Grade: Middle
Subject: History

#4448. How was Life for African Americans in 1850?

History, level: Middle
Posted Wed Oct 27 16:18:02 PDT 2010 by Dana Reginato (Dana Reginato).
Charter School of Morgan Hill/ Regis University, Morgan Hill, CA USA/ Colorado, USA
Materials Required: texts, PBP worksheet (provided)
Activity Time: 30-50 minutes
Concepts Taught: pre-reading, metacognition

Triggering Background Knowledge and Making Predictions before Reading a Text.
PBP: a Strategy to Increase Content Area Comprehension
Submitted by: Dana Reginato, Regis University (2010)

Grade level: 8 Subject: U.S. History
Topic: How was life for African Americans in 1850?
Standards: CA Eighth Grade U.S. History Standards 8.6(2), 8.6(4), 8.9(4), 8.9(6)

Using writing tasks before, during and after reading in the content areas increases comprehension. It is estimated that three to four students out of ten have difficulty reading and understanding their text books (UTCRLA, 2004). The National Reading Panel (NRP) points to research which shows that students increase their understanding of content using metacognitive strategies to preview, make predictions or survey a text, then to monitor comprehension during reading, and lastly, to synthesize, summarize or analyze after reading. The whole idea is to increase comprehension, not to create another writing assignment which will be graded. The point is "remembering, focusing attention and processing information'(UTCRLA, 2004).
The strategy I use in this lesson could be classified as a "writing to learn" approach (Elbow, 2003). The technique utilized in this mini-lesson is called PBP (UTCRLA, 2004). The P stands for Predict. This occurs before reading the selection. The predictions are based upon their background knowledge and surveying the external features of the text (titles, subtitles, illustrations and captions). The B stands for brainstorm. In this section, students brainstorm questions about the topic. The final P sounds for predictions. These predictions are made and confirmed after reading (or while reading) the selection or doing research.
PBP is a great strategy for language learners and advanced students. It sets a stage for increased comprehension and motivates learning. (It is somewhat similar to a strategy called KWL, but involves previewing a text and making predictions).

Advanced preparation/materials:

History Alive! US History Text, chapter 19, "African Americans at Mid-Century," Teacher's Curriculum Institute, 2002 or any US History textbook chapter on the topic

PBP chart (see below lesson for template), computer and projector or large piece of butcher paper with PBP chart & markers.

Student copies of PBP chart (use the template below)

Additional sources such as:

Creating Black Americans: African-American History and it's Meanings, 1619 to the Present by Nell Irvin Painter, Oxford University, 2006.

In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South by John Hope

Frankling, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Passages to Freedom by David W. Blight, Smithsonian Books, 2004.

Days of Sorrow, Years of Glory, 1831-1850 by Timothy J. Paulson, Chelsea House, 1994.

The Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 by Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Archon Books, 1978.

Anticipatory Set:

State the Purpose of the lesson: The purpose of this lesson is to contemplate, "How was life for African Americans in the 1850's?" Today we are going to make predictions and ask questions that we will research during this unit.

Use a Think-Pair-Share strategy trigger students' previous knowledge on the topic. For 2 minutes allow students to think silently and jot down any ideas they have. For 2 minutes allow students to discuss their ideas in pairs. The "share" portion of this strategy will be worked out in the next step (below).

Guided Practice:

Using the PBP chart projected from the computer or on a large sheet of butcher paper, record students' background knowledge about the topic (after soliciting the ideas that they discussed in pairs). Because some ideas may not be factual, record them under the subtitle: "We think that. . ."

Pass out the students' copies of the PBP chart to record their ideas and the ideas of their classmates.

Invite your students to preview the text from their history textbook. Explain that you will not be reading the whole chapter in detail. You will be looking for titles, subtitles and illustrations to give them information to predict what information they will glean from the chapter.

Look at the first two pages together to model the first "P" section of the PBP chart. Solicit their observations about the topic. Examples might be: African Americans made quilts to tell about their history.(To make it brief, you might write "story quilts") and African American slaves were whipped ( from illustrations on page 256-257 of History Alive!).

Record these observations on the chart under "P." Then, lead the students to generate questions regarding these observations or predictions. These should be recorded under the "B" section of the chart. For instance, "Were African Americans literate?" This question may be generated by the hypothesis that African Americans made quilts to tell stories because they couldn't write and their histories were not being

Before independent practice, make one or two predictions as a class to answer the questions that came up during the initial brainstorm. For instance, "We predict that. . ..most African Americans weren't literate."

Up to this point, the PBP chart may look something like this:

(Preview) (Brainstorm questions) (Predict)
We think that. . .. We wonder. . ... We predict that. . ..
Many were slaves.

They were treated poorly.

Af. Amer. didn't vote

Quilt to tell stories Were Afr. Amer. literate? Most weren't literate.
Slaves were whipped.

Set Expectations:

In order to insure full participation, set a clear number of PBP entries that you expect on the chart for each student or pair of students. For example, "Now, as you preview the chapter independently, I expect you to have at least ten entries in each column on the chart."

Independent Practice:

At this point, release the students in pairs or individually to fill out the PBP chart without reading the chapter. They should be instructed to continue to preview the text recording their observations (Preview section), questions ("B" section) and predictions ("P" section). Remember, this PBP strategy is to assist students in their comprehension. It will trigger background knowledge and aide in making predictions. It also sets purpose for reading as they will try to confirm or refute their predictions.


Allow for a few minutes at the end of the class period to record some of the class' ideas on the class PBP chart. (Individual charts may vary.)

Now what?

This initial PBP lesson was to trigger background knowledge, make predictions and ultimately, aide in comprehension. Now, you will lead your students through the subject matter. This means reading the text and possibly doing research outside of the text from other sources (see recommended sources above under "Additional resources"). As your students read the material, guide them to reread their predictions and to pause to confirm or to refute them. They could literally cross out any incorrect information or record in another column or another sheet the facts that they found to confirm or refute their predictions. The questions under the brainstorm section could be numbered and answered.

If there is too much subject matter to cover or you want to go in depth on the subject, you may assign certain questions to pairs or small groups and use a jigsaw strategy. In the jigsaw strategy, groups are assigned sub-topics or questions and they will be the "experts" to pursue that information and teach it to the class. This can be achieved by a second jigsaw in which one member from each "expert" group then goes to a second group with representatives from each group. See the example below.

Expert groups Teaching groups

1 1 1 1 1 1234 56 123456
2 2 2 2 2 123456 123456

3 3 3 3 3 1234 56 123456

4 4 4 4 4

5 5 5 5 5

6 6 6 6 6
Each number represents a student and each color represents a sub-topic.

For accountability, create a graphic organizer for students to use to record their information and to record what they've learned in their teaching groups. You may require them to create a poster or PowerPoint to share in when teaching in the second half of the jigsaw. (Scroll down for PBP Graphic Organizer to be used in this lesson).

(Preview) (Brainstorm questions) (Predict)
We think that. . .. We wonder. . ... We predict that. . ..


Colorado State University (CSU). (2010). What is writing to learn? WAC Clearinghouse as retrieved from:

Elbow, Peter. (2003). Writing for learning-Not just for demonstrating learning.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
As retrieved from:

Nagin, Carl. (2006). Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Our Schools. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

University of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts ( (UTCRLA). (2004). Enhancing Learning through reading and writing strategies in the content areas (revised). University of Texas System, Texas Educational Agency as retrieved from: ContentArea_bw.pdf

Dana Reginato, Regis University (2010)