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Choose Your Words

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: War of 1812

Grade Level: 4-12

Common Core Standards
W4.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
a. Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
b. Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
c. Use a variety of transitional words and phrases to manage the sequence of events.
d. Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely.
e. Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.

Content Areas: Writing, Social Studies

Recommended Length/Duration: 45-60 minutes

Learning Goals: Students will apply their knowledge of historic events in the creation of a convincing fictional narrative. Students will explore the importance of audience in crafting their language.


  1. Review the challenge the Royal Navy had finding enough sailors for nearly 1000 ships during the Nepolianic Wars. The most effective solution was impressment.
  2. Discuss how modern citizens identify themselves. Ask if anyone in the class can positively identify themselves right now. Ask what documents are common now and point out that few people had official documents then.
  3. Read together or have students read independently the scenario for the writing project.
  4. Introduce the first task speaking to the First Lieutenant of the ship. Ask how they would be feeling at that moment. Ask how the First Lieutenant would be feeling. Point out that knowing the audience you are addressing is very important. Have students write their response.
  5. When students are finished have several volunteers read what they wrote. Discuss each response and ask the class to decide if they think it will be effective or not. Guiding questions might include:
    • Would this be a smart thing to say?
    • Was the statement convincing?
    • Would you get what you wanted?
    • Is there anything you could say that would get you what you wanted?
  6. Introduce the second writing task, a letter home to your mother. Discuss how this task is different from the first because it is a very different audience.
  7. Have students write their letter in class or as homework.
  8. When the letters are completed, have students share them with the class. Discuss each response and ask the class to decide if they think it will be effective or not. Guiding questions might include:
    • Do you explain what happened clearly?
    • What emotions does the letter reveal?
    • How will your mother feel after reading the letter? Is that what you meant to do?

Assessments: Evaluate letters using an assessment rubric.

Materials/Resources: Choose Your Words worksheet

Special Considerations: Students may not readily appreciate the harsh discipline imposed on British warships of the period. The teacher may need to provide guidance on what would be appropriate or punishable in speaking to a ship’s officer. Students with weak writing skills may need special accommodations.

Extensions: Students may want to role play their conversations with the First Lieutenant.
Students might want to find real letters between family members from the 19th Century.
Students might find the controversy over Barak Obama’s citizenship interesting to discuss.