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        The Soldier’s Experience in Vietnam: Using Oral Histories to Draft an Historical Narrative | Lesson Plan

        Learn about the experience of being a soldier in Vietnam from the men who experienced the war first hand from the front lines to the offices back on the bases in Lesson Five of Vietnam War Oral History Lesson Plans.

        Terry Hairrell of Waukegan, Illinois led men into combat in Vietnam, yet one of his strongest memories is of the South Vietnamese family that befriended him. Richard Hertel of Milladore, Wisconsin spent his time in Vietnam as a secretary filing records and keeping track of soldiers. Joseph Rank of Urbana, Illinois spent his time in Vietnam on a destroyer providing support for American troops from a distance, but still felt a close connection with the troops he fought with. Steve Allen of Tuscola, Illinois, was on the front lines and experienced the day-to-day grind of being a foot soldier and came to deal with the fears that crippled some men. Paul Wisovaty of Taylorville, Illinois learned war gives each solider a simple task: kill or be killed.  Jerome Weise of Rantoul, Illinois served as a combat medic during the Vietnam War and experienced things he would never forget.

        Lesson Summary

        Students will access prior knowledge by responding to a prompt that asks them to explain what it means to be a soldier. After time to discuss this topic, students will be introduced to a project that asks them to take on the role of a writer and create a narrative about the soldier’s experience in Vietnam. Given time to watch several video testimonies about Vietnam, and view photographs from the era, students will take two-column notes on these primary sources in preparation for writing their narratives. After primary source research has been completed, students will process their finds in small groups and then move to composing their narratives. Lastly, students will bring first drafts of their narratives to a peer-editing session and then revise their drafts to complete a final product.

        Time Allotment

        50-75 minutes

        Learning Objectives

        1. Students will be able to analyze primary sources (oral histories) to identify specific information about the soldier’s experience in the Vietnam War.
        2. Students will be able to describe the experience of serving in Vietnam as a soldier.
        3. Students will be able to compose a narrative that develops the imagined experience of being a soldier in Vietnam using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

        Prep for Teachers

        For each student, the teacher should prepare copies of each of the following:

        The teacher should also prepare access to the video testimonies of Vietnam Veterans on

        Common Core and College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards:

        Common Core State Standards:

        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.9. Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.3.A. Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation and its significance, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.3.B. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.3.C. Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome (e.g., a sense of mystery, suspense, growth, or resolution).
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.3.D. Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.3.E. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.

        College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework Standards:

        • D2.His.16.9-12. Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.
        • D3.1.9-12. Gather relevant information from multiple sources representing a wide range of views while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.

        Introductory Activity

        Bell-Ringer: Have the following question on the board or projected when students enter the room:

        • What does it mean to be a soldier? Use examples from your experience to describe the character traits of a solider. Examples may include people in your life who have been or are soldiers, or characters from films or books you have read.

        Give students time to write their responses to this prompt, then facilitate a discussion over the question and take notes on the board of the key point.

        Transition: Inform students that today they will learn about the experiences of some soldiers who served in the Vietnam War. They will view oral histories and photographs from these veterans and will take two-column notes on each of the soldier’s experiences. They will then create a project about the experience of being a soldier in Vietnam.

        Learning Activities

        Give each student a copy of the Soldier’s Experience in Vietnam: Narrative Writing Project. Discuss the instructions, including the RAFT options, and the rubric. Clarify expectations and language in the rubric, if necessary.

        Transition to research: Hand out a copy of the Soldier’s Experience in Vietnam: Two-Column Notes Packet, and project the interviews or have students access them via their own personal devices.

        Give students sufficient time to work through the interviews.

        As students watch the interviews, or after the interviews have been analyzed, hand out or direct students to the Photos From Vietnam: Two-Column Notes packet. Have students analyze the photos for details which may be useful in their project.

        Small-Group Processing Activity: Once students have had sufficient time to analyze the video clips and the photos, place students into groups of three to share their results. Ask students to have small-group discussions about the following questions:

        • What were some key points that were identified in the videos and photos?
        • What were some questions that we had about the videos and/or photos?
        • Can anyone in the group answer the questions?
        • Did any of the group members make personal connections with the photos? What were those connections?

        Once students have had time to process their work in the small group, come back together and hold a teacher-directed, all-class discussion about the same three questions. Facilitate the discussion to make sure that all points are clear.


        Culminating Activity

        Go back to the Soldier’s Experience in Vietnam: Narrative Writing Project handout and discuss the rubric again.

        Give students time to write their narrative. Monitor progress and answer any questions that come up. Set a firm deadline for the first draft of the narrative.

        On that day, put students into peers and have them peer-edit each other’s work. Give students time to discuss progress so far and revisions that may need to be made. Set a firm deadline for the final project to be completed.

        Give students time to make revisions. On the due date, have a time for students to share their projects with the class.


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