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French-Canadian potato farmers waiting in line with truckloads of potatoes to be graded and weighed at a starch factory

[Detail] French-Canadian potato farmers waiting in line with truckloads of potatoes to be graded and weighed at a starch factory

Lesson Procedure

The lesson focuses primarily on gaining insight into French Canadian immigrants and their contributions by juxtaposing information from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 with that of information from Chronicling America, looking for areas of commonality and contradiction.

Students work in pairs at the computers. Because some of the documents are long, limit the topics assigned to research to ten and make each group responsible for only two or three of them. This allows students to skim through lengthy passages.

Half of the class searches through the American Life Histories; the other half looks for information on the same topics in Chronicling America.

Students post their findings on a bulletin board in the classroom to facilitate group discussion.

The bulletin board becomes a whole class graphics organizer for this lesson.


Activity One

Brainstorming: Elicit students' prior knowledge of French Canadian immigrants. Initially the source of this knowledge can come from discussing the last names of students in the class. Are there any students with French last names? Do you know anyone with a French last name? Are there any places in the area with French last names (street names, buildings, towns, rivers, etc.)?

Activity Two

Students should come up with their own search terms and should note what worked and what did not as well as noting what they find.

  • Discuss how to determine key words for searching;
  • Look at options for searching the Library's online collections;
  • Review note-taking using key words or phrases.

Assign each pair of students two or three topics on which to concentrate their searches. Direct students to make a chart comparing the information found in each collection.

Possible topics include: Schools/Education, Organizations/Publications, Pastimes/Customs, Work, Reputation/Temperament, Prejudice/Difficulties, Reason for immigrating, Family, Religion, and Language.

Allow for brainstorming within pairs to insure that all students have a good idea about how to find information relevant to their topics.

Introduce the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 collection.

Model studying one interview, such as Henri Lemay, to isolate items pertaining to the topics assigned. This interview was chosen because it is short and because it illustrates that some of the life histories may not provide information on all the topics. This activity can be done online or hard copies of the interview can be provided so that students can write on them. Groups can use this activity to begin taking notes for their assignment.


Activity Three

Students are encouraged to investigate many interviews and newspapers during the search process. Students begin their Library of Congress online collections search.

Notes are posted on a large bulletin board in the classroom or online.


Activity Four

Groups read the notes they posted to class; class takes notes; discussion ensues. Complete class discussion.

Discuss as a class:

  • In the portrait of French Canadians which emerges from the American Life Histories (self-portrayals) and the newspapers (journalists' reports), do areas of commonality emerge?
  • Do contradictions come to light?
  • Do patterns emerge (is there anything that you see over and over again)?
  • Are there any conclusions to be drawn from these commonalities, contradictions, and/or patterns?

Activity Five

Analyze depression era photographs.

  • Model analyzing one photograph, recording thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before beginning, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  • Student partners will select and print one photograph from the Resources, analyze it and find elements characteristic of the French Canadian immigrant experience.

French Addendum

Teachers of French who wish to include use of language skills in their objectives can make the following adjustments to our procedure:

  1. All groups can be required to keep a list of French words and expressions that appear in nearly all of the American Life Histories. During the discussion stage of the lesson, students can be asked to use this vocabulary to make statements relevant to the assignment. As an alternative, students can be asked to use the vocabulary in a similar assignment in written form.
  2. After the search process is completed, the class can brainstorm to compile a list of vocabulary words and expressions that will facilitate discussions of French Canadian immigrants' experience in French.
  3. The photo analysis can be done in French. The questions can be modified to reflect the level of the class. French translation of a photo study guide.
  4. The evaluations for the unit can be done in French.