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Telegrams, Texts, and Tweets: An Exploration of Technology and Communication Past to Present

Lesson Overview

Overview: This lesson plan will explore changing technologies of the 19th and 20th centuries in the context of a novel. This will work best for a novel set in the early 20th century, but could work with any novel that deals with the themes of technology and change. The novel used in this plan is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Students will analyze various primary sources and communicate through various modes of writing.
Grade Range: 9-12
Objectives: Students should be able to:
  • Relate the content and setting of a novel to self and world through reading and writing.
  • Analyze, compare, and contrast primary sources depicting various forms of technology from different eras.
  • Understand the development of technology throughout history and convey that understanding in writing.
  • Communicate an understanding of technology and its connection to daily lifea nd to convey that in various forms of writing. 
Time Required: Four class periods of 45 minutes
Discipline/Subject: Language Arts
Topic: Culture, Folklife and Technology, Industry
Era: Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900, Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929



Illinois Learning Standards: Language Arts:
1-Read with understanding and fluency.
1.A-Apply word analysis and vocabulary skills to comprehend selections.
1.C-Comprehend a broad range of reading materials.
2-Write to communicate for a variety of purposes.
2.A-Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and structure.
2.B-Compose well-organized and coherent writing for specific purposes and audiences.
2.C-Communicate ideas in writing to accomplish a variety of purposes.
4-Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations.
4.A-Listen effectively in formal and informal situations.
4.B-Speak effectively using language appropriate to the situation or audience.
5-Use the language arts to acquire, assess, and communicate information.
5.A-Locate, organize and use information from various sources to answer questions, solve problems, and communicate ideas. 
5.B-Analyze and evaluate information acquired from various sources.
5.C-Apply acquired information, concepts and ideas to communicate in a variety of formats. 



Handouts: Venn Diagram, T-Chart, Two-Column Notes, Viewing Primary Sources Sheet (Available on PDF)
Rubrics: Telegram/Twitter rubric, Writing rubric (Available on PDF)
Books: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
Library of Congress Items: Title of Source: Chicago, Illinois. Telegraph switch board of the Pennsylvania railroad in the Pennsylvania telegraph room at the Union Station.
  Title of Source: Telegram from Frederick W. Baldwin to Alexander Graham Bell, April 6, 1917
Online Resources: Title of Source: Twitter Donates Entire Tweet Archive to Library of Congress  
  Title of Source: Tweets from Barack Obama 
  Title of Source: Tweets from Jack Dorsey



1. Students in groups or individually, will research inventions developed in the 1800s and 1900s and present the findings informally to the class. Some to explore, refrigerator, telegraph, telephone, phonograph, trolley, washing machine, neon lighting, television, sliced bread and others.
2. Discuss why each of these inventions seemed special at the time, but are now considered primitive or basic. View primary source photographs to initiate discussion about how these have changed over the years, and how often we use them without considering their origins.
3.  Look at the Chicago, Illinois. Telegraph switch board of the Pennsylvania railroad in the Pennsyliania telegraph room at the Union State. View primary source telegrams and discuss the purpose for sending messages, problems with technology and in communication, errors and mistakes, costs/length, how long they take to transmit etc. Save this information to make comparisons in step five. Complete the Viewing Primary Sources worksheet (PDF)
4. As a group, determine what would be an important topic to send a telegram about today? Is there a better way to convey this information today? Follow this with students writing their own telegrams taking all the details (costs, etc.) into consideration.
5. Draw the connection to today's similar media: text messages, Twitter, and Facebook. Discuss length (140 characters), purpose for writing, problems in communicating, errors and mistakes, costs, how long they take etc. Use a Venn diagram or T-Chart to track the comparison between this and the telegram (PDF)
6. View some significant twitter updates (primary sources from LOC) including Obama's post-election tweet, first ever tweet by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and others that are more mundane. Discuss purpose, etc. 
7. Assign the reading of chapters one and two of Dandelion Wine and write the Twitter update for Doug Spaulding. As we get into sections of the book dealing with technology and change, students will write updates involving these and various characters. Students will post these on a bulletin board or a virtual bulletin board (Smartboard).
8. Discuss the idea of the "full circle" in technology. Are there other things that are repeats? How are they different? What are the advantages and drawbacks to each? (vinyl record/cd, vcr/dvd, telephone/cell phone, vehicles, etc.) What about digital media?
9. Student will write a letter to a character in the novel describing a new technology comparing it to a technology that would have been current during the novel's setting. Students will reference past inventions using information from two column notes (PDF).



Students will write telegrams and "post" Twitter updates that will be displayed in the classroom (bulletin board/Smartboard). These will be evaluated according to connection to the character(s) form the chosen novel, number of characters of text (140 or less), and basic grammar and conventions. Students will write a letter to a character in the novel describing a new technology comparing it to a technology that would have been current during the novel's setting. It will be evaluated according to a basic writing rubric (PDF).


1.  Explore Twitter as a first-hand account of history like "man on the street" interviews following major
    events. Students could complete these types of interviews following school events or interview people who
    lived through significant events in history.

2.  Use an online template to create a Facebook page for a literary character.

3.  Analyze, telegrams, tweets, etc. from the LOC for grammar and usage errors.

4.  Write a formal comparison or contrast essay using two appropriate kinds of technology from different eras.


Charleston High School