Classroom Activities: 

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Stories and More from the Spanish-American War

Lesson Overview


In this lesson the students read a story in their basal reader about a young girl and her grandfather who are talking about his experiences in the Spanish-American War. Many parts are true, but he also adds exaggerations to make the story more exciting for the young girl. In this lesson the students will spend time looking at primary source photographs and a video taken in the late 1890s. An in depth analysis of these items will help the students better understand the events of the war and how they led to a turning point in American history.

Grade Range:



After completing this activity students will be able to:

  • Understand and describe some of the challenges faced by the soldiers fighting in
    the Spanish-American War and explain the reason for the war. 

  • Investigate attire worn by many soldiers and explain why certain items were

  • Distinguish between fact and fictional events in their reading based on inferenceand knowledge gained from analyzing the primary sources.

Time Required:

Two class periods of 60 minutes.


Reading/Language Arts, History


War, Military


Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900



Illinois Learning Standards:



CC.3.R.L.2 Key Ideas and Details: Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and
myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and
explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.


CC.3.R.L.4 Craft and Structure: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.


CC.3.R.I.2 Key Ideas and Details: Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.


CC.3.R.I.3 Key Ideas and Details: Describe the relationship between a series of
historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.


CC.3.R.I.7 Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate
understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).


CC.3.W.3 Text Types and Purposes: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.


CC.3.SL.1 Comprehension and Collaboration: Engage effectively in a range of
collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse
partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.




LOC Image "Spanish American War, Infantry, holding Drag rifle with fixed bayonet,
cartridge belt".

Analysis Tools:

Put Yourself in the Image (print page 7 of PDF), The More you Look the More you see with Interpretation (print page 5-6 of PDF).


Papa Tells Chita a Story by Elizabeth Howard (paperback and CD if available)


World pull down map, T-Chart, 

Library of Congress Items:

Title of Source:Spanish-American War


Title of Source:Spanish American War, infantry, holding Krag rifle with fixed bayonette, cartridge belt


Title of Source:Colonel Funston swimming the Bagbag River

 Online Resource:

 Title:The World of 1898-The Spanish American War




DAY 1Begin by explaining that the story we are about to read, Papa Tells Chita a Story by Elizabeth Howard, is the genre "historical fiction". Discuss that in this genre the author has written a story that contains some fictional people and events but is set in a time and place that is significant in history. Preview the title and have the students make predictions.


Explain that this story is set in the time of the Spanish-American War. Use a world map to locate the places involved, (U.S., Cuba, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Spain). Explain that the Spanish once controlled these regions and the American people wanted to help them become free of Spanish rule.


Introduce the illustration that depicts some major events that took place during the war and that sometimes pictures can tell a story. Explain that the illustration contains multiple scenes and each one gives us a better idea of what the war was like.


Project the photo Spanish-American War. Uncover only one scene at a time and ask students to describe what they see and predict what is happening. Encourage them to explain ideas.


Allow students time to share ideas and then clarify information as needed/necessary. If needed, use the site introduction: The World of 1898-The Spanish American War to gain background knowledge or answer Questions throughout the lesson. Continue by uncovering one section at a time and discussing each until the entire image is revealed. At this point discuss the image as a whole and talk about how it tells a story.


Once the entire illustration is revealed and time for adequate discussion, students work with a partner to fill in The More You Look, The More You See photo analysis form. Have students work with a partner to discuss the photo as a whole and fill out the analysis form accordingly. Allow students to analyze just one section if that is easier for them.


Read Papa Tells Chita a Story as a class. During reading students should pay close attention to details told by the narrator. Remind students to think about which parts seem realistic and which are fictional exaggerations based on what they have learned about the time and place of the Spanish-American War.


DAY 2: Begin by listening to Papa Tells Chita a Story on tape as students follow along.


As a class, discuss events that happened in the story including how the grandfather helped deliver the message to end the war. Discuss events that were not completely true. Using a T-Chart, have students categorize events into real (fact) and make believe (fictional exaggerations) and explain their reasoning for placing each event in the chart.


After completing the chart, discuss why the author included exaggerations. Explain that they make stories more exciting. The author told how the grandfather had to swim with alligators and fight beasts, some of this might have been possible. Show the video clip Colonel Funston swimming the Bagbag River. Discuss what might have been his reason for jumping into the water and swimming to shore where his enemies were waiting. Discuss how brave efforts such as these helped the Americans win so many of the battles.


Ask students to recall what the grandfather in the story still treasured from his days of being a soldier-hat, belt, and medal from the war. Project the Spanish American War, Infantry, holding Krag rifle with fixed bayonette, cartridge belt and discuss items that soldiers were equipped with. Talk about how each item may have been used to help keep him safe.


Give each student a copy of the photo for closer observation and complete a Put Yourself in the Image analysis form to imagine (using 5 senses) what it might have felt like to be a soldier fighting in the war, allow time for sharing after everyone is finished.


Discuss the importance of the setting in a story and how these primary sources helped us better understand the setting of the story Papa Tells Chita a Story. Make any changes to the T-Chart at this time if necessary.



Student evaluation will take place using various methods throughout the course of the lesson. I will observe student understanding during the discussions that we have. Their answers to the questions that I pose to them will allow me to judge their overall understanding of the topic. After analyzing the photos and viewing the video clip, as a class we will create a T-Chart to come up with a list of facts and fictional parts of the reading story. Students will have to use what they have learned from their reading as well as apply the knowledge they have gained from the primary sources to accurately sort items into the two categories. I will also use the responses that the students write on the analysis forms as a means of comprehension of the story.



Students imagine that they are a member of the infantry in the Spanish-American War. They then create a postcard that they might have sent home to their families while they were away. On one side the students draw a picture to illustrate a key event or place associated with the war (ideas for illustrations may come from the primary sources that were shown and analyzed).  On the other side, the student would write about some of the struggles they have had to endure or some of the events that might have happened while there. They should also include some of the thoughts and feelings that might have been going through their minds at this point in time.


This student work would be displayed in the hallway on the bulletin board. I would place a picture of the student in place of the soldier's face so it would look like they were equipped in their uniforms and ready for battle.


Authors Credits:
M. Will

Carolyn Wenz Elementary