than a simple debate between evolution and creation?

On the board, list the different ways that the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial was more complicated than a simple debate between evolutionists and creationists.

Step 2: 10 minutes: Listen to historian Mike O’Malley

Play historian Mike O’Malley on the role of media in the 1920s. Ask students to generate hypotheses in response to the question: What role do you think the media played in the Scopes trial?

Step 3: 10 minutes: Analyze cartoon

Have students individually examine cartoon and answer the notebook questions.

Step 4: 10 minutes: Read document

Have students individually read "Larson" and answer notebook questions.

Step 5: 10 minutes: Discussion

Ask students: Based on the cartoon and the “Larson” document, what role did the media play in the Scopes trial?

Then, together, fill in the graphic organizer for "Cartoon" and "Larson" document. Possible answers for “Larson” document might include:

The controversy surrounding the Scopes trial was more complicated than a simple debate between evolutionists and creationists because many people actually fell somewhere in the middle. But the press played a big role in sensationalizing and simplifying the trial.
Homework

Hand out a copy of the assignment question:

  • The Scopes trial is most commonly remembered as a dramatic clash between those who believed in evolution and those who believed that God created the world in seven days. However, the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial was, in fact, more complicated. How was the controversy surrounding the Scopes trial more complicated than a simple debate between evolutionists and creationists?

Write a thesis statement in response to this prompt and make a list of the documents you would use to support your claim (minimum 3 documents).

DAY FIVE (approximately 50 minutes)
Step 1: 5 minutes: Review document chart

Students share some of their thesis statements. Classmates give feedback as to whether thesis statements directly respond to prompt.

Step 2: 15 minutes: Model thesis/evidence connection

Tell students they will begin to draft an essay in response to the writing prompt.

Model how you would use a document to support a thesis statement in response to the prompt. In your presentation, you may want to use the peer review questions listed in Step 4 of this lesson to frame your remarks about how this paragraph models a historical argument.

Write on overhead or project using LCD projector:

Sample thesis:

The controversy surrounding the Scopes trial was more complicated than a simple debate between evolutionists and creationists because it reflected the tensions between traditional rural areas and modern urban areas.

Using documentary evidence to support thesis:

The Scopes trial became a battle ground between the forces of modernity that were associated with city life and secularization, and the forces of tradition, that were associated with rural life and religion. The tension between urban and rural dwellers appears in many of the documents about the Scopes trial. For example, the New York Times painted a picture of Dayton, Tennessee as a backward, country town: "The Tennesseans . . . came from mountain farms near Dayton, where work, usually begun at day light, had been deserted so that gaunt, tanned, toil-worn men and women and shy children might . . . see William Jennings Bryan."
Step 3: 20 minutes: Work independently

Ask students to write a paragraph using one of the documents that supports their thesis statement.

Step 4: 15 minutes: Peer conferencing
    In partners, have students share their thesis statements and paragraphs. They should ask the following questions of each other:
  • Does the thesis statement answer the prompt?
  • Can the thesis statement be supported by at least three pieces of evidence?
  • Does the paragraph have an opening sentence that supports the thesis?
  • Does the analysis of the evidence take into account who wrote the document and its intended audience?
Homework

Complete essay.