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What Personal Journals Tell Us:
"Reese Remembrances" and "Paine Travel Journals"

Lesson Plans

Grade: 5 - 8

Time: Two or three 50-minute class periods

Lesson Introduction: This lesson introduces journals as sources of historical information. Students will read and analyze entries from journals in the Nebraska Western Trails project. Proficiency will be demonstrated by a written analysis summary.

Nebraska Social Studies Standards:

8.1 United States History

  • By the end of eighth grade, students will describe growth and change in the United States from 1801-1861.
  • By the end of eighth grade students will explain post Civil War changes in the United States, and the role of the United States in world affairs through World War I.

8.4 Skills

  • By the end of eighth grade, students will demonstrate skills for historical analysis
  • By the end of eighth grade, students will improve their skills in historical research and geographical analysis.

AASL/AECT Information Literacy:

  1. The student who is information literate accesses information efficiently and effectively.
  2. The student who is information literate evaluates information critically and competently.
    2.1 Determines accuracy, relevance, and comprehensiveness
  3. The student who is information literate uses information accurately and creatively.
    3.1 Organizes information for practical application
    3.2 Integrates new information into one's own knowledge
    3.3 Applies information in critical thinking and problem-solving
    33.4 Produces and communicates information and ideas in appropriate formats


  • Be introduced to the importance of journals as historical documents.
  • Strengthen their critical observation skills
  • Gather and analyze data from journals and form generalizations
  • Develop writing skills


  • A computer for each student or show photographs to the entire class using an LCD projector.
  • Access to Nebraska Western Trails web site
  • Copies of the Journal Analysis Worksheet for each student


DAY ONE - if students have analyzed journals before, skip to Day Two

  1.  Introduce journals as historical sources. Teachers may want to familiarize themselves with Steven Stowe's Making Sense of Letters and Diaries.
  2. Model the process of analyzing journals by asking questions about the characters, portrayal of self, relationships, personal events, and historical events, using the examples in Mr. Stowe's article.


  1.  To find the journals: go to the Nebraska Western Trails Project. Click on Bookshelves. Click on either "Paine Travel Journals"" or "Reese Remembrances". Divide the class into ten groups and assign one of the following sections to each group to read and summarize, using the Journal Analysis Worksheet:

From "Reese Remembrances":

  1.  pages 1 - 10
  2. pages 11 - 20
  3. pages 21 - 30
  4. pages 31 - 37
  5. Reese Remembrances in the Wood River Sunbeam

From "Paine Travel Journals":

  1. 1889 pages 1-20
  2. 1889 pages 21-76
  3. 1901
  4. 1915
  5. 1920

2. If students are not familiar with historical events of the time period, additional research will be necessary.


Divide the class into two groups by which journal they read. Each pair/trio will share the section they read and analyzed with the rest of their journal group. As each group shares, the other students will take notes on a Journal Analysis Worksheet.


Final Product: Students will write a paper summarizing their analysis of the journal in the areas of characters, portrayal of self, relationships, personal events, and historical events. Papers will be evaluated using the first three criteria from Analyzing a Primary Source Rubric.

Extension Activities:

  1.  Instead of dividing into groups by journal on Day Three, have all students listen to all summaries, taking notes as they listen. Students will then create a T chart that would list the things that are the same and different from each diary. For example: both diaries were kept by a young male in the 1800s.
  2. Have students keep a journal for two weeks. Divide the class into groups of two or three and have them analyze each other's journals.
  3. Have students write a short essay explaining why people keep a diary/journal. They must give and explain at least three reasons.

Journal Analysis Worksheet

Journal Title ________________________________________________

Section Read _______________________________________________

Characters: (people mention by name, people referred to)


Self: (how does the author portray him/her self)


Relationships: (relationships between the characters; do these relationships stay the same or change, how and why do they change)


Personal events: (events that the characters in the journal took part in)


Time Period/Historical Events: (what was going on in the world during the time the journal was written)

Please send comments to Kay Paulsen.

For more information, contact Devra Dragos.