Teaching with Historic Places in Real Classrooms: Leska Foster, on the 'Skagway' lesson plan

TwHP Lessons, State Standards, and Teaching Techniques

The following is a case study by Leska Foster, 5th Grade Teacher at Holz Elementary School, Charleston, West Virginia, in using the Skagway: Gateway to the Klondike lesson plan.

Elementary teachers’ days are packed with items on our to-do list. The most important of these is seeing that our students are receiving the best education that we, as their teachers, can provide them. Because of the many subjects that we are required to teach during the school day, it simply makes sense, when feasible, to incorporate lessons that will cover our state and federal requirements.

One such method is the incorporation of Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plans. By focusing on just one of the many TwHP lesson plans available to teachers, this case study will present some ideas for classroom teachers to incorporate TwHP lessons into their curriculum. In this lesson, Skagway: Gateway to the Klondike, students learn how the Klondike Gold Rush fits into the broader context of gold rushes in American History, and also investigate how buildings help tell the stories of a community’s past.

In the school system where I teach, our classrooms are being fitted with Smartboards. If you do not have access to a Smartboard or a computer and data projector, using transparencies and an overhead projector will work as well.
TIP: Since I have had a Smartboard in class, I download to a portable drive anything that I want to project onscreen. Living where we do, sometimes our internet connection goes down and then we’re stuck. If I’ve downloaded the TwHP lesson to my drive, not only am I spared worrying about the internet, but I also find that the lesson comes up faster onscreen. With our software, you can pull up all of the screens that you will need for that day’s lesson and then minimize them at the bottom of your Smartboard screen. Then when you’re ready to show that screen, all you need to do is to tap the icon and enlarge it to full size. That will help the lesson move more smoothly and you’ll be less frustrated.


Step 1: Getting Started

One of the first activities included in the Skagway lesson is a primary source photo of a street in Skagway, Alaska, in 1897. This photo is the lesson’s Getting Started image. I use the introductory photos from this section of the TwHP lessons to spark a discussion among my students. I first ask them to make a list of what they see in the picture, looking for as many details as possible. Once they have completed that task, either independently or with a partner, then as a class we discuss the elements that they have found. TwHP includes a Photo Analysis Worksheet that will work with any of the pictures in TwHP lessons, but I have found that a simple list on some chart paper, blackboard, or whiteboard will do just fine as well. Using the questions on the analysis sheet can guide the classroom discussion and usually will lead to other observations by the students.

Step 2:Setting the Stage

Once we have looked at the first photo and temporarily finished our discussion, we then move on to the next part of the lesson. The beauty of the TwHP lessons is that you, as the classroom teacher, can chose which parts of the lesson you want to incorporate into your classroom. Not all parts of the lesson have to be used – find what works for you and your teaching style and then go from there. Setting the Stage is the next section and I usually reserve it for myself. It has valuable background information that I will share with the students as we work our way through the lesson.

Step 3: Locating the Site

One aspect of the TwHP lessons that I’m particularly fond of is the number of graphic sources that are included in each lesson. The Skagway lesson starts off with two maps, which for elementary students is a treat. After we have discussed the introductory paragraph, we then move to Map 1: Routes from Seattle to the Klondike gold fields and Map 2: Chilkoot and White Pass Trails. I typically download the maps by themselves to eliminate the distraction of the words on the page. I use TwHP’s map questions from a “teacher” copy of the lessons that I’ve printed out and keep at hand while I’m teaching. For those students who have a difficult time reading, having just the maps on the screen makes it easier for them to understand the lesson.

For Map 1, we discuss first what continent this is on (don’t laugh – some elementary students are just now figuring out where they are!), then the countries that they can see on the map, and finally any other details that may strike their fancy. Once we’ve spent 3-5 minutes discussing the generalities, we move to the questions that accompany the map. This helps to develop the background that the students need to have in their minds as we begin the readings.

For Map 2, I explain that this is a close-up view of the first map. If possible, I bring up Google Earth and show them what the area looks like currently. Once they see the two maps and begin to superimpose one on top of the other in their minds, they begin to make connections as to the geography and lay of the land. Again, I use the “teacher” copy I printed off ahead of time for discussion questions.


Step 4: Determining the Facts

There are three readings available with this lesson. Since I’m teaching fifth grade students, I will choose which of the three readings that I feel will meet my teaching needs. Typically Reading 1 is the one that I go with most often as it usually includes a great deal of background information.

TIP: There are several ways in which to use these readings. There are two ways in which I typically use these, although you can incorporate them in the way that best fits your teaching style and your students’ needs. The first way I use the readings is to give the children a copy and have them read it for homework the night before we use it in class. One of my classroom requirements is 15-20 minutes of silent reading five nights a week. On the days that I hand these out, this becomes their reading assignment for that night. The next day the children are expected to return their copy of the reading to school and then as a class, we discuss what they read and how it ties in with the pictures and maps that we have already discussed.

The second way I use these readings is to pass them out in class and spend one class period (usually about 30 minutes) reading and discussing them together as a class. My decision about how to use the readings depends on the group of children that I have each year. Some years I have more auditory learners than visual learners and they need to cover the material in class. Other years, it’s the other way around. Feel free to experiment and see what works best for you. Use the parts of the lesson that best fit your needs. Don’t worry about not using something from one of the TwHP lessons.

Reading 2 in the Skagway lesson includes some good information as well, so we follow the same process again as Reading 1, although we may reverse what we did from the day before. If I sent home the first reading, then we’ll read this one in class and vice-versa. As always, I keep a copy of the entire lesson with me and use it as my teacher’s guide during this entire process.

Reading 3 can be used as a formative assessment if you need one or you can assign it for a homework assignment. Sometimes I can cover all three readings, but not often. I usually am able to get to one, maybe two, of the readings, but very rarely am I able to get to all of them. One of the nice things about the TwHP lessons is that they include primary source documents. On our spring state testing, our students have to look at a number of primary sources and then answer questions using those sources. Practicing with the TwHP lessons helps to prepare them for those questions on our test.

TIP: During the readings, you’ll be able to cover a variety of Reading / Language Art (RLA) skills. You can review sentence structure, vocabulary and word structure, main idea and supporting details, and even graphic organizers to compare and contrast ideas found in the readings. Feel free to experiment and see what you can discover!

Step 5: Visual Evidence

After the readings section is the Visual Evidence section. Here you will find several documents that you can use in a variety of ways. Again, only rarely will I use all of the graphic sources found in this section; instead, I’ll pick out just the ones that I need to meet my West Virginia Content Standards and Objectives (CSOs) and now the Common Core Standards.

Photo 1 is an overview of Skagway and would be a good general discussion opener. This can be a wrap-up to the classroom discussion from earlier in the week. Again, I download just the picture and store it on my drive for easy access in the classroom. The resolution of the single photo is also at a higher level which will allow more details to show up onscreen.

Photo 2 is the same one that was used to start the lesson—that is, in the Getting Started Section. Again, depending on the class, I sometimes have gone back and reviewed it, but typically do not.

Drawing 1 is one that I would spend more time on to show the progression of the house as it went through the various stages of growth. Creating a timeline of Skagway’s growth to go along with the growth of the house can be interesting for the students to see.

Photo 3 ties in well with Drawing 1 as it shows from ground level what the house looked like at the end of the final additions.

I would use Photos 4, 5, and 6 if time allows. Elementary teachers have a great deal of content to cover in a year’s time and even though we might like to spend more time on a given topic, time constraints won’t allow us that luxury. These photos can be used as a formative assessment at the end of the lesson or just as additional information for the students. You can project these on a screen and have a brief class discussion about each of them if you choose. Being the creative creatures that we are, teachers can find even more ways to use these photos than those I have suggested.


Step 6: Putting It All Together

The last two sections are probably some of my most favorite out of all of the various parts of the TwHP lessons. Putting It All Together and Skagway: Gateway to the Klondike – Supplementary Resources are full of ideas for student projects. If you are looking for student project ideas, any of these lessons will have these suggestions at the end of each lesson.

Under the Putting It All Together section, there usually two or more project ideas for students. I have discovered that across the TwHP lessons, the first project usually is more grade-level appropriate for my upper-elementary students than the rest. Those are the ones that I turn to first and then if I need something more challenging for my students, I’ll look at the rest of the choices to see what might be best.

The Supplementary Resources page(s) is another resource TwHP provides that I enjoy sharing with my students. At our school, we are fortunate to have both a true computer lab and also a mobile lab stocked with laptops. The sources found on this last page have some good additional websites to send your students to for more information. If your school has a website, and especially if you have a page on the school’s website, loading some of these sites on it for your students to access during your lab time, at home, or in class is a nice change for the children. These sites are also good for end-of-the-day, waiting-on-the-buses time to enrich and expand their knowledge.


These are just a few ideas on how I’ve incorporated TwHP lessons in my classroom. Feel free to experiment with just one lesson and see how that goes. Then from there, move on to another one and build your teaching library with some excellent teaching resources. The children will thank you!

Last updated: December 8, 2015

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