American Icons

Expand/Collapse American Icons


These lesson plans encourage students to explore the contributions to society made by prominent Americans from all walks of life. Each lesson plan includes a short video, as well as a written primary sources activity, a visual primary source activity activity, and a culmainting activity. The videos are designed to help students understand how the charachter traits of these Americans contributed to their achievements. Materials are targeted at Grades 3-7. 

  • Benjamin Franklin | Writer, Inventor, and Founding Father

    At the height of the Age of Enlightenment, Benjamin Franklin accomplished great works in countless fields, including science, politics, and media, becoming one of America’s most prolific Founding Fathers. Through two primary source activities and a short video, understand how Franklin embodied Enlightenment values, and used his talent in writing and printing to have his opinions heard and help shape the world.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Alexander Hamilton | Lawyer, Writer, and Founding Father

    Founding Father Alexander Hamilton fought at General George Washington’s side in the American Revolution, aided in the passage of the Constitution, and helped save the United States from financial ruin. A great leader, writer, soldier, and lawyer, Hamilton did not let his poor birthright stop him from achieving greatness. Through a short video and an analysis of two primary sources, students will examine the life of this important military and political leader.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Thomas Paine | Writer and Revolutionary

    In January 1776, Thomas Paine published a document that sparked the American fight for independence from England. His political pamphlet, called Common Sense, showed the colonists that they could be free from the tyranny of a king by creating an independent nation where they could justly and fairly govern themselves. By watching a biographical video and engaging in two primary source activities, students will encounter the ideas, writings, and impact of Thomas Paine.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Sojourner Truth | Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Activist

    An abolitionist and feminist during the nineteenth century, Sojourner Truth demanded not less discrimination, but no discrimination. Truth escaped enslavement and, despite being unable to read or write, rose to be a leader in the fight for equality and fair treatment for both women and African Americans. Through two primary source activities and a short biographical video, students will understand the remarkable career of this persevering woman who lived up to her self-chosen name.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe | Author and Abolitionist

    Harriet Beecher Stowe used the emotional power of words to express her conscious belief in racial equality. She wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin to point out the atrocities of slavery, an issue that divided the nation and eventually led to the start of the Civil War. Throughout her life, she continued writing against injustice wherever she saw it. Through two primary source activities and a short biographical video, students will examine the content and impact of Stowe’s Uncle Tom's Cabin, one of the most influential books in American history.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Frederick Douglass | Orator, Editor, and Abolitionist

    After escaping from slavery in 1838, Frederick Douglass went on to become a prominent writer, orator, and abolitionist in the years leading up to the Civil War. Through two primary source activities and a short video, understand how Douglass stood firm in his beliefs and rose to prominence, and explore the importance of literacy in his life. 

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Harriet Tubman | Abolition Activist

    Harriet Tubman escaped slavery to become a so-called “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, leading or assisting more than 300 enslaved people to freedom, despite great personal risk. After aiding the Union Army as a spy during the Civil War, she continued a life of service, dedicated to formerly enslaved people. In this lesson, by examining two primary sources and watching a short video, students will become familiar with the remarkable bravery and extraordinary accomplishments of the “Moses of her people,” Harriet Tubman.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Henry David Thoreau | Author, Philosopher, and Abolitionist

    At a time when slavery was still commonplace and new technologies, like the telegraph and the railroad, promised a radical change in the ways people worked and traveled, one man demanded freedom for all and cautioned against reliance on material possessions for fulfillment. No one could have predicted the modern relevance of the teachings of transcendentalist author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. By watching a short video and engaging in two primary source activities, students will explore the philosophy, writings, and impact of Henry David Thoreau.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton | Orator, Author, and Activist

    Powerful orator and author Elizabeth Cady Stanton, along with Susan B. Anthony, co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, an organization dedicated to obtaining equal rights for women. Stanton’s ideas about religion, divorce, and labor were radical for her time. By watching a short video and engaging in two primary source activities, students will explore the need for social change, as well as its inherent challenges.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Sitting Bull | Spiritual Leader and Military Leader

    Over the course of the 19th Century, white settlers moved westward, and the US Government brokered treaties with Native Americans and often resorted to using military force to claim land for the United States. To this day, Sitting Bull—spiritual and military leader of the Lakota tribe—is remembered as the Native American chief who took the greatest stand against the US government. Through two primary source activities and a short biographical video, students will understand the remarkable courage of this leader who stood up for his people.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Alexander Graham Bell | Scientist, Inventor, and Teacher

    Alexander Graham Bell devoted his life to helping people--deaf and hearing--communicate.  Working tirelessly to integrate the deaf into society--like his pupil Helen Keller--Bell was also an avid inventor. He created numerous communication devices, including the telephone. Using a short video and two primary sources, students will learn about Bell’s inventions and his work with the deaf community.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • George Washington Carver | Scientist, Inventor, and Teacher

    George Washington Carver was a world-renowned American botanist who devoted his life’s work to helping farmers successfully grow their crops. A lover a nature, with a keen intellect and desire to help people better their lives, Carver used his knowledge to make American farms flourish, which helped the nation as a whole. By doing two primary source activities and watching a short video, students will explore the life of science and innovation led by George Washington Carver.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Booker T. Washington | Orator, Teacher, and Advisor

    Freed from the bonds of slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation, Booker T. Washington worked relentlessly to become a teacher, an accomplished orator, and an advisor to two Presidents. He was considered a hero in the late 1800s, although some opposed his philosophy that equality and respect must be patiently earned. Through two primary source activities and watching a short video, students will learn about Booker T. Washington’s commitment to African American education, and assess his ideas about how to achieve equality for African Americans in the years after the Civil War.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Helen Keller | Author, Advocate, and Activist

    In a time when opportunities for people with disabilities were few, one young woman who was both blind and deaf became a world-renowned voice for change. To this day many still marvel at the accomplishments and perseverance of author and activist Helen Keller. Through two activities and a short biographical video, students will understand Helen Keller’s accomplishments.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Thomas Edison | Inventor and Entrepreneur

    Thomas Edison, a leader of American innovation, was responsible for developing many modern devices. He created the first organized industrial research laboratory where he and a team of scientists and innovators brought to life home electricity, the light bulb, car batteries, movies, music players, and thousands of other innovations. Through a video and primary source activities, students will learn about Edison’s remarkable business of innovation and some of his 1,093 patented devices. 

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Walt Whitman | Journalist and Poet

    Walt Whitman was a progressive voice and innovative writer during a critical period of change in the United States. In the midst of the Civil War, his poetic and journalistic works, spanning topics from the personal to the political, marked the start of a new era for American literature. Whitman’s powerful poetry revealed his personality and depicted the United States as a place worthy of both high praise and sharp criticism. Through an examination of primary sources and watching a short video, students will learn about Whitman’s love for and criticism of the United States.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Mark Twain | Storyteller, Novelist, and Humorist

    Mark Twain, often considered the “father of American literature,” was the first American writer to tell his stories in an emerging American vernacular--the speech of common folk. Based on his many adventures, Twain’s books reflect his witty observations about everyday life in nineteenth-century America. By examining two primary source activities and a short video, students will learn how this literary icon used humor and a uniquely American voice to chronicle post-Civil War life in the United States.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Amelia Earhart | Aviator, Record-breaker, and Activist

    Amelia Earhart was a pioneer of early aviation, courageously flying airplanes at a time when the risks were high. Equally bold was her pursuit of a career as a woman in a non-traditional field. Through two primary source activities and a short video, students will learn about Earhart’s passion for flying and determination to succeed as a female aviator.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Jackie Robinson | Athlete and Activist

    Jackie Robinson was a sports hero who became a civil rights activist. When Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he became the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era. Demonstrating skill as a professional baseball player and consistent dignity both on and off the field, Robinson became an advocate for civil rights, as well as a role model. Through two primary source activities and a short video, understand how Robinson rose to prominence, and explore the importance of courage in his life.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Eleanor Roosevelt | First Lady, Diplomat, and Activist

    Eleanor Roosevelt—the “First Lady of the World”—spent her life fighting for the rights of others. Throughout her long career, she championed women’s rights, African Americans’ rights, and human rights on a worldwide scale. Through two primary source activities and a short video, students will learn how Eleanor Roosevelt used her positions as First Lady and United Nations diplomat to ensure that the powerless had a voice in American and global politics.

    Grades: 3-7,13+

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