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        What Are We Fightin' For? Contrasting Viewpoints on the Vietnam War | Lesson Plan

        Learn what U.S. soldiers thought the reasons were for entering the Vietnam War from men who supported and opposed U.S. involvement in Lesson Three of Vietnam War Oral History Lesson Plans.

        Joseph Rank attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana during the Vietnam War before he joined the Navy. While in college, he had a roommate with a very different view of the Vietnam conflict, yet they both remained friends. Paul Wisovaty lived in Taylorville, Illinois and believed the United States was fighting to contain communism, but ended up fighting for his friends during his time in Vietnam. Richard Hertel of Milladore, Wisconsin says he was trained to kill efficiently and was given no information about the politics of the war, while Robert Ritter of Monticello, Illinois believed in the American cause.

        Lesson Summary

        Students analyze “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” from Country Joe and the Fish to identify what the author believes America was “fightin’ for” in Vietnam. The class then transitions into analysis of oral histories from people involved in the Vietnam War, and use two-column notes to identify key points of the interviews and their own responses. Using their notes from the analysis of the oral histories, students engage in a jigsaw activity to prepare for a café conversation on the question. “What was America fightin’ for in Vietnam?” Once properly prepared, students engage in a café conversation on the question, and finally write a one-page response to the question as a formal assessment.

        Time Allotment

        50-75 minutes

        Learning Objectives

        1. Students will integrate information from a variety of oral histories to create a coherent understanding of the purpose(s) of the Vietnam War.
        2. Students will participate effectively in a collaborative discussion with diverse partners on the question, “What was America fightin’ for in Vietnam?”

        Prep for Teachers

        Teachers should prepare the following resources to use during this lesson:

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

        Common Core State Standards:

        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
        • 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.11-12.1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

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

        • D2.His.5.9-12. Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.
        • D2.His.8.9-12. Analyze how current interpretations of the past are limited by the extent to which available historical sources represent perspectives of people at the time.
        • D2.His.16.9-12. Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.

        Introductory Activity

        Begin with an explanation of the two learning goals for this lesson. Answer any clarifying questions, if necessary.

        Hand out or project copies of Document A: “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” Lyrics.

        Project or play “Fixin’ to Die Rag.” As students listen to or watch the song ask them to think about learning goal one. To be more specific, ask them to reflect on the question:

        • “What was America fightin’ for, according to Country Joe and the Fish?”

        Follow up questions:

        • Do you agree with this assessment of the war?
        • Do you think most Americans agreed with this assessment at this time (1969)?
        • How could we find more information about American’s opinions on the war?

        Learning Activities

        Transition to activity. Write or project the core question:

        • “What was America ‘fightin’ for’ in Vietnam?”

        Inform students that they will now analyze multiple sources that have a variety of perspectives on this question. Hand out the Two-Column Notes Packets and explain basic instructions (at top of page one of packet). Give students time to work through the video clips from the What Are We Fightin' For? Media Gallery, using the Two-Column Notes Packet. Monitor student progress and answer any questions that arise.

        Once it seems that most students have worked their way through all four interviews, transition to preparation for the café conversation.

        Preparation for the conversation will utilize the jigsaw technique. In this activity:

        • Assign one of the interviewee’s names to each student.
        • The class should be evenly split, in other words, a class of 24 students should have eight students for each interviewee, etc.
        • Group students together by their assigned name. In other words, all the Paul Wisovaty students should be together during this stage, etc.
        • Give each group time to work together to make sure they understand their subject’s perspective. It may be helpful for some students to develop an “identity chart” for their character. Here’s an example of an identity chart:

        Identity Chart

        • NOTE: It may be helpful to assign roles while students are still listening to the interviews so students can take extra time with their particular subject.

        Once groups have had sufficient time to become prepared for the conversation, they should shift to their mixed groups. These are groups that the teacher should have prepared, with each student representing a different point-of-view.

        • NOTE: In this conversation, students should represent their particular individual’s point-of-view. However, they should not “become” this person. For example, students should be addressed by their own names, not the name of their subject.

        Monitor groups as they discuss the question, making sure that each point-of-view is well represented. Encourage students to encourage each other, “That’s a great point, I agree” or to respectfully disagree with each other, “I can see your perspective, but I don’t agree.” This can be handled in many ways, but modeling often works well.

        • Students may update their notes during this discussion.

        When groups have had sufficient time to discuss, lead a discussion about the major perspectives that were represented, highlight key points from the interviews, such as:

        • Soldiers believed fighting the Communists was important.
        • Soldiers believed their country when it called on them to serve.
        • Soldiers often fought for each other and didn’t much care about the politics.

        Culminating Activity

        At this point the teacher can make a decision about the sufficiency of the lesson. If it seems that students need more time to solidify their learning, then transition to the short essay assignment. If the learning seems solid, the lesson can end here.

        Short-essay assignment:

        • Ask students to write a one-page essay that addresses the question: “What was America ‘fightin’ for’ in Vietnam?”
        • Inform students that their essays will be graded on the clarity of their answer to the question (claim) and the quotes and other evidence they use to support their answer.

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