Ordinary Citizens Create History

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
1 to 2 classroom hours and document creation time
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
The students will receive a copy of Margaret Hays’ letter Number 35, and will read, interpret and answer questions.  The class will discuss individual interpretations.

The students will receive a copy of Margaret Hays’ letter Number 35, and will read, interpret and answer questions.  The class will discuss individual interpretations.  This may be done in small groups or as a class unit.  Following discussion, each student will create an e mail, blog entry or personal letter to the audience of choice and write a modern equivalent of the primary source used.  The student creation must include both typical lifestyle events and current events of local, state, national and international interest.  The current events must have personal opinion of the author expressed in the document.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

This lesson will allow students to participate in history within the context of an ordinary person (Margaret Hays) and then create history with the student becoming the primary source for events they are witnessing.  Hopefully, the lesson will help build a connection to the past and encourage more participation in civic policy and interest in current events.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Read a letter written by a citizen of Jackson County, MO to her parents.
  • Identify political events and locate facts within the Hays letter.
  • Interpret viewpoints of the author and events and facts of the period.
  • Discuss questions and share ideas about the letter in class.
  • Write a modern e mail, blog entry, or letter using real life current events and acting as the primary source give opinions and consequences of the events on the student’s life.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Missouri Show Me Standards Goal 1 SS 7, Goal 2 SS2 and SS7
  • Missouri Grade Level Expectations, Government 9-12:1a, 2ab, 7

Kansas Standards

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.
3.(A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S.
history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating
on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources
to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Teacher lecture of Civil War events on Missouri/Kansas border in 1850s or
  • American History text book of choice with readings on Missouri/Kansas border
  • Kansas Nebraska Act and how it changed the Missouri Compromise
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed


  • Current newspapers or use of computer news sites for students to access current events.
  • Letter #35 from the Watts Hays Civil War collection.
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • The teacher needs to introduce or revisit the material leading to the Civil War (Mo Compromise, Kansas Nebraska Act, Kansas Missouri border disputes). 
  • Vocabulary students need to be familiar with include: popular sovereignty, free soilers, bushwhackers, jayhawkers
  • Students will then read and analyze the letter, complete the worksheet and share ideas and interpretations with the class in a discussion format.
  • Following class discussion, each student will pretend to be living at a distance from family and will compose an e mail, letter or blog to the absent family member.  The student creation must include personal daily life details, personal opinion and descriptions of current political and social events.

Power Points

Ordinary Citizens lesson:

Ordinary Citizens



Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

The lesson will be assessed by completion of the attached document interpretation and question worksheet, participation in class discussion and the student created email, blog entry or personal letter.