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This nonfiction project is constructed much like the synthesis essay from the AP Language and Composition exam. Students are to get into groups and review each artifact, one-by-one, and compile facts about the Donner Party tragedy on their evidence logs. There are 11 artifacts in total.
But before students dig into the artifacts, they will first listen to a podcast on the Donner-Reed Party to learn the basics of the tragedy. Students can either listen to this podcast episode inside or outside of class. They can then share facts and information from their podcast listening guides as a whole class to build the basic framework of the 5 W’s: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Answering the why? question is the end goal and endpoint of this project. Students will make observations and collect evidence from the artifacts in order to answer the focused research question:
Who or what is to blame for the Donner Party tragedy?
There isn’t one “correct” answer to this question, but students will base their answers to the focused research question upon evidence from the artifacts. Students will then create an argumentative presentation in which they present their answers to the focused research question using evidence from the artifacts plus their own individual research findings.
Student presentations will vary as student perspectives on the Donner tragedy unfold. After students complete their presentations, they can reflect back upon the research process as well as consider how their positions on the Donner tragedy were either challenged, changed, or confirmed by listening to the presentations by their peers.
I have also included a pacing guide to help you organize the various aspects of this nonfiction unit. If you are pressed for time, you can reduce the number of artifacts to the most essential ones in order to shorten the length of the unit.
This is another great nonfiction unit that is sure to capture student interest... I mean, what teenager wouldn't be intrigued by a true story of cannibalism?!!!!!
- To gather evidence from various nonfiction sources to support a claim
- To synthesize research to support a claim
- To explore the cause and effect of a historical event
- To present an argument in a well-organized and well-rehearsed format
- To cooperate with a group to create an effective presentation
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