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Creative Uses for Textbooks

Eyewitness News

This is the only assignment I've ever made on which everyone earned an A.  I always tell students that in my classes one must work extra hard to earn an A, and one must work just as hard to earn an F.  As a result, most students usually earn Bs, Cs or Ds.  But not on this assignment.  Everyone got involved, everyone worked hard, and everyone succeeded.  I was astonished, and very pleased.

I began by having my students watch, then discuss, a local TV evening news broadcast.  We identified the various jobs that went into the production and presentation of its various stories (anchor, reporter, writer, director, camera, sound engineer, etc.).  I then divided the class into groups of six or seven and told them that each was going to produce its own "evening news" story on a historical topic chosen from among the things we had read about in their U.S. History textbook that semester.  Once I had approved a topic for each group, I asked the students to identify the tasks that would have to be performed in order to create their reports, the strengths each individual brought to the group, and then which role(s) each would perform.  They then began their research, writing and production.

I gave each group the choice of presenting its news segment live in front of the class, or recorded on audio tape (this was in the days before affordable and widely available video technology).  Most chose a live performance, but two opted for an audio production.  Consequently, I have student work to share with you.  You have only my word that the recorded efforts were representative of the live groups.  Did they all deserve As?  Judge for yourself.  (The links are to MP3 files - each about 5 megabytes - which should begin downloading or streaming when you click on them.  If your browser is not setup to stream MP3 audio, then once the download is complete, note the location to which you saved it.  Use Windows Explorer to navigate to it, then double-click on its filename to begin playback.)

Group one: May 24, 1844 - Samuel F.B. Morse publicly demonstrates his telegraph (playing time: 5 minutes, 23 seconds)

Group two: the early 19th century - Philadelphia's first "modern" insane asylum opens (playing time: 5 minutes, 14 seconds)

In case you want to compare these student reports with more professional fare, the Internet Archive has posted several episodes of CBS Radio's YOU ARE THERE, produced in the 1940s. You may listen to episodes via the links at

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original web posting: Friday, March 24, 2006
last modified: Thursday, July 29, 2010