Spanish-American War: 5 Day Lesson


On the Historical Thinking Matters website, students work through the Spanish-American War investigation. They read the nine documents, answer guiding questions on the interactive on-line notebook, and prepare to complete the final essay assignment using their notes. Each day includes a brief teacher-led activity or presentation designed to facilitate students’ work. Students complete an essay and participate in a discussion reviewing the four historical reading strategies used to frame the site’s notebook questions.

Learning Goals:

  • Students will be able to identify and discuss multiple causes for the Spanish-American War, citing evidence from particular sources.
  • Students will begin to read documents historically, using strategies of sourcing, contextualization, careful reading, and corroboration.
  • Students will learn to use the Historical Thinking Matters website and be prepared for independent work on subsequent investigations.

Note to Teacher: You may want to look at examples of student work posted on the Teacher Page for this inquiry before starting the investigation. In particular, see the think-aloud clips of Chuck and Matt and their accompanying commentaries. These may help you anticipate issues that your students might encounter as they move through the investigation.

Technology Materials:

  • Class set of computers with internet access
  • Optional: LCD projector or another tool that allows you to project the computer screen so the entire class can view it at once. If you don’t have a projector, you may have to provide your class a handout with site addresses so that they can follow you on their individual computers.

Plan of Instruction:

DAY ONE (approximately 50 minutes)
Step 1: 3 minutes: Introduce Inquiry

In June 1898, the U.S. sent troops to Cuba. Over the next week, we are going to investigate why. By the end of this investigation, you will write an essay that answers the question: Why did the U.S. invade Cuba in 1898? This essay should use evidence from the documents that you read to support your answer to the question.

We will be working on the web to do this. Today we will learn how to use the website for this investigation.

Step 2: 5 minutes: Get ready

Assign computers.

Note to teacher: the sequence of steps for using computers will depend on your own situation. If you are introducing the site and watching the movie as a class, for example, you may wish to wait until after the movie to assign students to individual computers.

The time estimates in this lesson assume that your students have some experience using the computer lab. Plan to spend more time on organization and management if you need to go over computer logistics.

Also note that in Days 4 and 5, students will work with neighbors. You may wish to take this into consideration when assigning computers and seats.

Step 3: 5 minutes: Introduce website

Show website. Select "Student Investigations." Class reads introductory text explaining procedures. Select "Spanish-American War."

Explore introductory page. Watch movie (together or separately, depending on your technology resources) and look at the timeline.

Select Step 3, "warm-up activity."

Step 4: 5 minutes: Log in

Students log in to the website. Have student pick a login name (perhaps first name and last initial) and a password. You may wish to give a brief talk about how to choose an appropriate login name. Have students write both login name and password down somewhere. Logging in will allow students to use the on-line notebook to record notes to use for the final essay question.

Step 5: 10 minutes: Start Warm-up activity

Demonstrate how to use the notebook by going through the warm-up activity.

Point out the framing question (Which account do you find more believable? Why?) that students will answer by the start of class on Day 2.

Show students where to find the "Times" and "Journal" documents. Ask them to read the "Journal."

Step 3 is to "Use the notebook."

  • Select "Resources" for more information and to help you understand the source.
  • Select "Questions" and answer the questions in the notebook. (You may want to have a mock answer ready to share with students. Also, if you want students to answer in complete sentences, you should make this clear to the students.)
  • Be sure to click "Save Notes" at the bottom of the notebook when you’re finished. The notes will help you later in the week in completing your final assignment.
  • Show students how to access their notebook answers. Go to "Assignment" in the navigation bar. Select the document name (e.g., "Journal") and "Questions" tab.
Step 6: 20 minutes: Work independently

Read the "Times" and "Journal" documents. Answer the questions in the notebook.

Write 1-2 paragraphs (on paper) answering the warm-up question. State your position and back it up using specific quotations or information from the two articles. This is due by the beginning of Day 2.

Optional: Teachers may wish to provide the warm-up graphic organizer that is available on the Teacher Materials page.


Complete independent assignment. Be prepared to turn in work at the beginning of Day 2.

Note to teacher: Remember that the HTM website as well as the on-line student notebooks are available to students outside class. You may wish to encourage students to use home, school, or community computers to help them complete their homework assignments. If accessing the website outside class proves impossible, be prepared to provide paper copies of documents for use at home.

DAY TWO (approximately 50 minutes)
Step 1: 2 minutes: Collect work

Collect paragraphs from the warm-up activity on Day 1. You may wish to review these during Step 3 when students are working independently. See if students understand how to use evidence from documents. You may wish to pick out some sample sentences to share as exemplars.

Step 2: 5 minutes: Start main inquiry

Click "Inquiry" on the navigation bar. Log in. Show students the final task by selecting "Assignment" from the navigation bar. Explain that they will use the information from each document to help construct an answer to this question.

Step 3: 20 minutes: Work independently

Students begin to work through documents in the order that they appear on the navigation bar. Remind students to hit the save button at the bottom of the notebook to save their typed responses. Students should mostly finish "Awake U.S." and "McKinley" document questions in this time.

Step 4: 15 minutes: Use reading tools

Prior to starting this step, warn students that they will need to stop and work as a whole class in a few minutes.

Demonstrate how to use the tools for each document. How do they help?

Using McKinley’s speech, show the class the document tools. Ask them to think about how these tools might change their reading or help them read the document more carefully.

  • Select the "Questions" tab.
  • Select a "give me a hint" link—these appear at the end of question 2 or 3. Show how it highlights text to help readers answer the question.
  • Select a numbered footnote. A box will show up. Read the additional information there. Close this box by selecting the X in the top right corner.
  • Click the "give me a hint" link again to clear the document. Ask students—how do these tools help your reading, thinking, and writing? For those who have already answered the questions without the tools, do these helpers contribute anything new to how you understand the document?
  • Show "Resources" tools. Look at vocabulary aids. Listen to audio clip, "Reasons for War." Discuss briefly—how do these tools help you understand the document?
Step 5: 10 minutes: Continue independent work

Encourage students to use these tools as they move through the remaining documents or to re-read documents to enhance understanding.


Before class on Day 3, students should read the document and answer notebook questions for the following documents: "Awake U.S.," "McKinley," and "Camps."

DAY THREE (approximately 50 minutes)
Step 1: 2 minutes: Review

Ask students to tell you what the central investigation is. What assignment will they do to show how they understand the historical evidence in front of them?

Step 2: 25 minutes: Work independently

Students read and answer notebook questions for "Move," "Monroe," and "Miss Cuba."

Step 3: 25 minutes: Show "Why Historical Thinking Matters"

Note to teacher: prior to Day 3, preview the "Why Historical Thinking Matters" audio-visual presentation. This presentation is divided into parts that will facilitate a class discussion after each section.

You may wish to draw explicit connections between the types of reading seen on the presentation to the reading that students have done in the first part of this investigation. In particular, focus on the four historical reading strategies of sourcing, contextualization, careful reading, and corroboration.


Finish "Move," "Monroe," and "Miss Cuba."

DAY FOUR (approximately 50 minutes)
    Paper materials:
  • Inquiry organizer (1 for each student)
  • Copy of assignment question (1 for each student)
Step 1: 5 minutes: Discuss a reading strategy

Choose one of the historical reading strategies to review and discuss with students. Have them share examples from previous days’ work in which they used (or wish they had used) these strategies to complete their work more thoroughly. (For example, why does the source of the "McKinley" text matter? How does it influence your understanding of the text?)

Step 2: 10 minutes: Work independently

Read and answer questions for "March."

Step 3: 15 minutes: View think-aloud

Demonstrate how a historian reads the same document ("March") by showing the historian think-aloud and listening to the commentary. Depending on your resources, you can do this as a class or have students view on individual computers.

Note to teacher: On individual computers, noise may be a disruptive factor unless students have headphones.

Step 4: 5 minutes: Discuss (pairs)

Ask students to discuss the commentary with a neighbor. What parts of the text drew Natalia’s attention? Why? How did her reading of text differ from theirs?

Step 5: 10 minutes: Discuss (whole class)

What does Natalia do as she reads the document? How does this shape her understanding of Beveridge and what he is saying? How does this document shed light on why the U.S. invaded Cuba?

Step 6: 5 minutes: Start document chart

Have students start filling in the document chart using the work they already have in their notebooks.


Finish document chart.

Hand out the hard copy of the assignment question:

"The explosion of the U.S.S. Maine caused the United States to invade Cuba in 1898." Use the documents provided and your own knowledge to evaluate this statement. Do you agree with this explanation of the causes of the Spanish-American War? Why or why not? Use and cite evidence from the documents to support your analysis of this statement.

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: Discuss (whole class)

Choose one or two of the historical reading strategies to review and discuss with students. Have them share examples from previous days’ work in which they used (or wish they had used) these strategies to complete their work more thoroughly.

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 U.S. invaded Cuba to support the insurgents and their fight for independence, an interest that existed long before the explosion of the Maine.
  • Using documentary evidence to support thesis— Americans have been sympathetic with independent movements since their own War of Independence in 1776. As early as 1823, Americans warned Europeans against intervention in Latin American countries that had declared independence. President Monroe stated that the U.S. would "consider any attempt on [Europe’s] part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere, as dangerous to our peace and safety." Although Monroe was referring to countries that had not been colonized, and Cuba was a Spanish colony at this time, it is evident that the United States valued independence in Latin American countries long before the sinking of the Maine.
Step 3: 20 minutes: Work independently

On paper or in their on-line notebooks, 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?

Finish writing the essay. Go to the "assignment" section of the investigation, type it into the box titled "compose essay," and submit.